The KonMari Method of Dealing With Grief/Refinery29

I am 30 years old. My closets are overflowing with wool coats, shiny at the elbows from use, and belts whose leather curves approximate the shape of a woman’s waist. But the clothes don’t bear marks from my own body; they belonged to my mother, who died when I was 23.

“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future,” Marie Kondo writes in her best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo’s book has inspired people around the globe to go through their belongings and cut back on the clutter in their lives. She urges readers to touch each possession and let go of the ones that don’t “spark joy,” making room for new items and memories to come into their lives. Part therapy, part organizational guide, the book has inspired viral videos, some based just on the Marie Kondo method of folding T-shirts. 

In her book, Kondo describes working with middle-aged women with adult daughters who end up holding on to bags and bags of their daughters’ hand-me-downs, concluding, “I think we should avoid creating situations...where a mother’s affection for her daughter becomes a burden.” The line rankled. What would Kondo say about daughters who are gatekeepers of their departed mother’s things?

I had never thought of Mom’s belongings as a burden — mostly they were a comfort, a connection to her — but after reading Kondo’s book, I could no longer close the closet door and ignore the weight of what was behind it.

“It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them,” Kondo writes. So on a recent Saturday, I picked up black trash bags, a box of tissues, and a camera and set about going through Mom’s things.

Her Pink Blazer

Mom wore her blush pink blazer to visit me when I was studying abroad in Paris at age 20, the bright pink matching her cheeks after a glass of French wine. She wore it to my 21st-birthday dinner in Providence, her matching lipstick staining the cloth dinner napkin. She wore it again on a double date with me and my then-boyfriend shortly after her diagnosis, her cheeks flushed from chemo instead of cabernet.

When I put the jacket on my own shoulders now, it is too big and boxy, a reminder of all the ways she will always seem larger than life to me. I put it in the donation pile.

Read the full essay on Refinery29.

MIA Vietnam Soldier Laid to Rest 36 Years After Disappearance/The Huffington Post

Photo credit: Damon Dahlen

Photo credit: Damon Dahlen

Every Memorial Day, I take out a scrapbook my grandmother made over 40 years ago. Each page is filled with headshots of young men with stiff Air Force hats clamped to their heads, their newly-buzzed hair just visible above formal collars. Some gaze at the camera confidently, their broad shoulders filling the frame, while others appear too young for the uniforms buttoned around their necks. Under every face is the exhortation: WHERE IS HE? My uncle’s face is on page three.

Edwin Jack Pearce's passport photo, courtesy of Pearce family

Edwin Jack Pearce's passport photo, courtesy of Pearce family

According to an eyewitness report, on the night of March 28, 1972, Edwin “Jack” Pearce and his 14-man crew boarded the AC-130 gunship “Prometheus” in the darkness of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base bound for an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. The slow-moving gunship was accompanied by 4-FE flying escorts, and it’s from the vantage point of one of their pilots that the last known whereabouts of my uncle are recorded: It’s 3 a.m. in Savannakhet, and Jack is in the narrow gunner’s seat, his weapon trained on the jungle below. The pilot reports “three closely spaced surface-to-air-missile (SAM) firings and an unidentified radio transmission ‘SAM.’” The sky lights up as the second SAM collides with Prometheus and she explodes in the sky, sending the burning remains tumbling to the ground.

A fifteen-second [emergency] beeper signal was heard from the vicinity of the burning aircraft approximately ten minutes after impact. The exact location of the signals could not be determined, no parachutes were observed, and repeated passes over the crash site revealed no indication of survivors.

The next morning, in the small town of Milford, Pennsylvania, an Air Force representative knocked on Eddie and Rosemary Pearce’s door to tell them that their son — whom they thought had been serving his second tour of duty in Thailand, out of harm’s way — had been shot from a plane flying over neutral Laos and was considered missing in action (MIA).

My grandparents refused to believe that their firstborn had died in the crash. After all, a 19-year-old Eddie Pearce had boarded a B-17 bound for Germany in World War II and, after parachuting out of a burning plane, survived two years in Stalag 17 prison camp. If he could make it home, so could his son.

Edwin Pearce's Stalag 17 prisoner ID, courtesy of Pearce family

Edwin Pearce's Stalag 17 prisoner ID, courtesy of Pearce family

An eyewitness account of Jack’s crash from a different perspective gave my grandparents renewed hope. A Laotian man who had been aboard one of the 30 trucks carrying supplies across the Ho Chi Minh trail that night told an Air Force representative that the AC-130 made five passes over his group, setting several trucks in his convoy on fire. On its fifth pass, the gunship was hit by 37 MM anti-aircraft fire and erupted in flames.

[The AC-130] turned southward and crashed approximately 10 km south... nine crewmembers of the downed aircraft had been rescued by Laotian civilians living near the crash site.

My grandfather retired early from the Pennsylvania State Police force to devote himself full-time to the search for his son. He became State MIA Chairman for Veteran’s Affairs and Northeast Coordinator for the National League of Families, a group composed of the family and loved ones of missing men. It was at a League meeting in Washington in December 1972 that my grandfather stood up in a crowded conference room and asked President Nixon if the peace agreement ending the Vietnam War would include Laos. He replied, “All of Southeast Asia.”


.There is a photograph of my grandmother standing alone at a podium. She is in tears as she speaks about her son at a “Freedom Tree” dedication ceremony in Milford, PA, on October 13, 1973 — while her husband is halfway around the world in Vientiane. The next day, the Royal Lao and Pathet Lao release their list of prisoners of war. It is 30 years to the day Eddie was shot down during World War II and taken prisoner. 

Jack’s name is not on the list.

When the Paris Peace Agreements are signed in Washington on January 27, 1973, they make no mention of Laos or the U.S. soldiers missing there. My former POW MIA grandfather and his wife begin to spend their weekends protesting in D.C. and their weekdays at the kitchen table, making calls and writing letters to anyone who would listen. In these letters, perfectly preserved by my grandmother, her small cursive hand corrects, crosses through and joins my grandfather’s as they write to newspapers, government and embassy officials and even presidents searching for answers about their son:

Although I spent over 600 days as a POW of the Nazis in WWII and one of my sons is still unaccounted for in S/E Asia after 12 years, I believe this system of government is the best ever created by man...[but] deceitful is the nation that, having heroes, betrays them.

On July 26, 1979, Rosemary and Eddie received word that their son’s status, in the absence of further information, had been moved from MIA to KIA, that his “death is presumed to have occurred for the purpose of termination of pay and allowances...” The letter offered a lump sum to Rosemary Pearce for $20,000.

Without a body to bury, my grandparents refuse to accept it.

The volatile political situation in Laos prevents excavation of the crash site until 1984. A joint Laotian and Air Force team identify a single tooth they find amongst the debris as Jack’s and claim it as evidence of his death. My grandparents reject this, too.

Stories that some of the men survived the crash continue to swirl; the inscribed wedding band of crew member Curtis Miller is recovered by a reporter and returned to his family and the dog tags of another crewman, Robert Simmons, are anonymously mailed to the U.S. embassy in Laos. Tests reveal no fire residue on the tags, further fueling the belief that not all of the men died in the crash.

Throughout the ‘80s, private citizens like Jack Bailey and ex-Green beret James G. “Bo” Gritz make international headlines with promises to go where the government won’t to “bring our men home.” My grandmother cuts and saves every article.

One morning, my grandfather falls while getting up from the breakfast table. He has two more strokes in quick succession that render him unable to speak.

In October and November of 2005, another joint excavation team returns to the crash site in Laos, this time armed with DNA-based identification technology. Their report states the site had to be re-cleared during the recovery process because “the vegetation had grown about a meter high over the intervening 13 weeks.” In a place where the thickness of the encroaching jungle threatens to erase all traces of the past, their tools unearth what they later identify as parts of boots, safety vests — and human bone among the weeds. The excavation is stopped early due to “time constraints.”

Back in the U.S, my 83-year-old grandfather is living in a VA hospital and running out of time. On New Year’s Eve 2006, surrounded by his wife and three surviving children, he dies.

Without Eddie, my grandmother’s health quickly deteriorates. She moves in with my mother, who is battling her own health issues as her breast cancer spreads to her bones and brain. My mother goes to bed every night with the prayer book her father had carried in Stalag 17 beside her. The title page is inscribed: “There are more things in this world wrought by prayer than this old world has ever dreamed of.”

And after 36 years of searching, doubt, and the excruciating wait for an answer, the countless prayers were answered. My mother’s voice on the line is shaky when she calls me: “It’s Jack. They think they’ve found something.”

On September 20, 2008, I stand behind my mother and grandmother as they hold hands before the tiny box about to be lowered into the ground. It contains a single bone, identified as Jack’s by a rare mtDNA mutation matching one in blood samples drawn from my mother and grandmother.

Rosemary Pearce receiving the flag from her son's coffin. Photo courtesy of Pearce family.

Rosemary Pearce receiving the flag from her son's coffin. Photo courtesy of Pearce family.

A far-off droning sound turns into a rib-shaking thrum. The 30-odd assembled guests at the funeral look up at the sky as the thick underbelly of an AC-130 passes overhead. I think of my uncle, the same age as I am now, flying over the jungles of Savannakhet. I think of the man in the truck below him that he is trying to kill, watching the night sky suddenly fill with light and the sound of gunfire. I think of my grandfather at age 19, parachuting into an unknown future.

Three volleys of shots pierce the sky over Pennsylvania, commemorating the dead.

My mother wrote the inscription on the gravestone my uncle and grandfather now share:

Separated by a generation fought in different wars, both shot down from the skies. The father, a prisoner of war, returned to fall in love, raise five children and live a long life.

The son’s remains were returned thirty-six years after he was shot down, to be laid to rest with his father, who had never stopped searching for him.

Grave markers for Edwin Jack Pearce and his father, Edwin Pearce. Photo courtesy of Pearce family.

Grave markers for Edwin Jack Pearce and his father, Edwin Pearce. Photo courtesy of Pearce family.

 

 

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Living Alone/Greatist

Photo by Edward Israel

Photo by Edward Israel

I spent my 20s living with multiple roommates in multiple neighborhoods in New York City. I’d never picked out a bathmat or been able to identify all the food in the fridge.

On the cusp of 30, I decided I was ready for a “room of my own” before fate or family tied me to a life of compromising on couch color. With two months to go until my birthday, I decided to embark on a year of self-discovery and cooking for one.

Sure, I had done my homework on the pluses and minuses of single life. Studies show that living alone can potentially lead to a shorter lifespan and poor eating habits. But weren’t all those TV depictions of single women who  while bathed in light from their open fridge just a cliché?

I quit a long-term job and moved into my sparkly new studio on the same day. I was terrified of starting at a new company but eager to take on new challenges. Plus, after five years of writing my ass off every morning, I had a literary agent and an almost-complete book manuscript. And while my last couple of relationships had ended badly, I was excited about a close friend who was becoming something more.

As I began to pack up my belongings, I let myself soak up the last month of my 20s. I was living in the age of Beyoncé, and I was feeling myself.

A Wake-Up Call

The move went well, and my “close friend” became a fixture at my new place, helping me hang photos and put together furniture. I shared my first few meals with him there, and we spent those early weekends exploring the neighborhood together.

I was happy—independent but partnered, side-stepping the stereotypes I'd feared. My new job and apartment were big steps forward in my life, and having someone to share them with made them seem that much more real.

Then that someone became a no one to me: After six months of dating, I went to his house and found my toiletries hidden and another woman’s toothbrush by the sink. Stunned, I retreated to my apartment.

But the place I had envisioned as a sanctuary felt like anything but. The studio that was supposed to be a blank slate on which I’d write my way forward in life was crowding me out with memories I now wanted to forget.

I was single and about to turn 30—a birthday that happened to coincide with the five-year anniversary of my mother’s death


While I had expected this anniversary to feel like the others—sucky but bearable—something about this one stung acutely. At 30, my mother was married and on her way to having me. What would she think if she saw me now, pacing my apartment in mismatched socks?

That’s when I decided it was time to take charge of this whole living alone thing. I set out to consciously experience what was happening within my own four walls—and came to some pretty freeing realizations.

Read the full post on Greatist.

 

3 Amazing Health Benefits of Matcha/Soul-cycle.com

Coffee fiends, meet your Matcha: An antioxidant-rich green tea that gives you energy without the crash so you can clip in and go go go all day long.

Coffee addicts, take note: There is a new drink in town, and it promises to combine the antioxidant power of tea with the energizing benefits of coffee – without the caffeine crash. Meet Matcha, our newest health craze crush. You’ve seen models sipping it at New York Fashion Week and major news publications proclaiming it The Next Big Thing in beverages.

Why all the hype? We did the research on the newest rockstar drink to hit your mug.

What is Matcha?

Matcha is an Instagram-ready, bright green beverage made from Japanese tea leaves ground into a fine powder. Devotees claim that using the whole leaf means it packs more antioxidants and nutrients than normal tea. It can be served hot, iced, in latte form… pretty much any way you’d drink your coffee. Matcha powder is also a delicious way to add a nutritional boost to your smoothies. Yum!

Health benefits of Matcha

1.    Metabolism boost

Matcha contains ECGC, a specific type of antioxidant known to boost metabolism. A study from the University of Colorado found Matcha has 137 times more ECGC per serving than normal green tea. Drink up!

2.    Energy without crashing

Like coffee, Matcha has caffeine -- a cup of Matcha has roughly the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee -- but  Matcha also packs a secret weapon: Theanine, an amino acid that brain studies show creates an alert but relaxed state. Just like that post-ride high!

3.    Antioxidants

Matcha is rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant credited with protecting the body from cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Bonus: Polyphenols are also great at regulating blood sugar and reducing blood pressure. Score!

Read the full post on Soul-Cycle.com.

The Anniversaries I Can't Forget/The huffington post

Hurricane Sandy hit New York City two years ago today. My fellow New Yorkers woke up to a world ripped up and watered down: trees and tires on sidewalks, buzzers and front doors black, open to whatever guest cared to wade in the water of the streets and up to their apartment. Friends slept with flashlights, other friends, and prayers. I woke up then, as now, with the type of damage you can’t take a picture of: My mother died five years ago today.

October 29, 2009: A date smack at the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, named for the disease that killed her. Five years later, my to-go coffee is served in pink Styrofoam and the credit card machine at the pharmacy asks me if I want to donate to cancer awareness every time I buy a toothbrush or a pack of gum.

October 29, 2009: A date right on the cusp of Halloween, when fake graves dot front yards and the dead walk the earth in bad zombie costumes.

I lay in bed this morning and thought maybe I don’t need to get up today.

But then I made a cup of coffee, and as its warmth kicked in, I felt my heart racing beneath my ribcage and knew that I would.

Two years ago today, the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading. A building collapsed near Union Square, its front walls sliding off like they were made of sand. More than 100 homes went up in flames in Breezy Point, Queens.

Five years ago today, I stood over my mother in a hospice bed and tried to breathe for her, a messed-up Lamaze in reverse.

 wrapped my fingers under my mother’s calves to help the nurse turn her; her ankles were turning a strange purple-gray.

“Her feet will feel cold,” the hospice nurse tells me. “Blood leaves the extremities first.”

My mother is lighter than I ever thought the woman who gave birth to me could be. Pressed against my arms, I can feel her heart pumping through her lopsided torso, the right side rising and falling, the left staying sunk where her breast used to be.

I don’t want to put my mother down. I don’t want everyone to see her like this, to see me like this.

Mom’s breathing is getting louder now, every intake like a diver’s who has just burst through the surface of water, filling his lungs before diving back down. She’s struggling to stay above, gulping, rattling, her eyes darting around the room.

On October 29, 2012, the Hudson River surges over Battery Park, exceeding 13.88 feet at 9:24 p.m., breaking all previous records.

My fingers find her ankles. I hold on as if I could anchor her to this world. Only one eye is working now, and it circles the room. She takes in her mother. Her brother and sister-in-law. Her youngest daughter. My father. Me. I hold her gaze and stare into her face, no longer frightened.

On October 29, 2012, patients at NYU Langone Medical Center are evacuated when the hospital’s backup power system fails.

My mother’s focus drifts to the skylight above her bed, an October sky so blue it seems to fill her iris to bursting.

When I look back down at my mother, she is already gone.

I leave my wailing grandmother and my father kissing Mom’s dead forehead and my sister staring at my father, still holding his wife. I walk and walk until I realize I am standing in front of the hospice nursery.

A hand taps my shoulder, and I barely find the energy to turn around. It’s my cousin’s wife, arrived too late. Her 6-month-old blinks up at me from against her chest. I don’t say anything; I just open my arms.

Bending down to kiss the baby’s forehead, I try to lose myself in that smell of soap and baby shampoo and skin.

She will never see me do this. I don’t know how to do this.

It will be the first of many times when I realize what it means to lose a mother.

The image I remember most from all the coverage of Hurricane Sandy was one I never got to see in real life, but I feel it like a memory: the image of Jane’s Carousel in Dumbo, brightly-lit painted horses trapped behind glass and the water rising, fast.

I walked by it on a recent, sunny weekend. The horses still buck and go in circles and children still ride them, the river a few feet away, lapping safely behind the rocks.

I have access to what my life was like before my mother’s death: sitting on her lap in the backyard of our house built on 14 acres of an old Christmas tree farm, my neck craned up into the warmth of her chin as we look for shooting stars; her visit to me when I studied abroad in Paris, sharing our first glass of wine as the candles jump and the wax runs down the table in the breeze from the open window; watching her drive away from my first Brooklyn apartment, her stubbled head from chemo just catching the light. Holding her until her heart stopped beating, then discovering mine still did.

The waters rise and they recede. I can’t walk certain streets of New York without remembering where I was during Hurricane Sandy, and I’m sure New Yorkers across the city feel the same. For the few people on earth who were in that room with my mother five years ago today, the world has a certain cast.

I will have my mother’s laugh, her life, and her death stretching before me for the rest of my days, waterlines pressed into my skin. But where once there was only a memory of the flood, five years on, I’m only just realizing my capacity to keep beating on, one small boat against the current of the past.

With love to Uncle Kim, Aunt Laurie, Chuck, and Morgan.

This originally appeared on The Huffington Post .