Lewis Pugh’s Historic Hudson River Swim

Lewis Pugh’s Historic Hudson River Swim

The river sings many songs to those who are willing to listen. Sometimes it’s a song of impermanence. Sometimes surprise or awe. Or history. Or interconnection. Sometimes it’s uncertainty – for you never know what will come down the river from moment to moment.

I remember one summer day in 2018 when I was kayaking and saw something puzzling up ahead in the distance, heading downriver towards me. I couldn’t make out what it was. It looked different than any boat I’d ever seen and only grew more curious as it came closer. After paddling by what turned out to be a rustic houseboat, I learned it was a loose replica of a shantyboat built by U.C. Santa Cruz art lecturer, Wes Modes’ crew out of mostly recycled and repurposed materials. The boat was traveling down the Hudson River as part of his project, A Secret History of American River People. Modes and crew were collecting stories from the people living in communities along the river. It was a story boat – and the most memorable human-made creation I’d ever seen come down the river.

That day, the river sang a song of wonder, along with the value of being prepared – for I encountered the story boat without a camera.

The river is my greatest teacher and muse. After 15 years of living on the riverside, I have come to realize that I am passionately in love with the Hudson River. When you fall in love with a river, you realize that everything is connected to it. And you want to protect it.

Usually, what comes down the river is a surprise—including wildlife, such as the occasional swan or loon sighting. Sometimes, though, you have advance notice. Within the past month, a fleet of what seemed like hundreds of kayaks came by. When I saw the first kayakers approaching, it dawned on me that there was a Paddling the Canal event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Champlain Canal. Somehow, it had slipped my mind! I grabbed my camera and positioned myself on the bank. It was like watching a colorful river parade. I took lots of pictures and even made a video. The positive vibes were contagious.

Even more recently, I learned that ocean advocate and British-South African endurance swimmer extraordinaire, Lewis Pugh, would be swimming the entire 315-mile length of the Hudson River from mid-August to mid-September. He plans to arrive in New York City in time for the United Nations General Assembly Week and Climate Week NYC 2023 and the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit.

Pugh has done some incredible endurance swims to draw attention to fragile ecosystems – including across the North Pole (only possible due to the melting of the Arctic Sea ice) and across a glacial lake on Mount Everest – the highest swim in the world. He was the first person to swim the length of the British Channel, as well as the first person to do long-distance swimming in all five oceans. Notably, after his swim through the polluted River Thames, his teeth were loose in his gums! He is the United Nations Patron of the Oceans and was chosen as the 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. His endurance swimming accomplishments, which began at age 17 (he’s 53 now), are utterly mind-boggling – and the pictures of them jaw-dropping. 

Upon completing his Hudson River Swim, he won’t be the first person to have swam the entire length – Christopher Swain did so in 2004. However, he will be the first to swim unassisted, without a wetsuit and fins. Pugh is making his way down the river in just a Speedo, cap, and goggles.

The Lewis Pugh Hudson River swim through our area was something I didn’t want to miss. He was swimming to highlight the interdependence of river and ocean health and to promote restoring, protecting, and respecting our rivers. Earlier this month, I completed my yearlong river sunrise photography project and felt a sense of kinship with anyone else undertaking a river project. 

Pugh swam through our area yesterday. I went kayaking when he was expected to swim through our quiet stretch of river, in hopes of seeing him on the water. However, after two hours, I hadn’t seen a single sign and became enraptured with a great white egret. Did I miss him, or was he running behind schedule? I paddled back home and couldn’t have been inside the house for more than ten minutes before I saw a bright green, double kayak alongside a swimmer coming down the middle of the river. It was him!

I bolted to the riverside with camera in tow and cheered him on. He was swimming on the other side of the kayak, so I couldn’t get pictures from my spot on the bank. I jumped in my kayak, to get a better view – feeling like kayaking paparazzi. 

After a few minutes, I returned home and drove to the park down the road, where he was headed.

A small group of supporters gathered on the dock just before the lock, where we were told he would come out of the water (since he can’t swim through the locks) for a lunchtime meet-and-greet. After a few minutes, the green kayak was spotted in the distance, to everyone’s excitement. Before climbing out of the water, someone asked him how the water felt. He smiled and exclaimed, “Nice and warm!” 

Pugh made his way to the pavilion, where he started eating lunch, and I sat down and talked with him. I was carrying a camera with a large lens, and he asked if I was from the press. I replied, “No – I’m from the river!” Surprisingly, there weren’t any reporters present, despite a number of them been contacted. I introduced myself by telling him I had just completed a river project that was the opposite of what he is doing – since I stayed in one spot for a whole year photographing river sunrises, and he is navigating the entire length of the river. As someone passionately in love with the river, I expressed deep gratitude for his efforts to advocate for rivers and oceans.

He wondered why the beautiful park was so quiet and remarked that if it were in England, there would be lots of people enjoying it. 

One of the team members kayaking alongside him asked me if I had seen the bald eagle near the dam when I was in my kayak. I hadn’t because I was focused on them – but I photographed them seeing the eagle. (See slideshow, below.)

A few other locals gathered in the pavilion, along with members of Pugh’s small crew, and the conversation was fascinating. We ended up talking for about an hour. There was quite a bit of conversation around Alfred Lansing’s book, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the Falkland Islands, and Pugh’s 2017 swim in South Georgia and how hard it is to get to that remote location.

He listened to a few members of the park’s board of directors and others talk about local history – many tidbits I didn’t know about (or perhaps had forgotten), including why the park was named Hudson Crossing and a nearby house that still has several cannonballs lodged in the walls from the Revolutionary War. Later in the conversation, the owner of that house joined us and confirmed the stories. There were stories of wars and field hospitals, ghosts, General Burgoyne setting the whole area on fire in his retreat, and the German Baroness, Frederika Charlotte Riedesel. We also talked about the PCB dredging and river wildlife that has returned, including bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, and egrets.

Here we were: a small group of Americans talking about the Revolutionary War in a spot where it actually took place, with a British swimmer passing through to promote health of the oceans and rivers that connect us and support all life. In this brief meeting, stories of local history intersected with a much larger story.

I experienced Pugh as softly well-spoken with a calm, centered presence and characteristically British sense of humor.

He mentioned that he encountered a snapping turtle during the day’s swim and said he’d rather go head-on with a great white shark than a snapping turtle any day.

He talked about growing up in a military hospital and as a five-year-old accompanying his father, a military surgeon, on rounds. He said what made the biggest impression on him were the amputees from both the First and Second World Wars.

Interestingly, part of his medical protocol for long swim sessions is to take Pepto-Bismol both pre- and post-swim.

Gifts of local maple syrup, pickles, and cookies were proudly and enthusiastically offered to Pugh and his team. 

Participating in the conversation, I couldn’t help but marvel at the thought of all the stories he hears as he stops in communities along the river – similar to the story boat from five years ago. Honestly, it was one of the best days I’ve ever experienced in Schuylerville! The interaction prompted me to reflect on how little I’ve explored the river I’m so in love with and made me want to accompany Pugh and team down the river, to hear more river stories.

I attempted to do that today, but my timing was off. I arrived about two minutes too late to see him get out of the water at a park in Stillwater, and returned about two minutes too late to see him start swimming again after taking a mid-day nap in between two five-mile stretches. But while he was resting in the van, I enjoyed more conversation with a couple of local Riverkeepers.

I’d like to show up to support Pugh as he makes his way down the river toward Albany this week, if my teaching schedule and weather permit. I love the thrill of a photography challenge and the welcoming energy of his crew. But if the only photos I end up getting are the ones I took yesterday, I’ll still be satisfied. I can’t imagine any other image having more personal meaning than the one featured, above.

In that image, he’s swimming past the processing site from the PCBs Superfund dredging project, which is in the background. Ten years ago, this spot was the epicenter of the project, bustling with huge barges traveling back and forth, hauling PCB-contaminated soil expunged from the riverbed, to the processing facility. (See images contrasting then and now in slideshow below.) Pugh is swimming for healthy rivers, and photographing him in this spot speaks powerfully to me.

To express what I saw in my mind, I made a composite image (also in slideshow below) of a photo of him swimming through this spot and a photo of the dredging operations in the same spot ten years prior.

The actual photo of him swimming through this spot was a case in which I was at the same time behind (where I feel most comfortable) and in front of the camera. There’s a picture on the Lewis Pugh Foundation Hudson Swim website from yesterday’s adventure (Day 13 – August 25) that shows those gathered to greet him in Schuylerville, including yours truly.

Pugh’s swim through our area has been tremendously inspiring. Whether or not I continue to follow him down the river this week, he has ignited in me a longing to explore more of the river that is so dear to my heart. I’m truly grateful to have met this extraordinary human being. If I have a chance to talk with him again, I’d like to ask him what his mind is like when he’s swimming. As a longtime meditation practitioner and teacher, it’s what I’ve been wondering about most since meeting with him yesterday – and would be a very different conversation.

I imagine it would be equally fascinating to hear stories from the different river communities and the different kinds of questions he’s asked – and answers given – as he makes his way from the Adirondack high peaks to New York City. And his insights and impressions of different parts of the river.

In addition to Pugh’s website and his foundation’s website, there is a New York Times article about his Hudson River Swim, and his Facebook feed is updated frequently with informative, awareness-raising posts and videos. There are also numerous posts on my old blog about the PCB dredging as it was taking place.

So many different kinds of articles could be written about Pugh’s Hudson River swim, from disparate perspectives. This is just my small contribution to a much larger conversation that I intend to be more involved in. It feels like meeting Pugh and following his journey already has watered many seeds in me and will have a profound and lasting effect. I can’t help but wonder how the hearts and minds of others up and down the river are being pollinated as he proceeds along the mighty Hudson toward his destination.

© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Part of Being Human

Part of Being Human

My second grandbaby was born just after midnight on summer solstice – the day with the most sunlight. Something in me knew he would be a solstice baby, though it was down to the wire!

In the weeks leading to his birth, extended family life felt chaotic and heavy. I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a summer solstice baby – maximum light!

There was one day when I became like a mama bear wanting to protect my daughter in an absurd situation in which her and the baby’s needs were not being considered by the powers-that-be. It was a time meant for resting and nesting, not stressing and scrambling.

I was greatly concerned about this and became a roaring mama bear because I understood how maternal stress can affect labor and neonatal outcomes. However, voicing my concerns only added to her stress and wouldn’t change anything, so I learned to keep them to myself and generated a list of equanimity mantras (culled from sources including Sharon Salzberg and Hazrat Inayat Khan) – acknowledgments that I am not in control here, including:

  • I wish you happiness and peace but cannot make your choices for you.
  • Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and thoughts, and not my wishes for you.
  • I do not know another person’s path or purpose, or what they need to experience. 
  • This, too, belongs.
  • May I stand through life as firm as a rock in the sea, undisturbed and unmoved by its ever-rising waves.
  • This is part of being human.
  • May I find balance, equanimity, and peace amidst it all.

Byron Katie teaches that there are three kinds of business: mine, yours, and God’s. I realized “my business” was how to relate to the reality of the situation in a way that deepens presence and peace rather than suffering.

It began to look like my daughter was trending toward pre-eclampsia, so an induction was scheduled. Given the situation, pre-eclampsia wasn’t a surprising development.

* * * * * *

It had been decided from the start that I would assist my daughter during labor (along with her fiancé), just as I did when her first child was born. A proponent of midwifery and “natural childbirth” (which I experienced twice – once right at home), I was aware of the chain of interventions that medically induced labor could lead to. But when she was being monitored for pre-eclampsia, I surrendered to the process. This was unfamiliar territory.

I drive around with one of zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies in my car. It reads: Breathe, my dear. At the last moment before locking my car in the hospital parking lot to join my daughter in the labor and delivery room, I noticed the calligraphy and put it in my bag. It ended up being the three words that would define the birth experience.

I probably should give a trigger warning before going on, for anyone who has had a traumatic birthing experience – for my grandson’s birth falls into that category.

As much as I relished the idea of a summer solstice grandchild, of course what you hope for most of all is a healthy baby. His birth was very scary because he wasn’t breathing when he came out. In all my years of living, the saddest sight I’ve ever seen was the look on my daughter’s face when we weren’t sure if he would survive. It was impressive how quickly a neonatal resuscitation team of about ten appeared in the room and surrounded him and went to work like a well-oiled machine.

The birdsong was beautiful and soothing when I got back home to the river shortly before sunrise. But the most beautiful and welcoming sound of all that day was my grandson’s first utterance and then a soft, newborn cry. 

In those tense moments before hearing those longed-for sounds, my heart walked through a new door of compassion for all parents who’ve gone through this scenario and worse. My daughter’s face was a portal into that collective pain. Every hard thing we go through can serve to grow our compassion, insight, and resilience. It connects us.

It took seven minutes before my grandson was breathing on his own, and the lack of oxygen made his blood acidic, which created poisonous gas in his brain. So about two hours after coming into this world with a bang, he was transferred to NICU at a different hospital, to undergo cooling therapy and minimize the damage. I’d never heard of “cooling” before. It sounded serious and scary.

Leaving the hospital in the wee morning hours, I wished there was someone I could reach out to. I wanted to share what was going on – it felt too big to carry on my own. But my time zone was asleep. So I took refuge in my breath and a mantra:

This is how life is right now.
It is part of being human.

When I got back home, I went right to the riverside and lit a candle for my grandson’s good health and sent lots of prayers down the river (in the direction of the hospital) and into the sky. I sat there watching the dawn sky develop until the sun peeked over the trees across the river.

* * * * *

Our summer solstice sunshine baby had a traumatic birth. Birth is painful, uncomfortable, traumatic, unfamiliar even in better circumstances – and so the human conditioning begins. But what we don’t realize when we’re being born is how deeply we are loved, at the same time. May we arrive at that realization at some point in our lives and let go of the stories we created to make sense of this crazy world. We’re never alone, even when everything feels scary and strange.

Another thing I know is that when we are going through something scary, there are people praying for us and sending wishes for our well-being. Because when I felt the pain of parents who’ve gone through this nightmare and worse, that’s what I did as I sat there holding my daughter’s hand. There are people in this world who send out prayers and healing energy like that, and we can know that and receive it – dip our cup into the stream and drink – and not feel alone.

I also reminded myself that I don’t know what any soul comes here to experience and learn. I don’t know their path or purpose. We often learn and grow the most from what hurts, if we allow it to open us – like labor contractions open the cervix. At first, I didn’t even know exactly what to pray for. What do I have a right to ask for on behalf of another? So I started with, “Help!” And then it flowed from there.

May he be safe from inner and outer danger.
May he be protected.
May everyone taking care of him be guided to make the best decisions.
May he be well.
May his brain and body be healthy.
May he be surrounded by love and light.
May his parents be surrounded by love and light.
May their suffering be eased.

I had stayed up all night and didn’t have the energy to do Reiki. So I turned it over to a higher power – symbolized by the candle on the river. Again, the situation and its outcome was out of my hands. There wasn’t much I was able to do beyond finding the right prayers and taking the widest view I could.

* * * * *

I only managed to sleep for two hours on the longest day of the year. When I woke up, I noticed my mind searching for someone or something to blame. I realized this is why I was so mama-bear upset – because I knew my daughter’s stress level mattered. Also, had I not been so focused on pre-recording classes for the week so I wouldn’t lose out on income while assisting with the birth, might it have occurred to me to do some research on labor induction? Could I have uncovered information that could’ve better prepared us and made a difference?

But the truth was that there were so many different factors at play – and very often, we don’t have as much control as we’d like to believe we do. There are so many causes and conditions influencing this moment and what we do with it. So many factors coming to bear on the choices we believe we are solely responsible for.

In Byron Katie language, that’s “God’s business”. What if this is exactly how it had to be, for karmic reasons beyond our understanding?

It would be days before we’d have any answers, and I had a choice: My mind could keep flowing down those tributaries of blame, or I could allow myself to stay here in the present with the reality of what it’s like in this moment and that it’s part of being human. And acknowledge that many other families around the world are in the same situation right now, waiting to learn more about their newborn’s brains and bodies.

I realized that the love we already feel towards our solstice baby is what will see us through whatever we face. Love is strong! It’s the unseen force that helps people get through situations that look overwhelming from the outside.

The next morning, I woke up feeling rested. I had the energy to send Reiki and practice surrendering to “what is”. I could celebrate my granddaughter’s last day of school and look for tiny moments of awe that Shauna Shapiro calls “glimmers”. I could put faith in the strength and resilience of each of us.

Whoever my grandson is, and whatever his capabilities will be, I was certain that this summer solstice sunshine baby would help us to grow our love and generate more light.

When I visited him in NICU, I did Reiki and whispered to him: You are enough exactly as you are, and you are loved beyond measure.

And, as if in response to those words, I landed in a moment of pure awe and tears. It was as if my words were caught like a ball and then thrown back to me so I could receive them, as well.

Has my heart ever radiated and received such love?

* * * * *

I joked with my daughter before she went into labor that some moms have a mini-me, but I have an anti-me. As much as I wanted to experience every contraction that led to birthing my children, she wasn’t keen at all on pain. Back when I was preparing to give birth for the first time, I remember my mother’s and grandmother’s horror upon hearing I intended to have a “natural”, unmedicated birth. They insisted that I had no idea how much it would hurt, and that there’s no need to suffer so much.

Yes, it did hurt and there were moments when I wished I could be anyone else in the room. But I am grateful for the experience working with the intense contractions. It prepared me for being a parent. Perhaps the hardest part of parenting is watching your children suffer. You can love them, but you can’t make their choices for them or control how the world treats them. And would we really wish for our children an easy life without suffering? How would they learn, grow, and evolve? How would they grow their compassion and wisdom?

And so we learn to breathe our way through whatever comes up.

* * * * * *

When crises arise, they make visible the invisible webs of connection and caring that we might otherwise be unaware of. Although our sunshine baby was sedated on top of a cooling blanket with lots of wires attached to him, unable to be picked up and held or breastfed, he had so much love and care around him. Could some part of him sense that? I prayed that he could.

Although it looked like he was a NICU baby hooked up to wires in a room full of sophisticated medical equipment, I saw him in a different way: surrounded by a bubble of light like Glinda and connected to innumerable lines of caring, including everyone who helped him to be born, to start breathing, and to undergo healing therapy; his parents and sisters and extended family; and many generous souls who are praying for him and making food or sending money to buy food, which none of us have time to make right now.

There is so much love and caring in this world, even when we feel all alone and believe that being human downright sucks. Yes, it’s painful at times, and there’s so much we’re not in control of. But there are so many who care and want to help.

Our webs of caring became visible, like those misty mornings when you can see the spiderwebs glistening with dewdrops, whereas normally you wouldn’t see them at all, because that’s just how it is.

Crises often reveal how much love we are surrounded by, and how good it feels to help and to be part of a caring network that is larger than ourselves. We need these lessons from time to time. Because we forget.

Times like this take us out of our usual routine of being so focused on work or what’s happening in the world, and things that are petty in the grand scheme – so we can remember what’s most important in these messy, human lives.

We need to wake up from the dreams we’re living on autopilot, and remember.

* * * * *

While visiting him in NICU, my granddaughter stood next to her brand new, tiny brother and sang, “You Are My Sunshine” while gazing down upon him.

Listening to her sing, I was certain that I’ve never felt so much love in my heart.

The next day, it occurred to me that the song is perfect for him because he’s a summer solstice sunshine baby. He is our sunshine!

* * * * *

Yesterday, he went through the process of being warmed up to a normal body temperature. It went well – no seizures or other incidents, thank goodness. His skin color blossomed. Best of all, his parents finally were able to hold him. When the sedation wore off, he opened his eyes and looked around his environment. He was able to experience warm and loving, skin-to-skin connection – one of the great joys of being human that releases the love hormone, oxytocin, which benefits breastfeeding. My daughter sent me a photo of the two of them gazing into each others’ eyes while he was nursing, and once again, I wondered if I’d ever felt such love and joy.

His MRI results today weren’t perfect, but they also weren’t bad, allaying our worst fears. It appears that any brain or neurological damage is likely to be mild at most. Time will tell.

There’s so much we don’t know, even when we like to convince ourselves that we do, to feel more in-control. We feel grateful and relieved and tired and so many other feelings, all at the same time at the end of this momentous week.

All I know for sure is that this moment is like this right now, and it’s part of being human. And that we’ve all learned something about love and fragility and hearts and brains and strength and community and interconnectedness. And that each of us – and that includes you, dear reader – is enough as we are and loved beyond measure. Even – and perhaps especially – when we feel most scared and alone.

* * * * *

Update: A week after entering this world with a bang, my grandson was cleared to go home. Test results were good. Only the MRI revealed some minor damage to the left side of his brain. Although we hoped for a perfect scan, this is as good as it could be otherwise. Once he gets a little older, he may experience some mild cognitive/motor skill issues, but as the neurologist said, nothing that would prevent him from being a major league pitcher if he wanted to be. There’s also a good chance that he will never experience any of those issues. It’s just a waiting game until he develops more.

For years, I’ve been saying that neuroplasticity is one of my very favorite words – such a hopeful word. This is more true now than ever!

© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Nine Years Later

Nine Years Later

I’m sitting down to write post-sunset as the clear sky begins to darken. The surface of the river is like glass and perfectly reflects the leafy trees and sky. The birds are singing their goodnight songs. Other than that, and some traffic passing by (less than usual, though), the world is quiet – feels hushed, sacred.

Nine years ago tonight, in the wee morning hours, my mom passed away. I never forget to acknowledge and remember the night of May 26-27.

Earlier this evening, I walked at the park down the road and noticed the first of the purple irises are in bloom, just as they were nine years ago this evening. But back then, I wasn’t aware it was iris time because I was camped out at the hospice house. No time for nature walks, for every moment was poignant, full of mystery, not to be missed. We gathered in.

At the park, I stopped to smile at and lightly touch the soft petals of one of the irises, recalling how they were the first flowers that greeted me at the park – the first place I felt compelled to go – after leaving the hospice house in the morning, several hours after my mom died.

A colorful sunrise, purple irises, and a butterfly were there to uplift my spirits that first morning without my mom – evidence that there was still so much beauty and predictability in the natural world even when our human lives felt turned upside-down and suddenly unfamiliar. In my mindfulness meditation classes, I describe it as taking refuge in something larger than the circumstances of our lives.

The labyrinth at the park was my refuge that day.

Nine years later, the evening of May 26 remains a tender time of reflection. Tonight, I’m thinking of all that has transpired since that evening, including having a seven-year-old granddaughter and awaiting the arrival of a grandson. Sometimes in dreams, I try to catch my mom up on what happened since she left. Usually when I dream of her – in those dreams that seem uber real – I learn that she hadn’t died after all. All that time, I thought she had, but no – it wasn’t true! She’s back – and it’s the most wonderful feeling. Because I’ve learned to appreciate her.

* * * * * * * * *

Yesterday, my husband and I were about to drive past the street my parents lived on for 37 years, when I had an impulse to turn into the development. In the six years since we sold the house, I’d never seen anyone outside during the occasional drive-by. However, this time a man was sitting on the front porch and flashed us a peace sign as we drove slowly by. My husband urged me to stop so we could introduce ourselves. It seemed like a good idea, so I did.

We ended up talking with him for quite a while, sharing stories of the house and the neighborhood and how both had changed in the past several years. It felt good to make the connection and know who was living in my family’s old house and a little about their story.

* * * * * * * * *

Earlier this week, another significant thing happened. My very pregnant daughter and I went into my storage unit to retrieve something and noticed two plastic bins of clothing. Curious, we opened them and discovered all of the dresses my mom had made for my daughter when she was in early elementary school.

I decided to wash them and see if they would fit my granddaughter.

Inspecting them prior to putting them in the washer, I was drawn to the tags hand-stitched into some of the dresses that read, “Specially Hand Made by Grandma”. The sight of the tags brought tears to my eyes. But it was a very different wave of tears than when grief was fresh. Deeply touched by my mom’s kindness and generosity, I simply marveled at how she loved us.

Nine years later, that’s what remains.

* * * * * * * * *

When she was alive and we were enmeshed in our mother-daughter roles, and it seemed like we’d all be around forever, I couldn’t see how much love there was, and how much larger the love was than the roles and all of their implicit rules and unspoken needs. I was more focused on our differences and trying to get my mother to understand me and approve of the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my life. I often felt frustrated because I couldn’t change her – the way she saw the world – and she probably felt much the same. Not because she believed I wasn’t good enough, but because she wanted me to have a good life.

This is something that has become crystal clear to me in the past nine years. 

Every year it (grief?) sneaks up on me at some point during late May. But as the years go by, it feels very different – in a good way.

I feel drawn to write this for the moms and grandmas who wonder if they’ll ever be appreciated. Sometimes it happens after we’re gone. The human condition is messy, and it’s often hard to see the fuller truths of each other when we’re immersed in life, roles, and relationships. We perceive each other through the warped lenses of our egos and roles (and sometimes others’) and turn partial truths into broad assumptions, stories, and caricatures. We have relationships with our ideas of who someone is instead of with the actual person. We do the best we can. It’s the way it is.

But it doesn’t have to be the way it remains, and sometimes it’s death that opens our eyes to the wider picture. Friends share loving memories, and you begin to realize there was much more to this person than the relationship you had with them. The walls you built to protect your ego from perceived (and perhaps well-intended) threats begin to come down because they no longer serve a purpose. You don’t shame yourself or dismiss the way you felt – you just understand more, and the feelings naturally change, kind of like how wine ages.

At least, that’s been my experience (though honestly, I don’t know anything about wine).

I also write this for those who still have their moms – a little postcard from the future.

And for those newly bereaved, I’m offering hope, for grief mercifully doesn’t stay the same.

* * * * * * * * *

I washed the dresses and put them on the line to dry. And I thought: That’s a whole lot of love there, stretched across the back yard.

I marveled some more. And took a few pictures. A huge ball of sunlight showed up, no matter how I angled the phone camera…and it seemed to complete the picture.

The next evening, I took the bin of dresses to my daughter’s home. My granddaughter met me at the door and was thrilled when I told her what I brought for her. About a third of the dresses fit her, and she exclaimed into the air, “Thank you, great-grandma!”

I wish I’d realized sooner that all of those handmade dresses were in storage so she could have worn more of them. But she wore her favorite one to school today. And I love that my granddaughter feels connected with the great-grandmother she never met. They would have been two peas in a pod.

* * * * * * * * *

In the morning, I plan to buy some vegetable plants for the garden. It’s been bothering me that I haven’t planted anything yet. But now I understand why. My mom loved working in her garden. She grew roses and tulips and trained morning glories to grow upright. There were lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts, a lilac bush, a little herb garden, and more. There were countless summer days when I pulled into my parents’ driveway and found her gardening.

Yes, there are the memories from nine years ago. But there are so many more memories of May 26-27 throughout the years when you’d find her working in her garden. What better way to observe her angelversary than to work in mine? We might be inclined to grow different things, but that’s okay. 

© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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