Gone, But Still Here: Ambiguous Loss


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Not long ago, I was listening to a podcast when this phrase, ambiguous loss, came up.  I’d heard it before but had forgotten that such a predicament had been identified and given a name.  Now here I am, six years into caring for my husband with vascular dementia, still struggling with the same ambiguity and loss.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “ambiguous loss” first appeared in the work of psychologist Dr. Pauline Boss.  “Ambiguous loss can freeze the grief process.” says Dr. Boss, “People can’t get over it, they can’t move forward, they’re frozen in place.” ( https://www.wellandgood.com/how-to-deal-with-ambiguous-loss/)

 Boss first studied families whose members were pilots missing in action during the 1970s Vietnam War.  Ambiguous grief could occur when a family member was physically absent but psychologically present, in cases of military MIAs, divorce, desertion, or miscarriage.

The same ambiguous loss may occur when the member is physically present, but psychologically absent, as with chronic mental illness, dementia, traumatic brain injury, or addiction.

These days, my husband is unrecognizable as the man I met eighteen years ago.  I try to recall his personality, his presence, and way of being in the world from that time, and I can’t form a clear picture.  He is present in body, slower but still healthy for his seventy-four years.  Except he needs so much guidance, so much supervision, so much of my mental energy.

I have passed through many emotions in six years.  For a long time, I was enraged.  My imagined future, the travels, the freedom of movement, the solitude so necessary for an introvert like myself, evaporated like a puddle after rain.  I grieved for those losses, too, and the companion I no longer had. 

Only recently, I realized that there were some bright sparks in this life his illness has imposed on me.  I can work on my creative projects with little interference.  I’ve established a daily routine that works for me, making only two meals for us each day.  We have our regular activities with friends.  Despite the burdens, these adaptations lighten my load.

Boss recommends ways to cope with ambiguous loss.  I’ve done all of them.

Here they are:

Five tips for coping with ambiguous loss:

  1. Give a name to what you’re experiencing
  2. Find a therapist
  3. Join a support group
  4. Celebrate what remains
  5. Discover new hope for the future

Are you a caregiver?  Have you any additional tips for those of us dealing with ambiguous loss? Send me a comment.


Available from Handersen Publishing and Amazon.com

Never Swat a Fly



My plants have fungus gnats, those tiny, irritating insects that drift through the house, drowning themselves in our water glasses or soap dish.  At any time of day, someone in the house will suddenly clap their hands.

“Didja get it?” 


For years, I’ve been diligently spraying my house plants’ soil with insecticidal soap.  And it worked for a long time.  But either I’m not being thorough enough, or the newest generation is immune to the spray.

These little insects, I read, are attracted to carbon dioxide.  This explains why they fly into one’s face, and, occasionally, up one’s nose.  They lay eggs in the top layer of soil in house plants’ pots.  The larvae hatch and burrow deeper, living on decayed matter. 

I don’t enjoy killing insects, not even mosquitoes, who adore biting me.  Every time I do squash a spider or insect, I think about the Jain monks and their vows of total non-violence.  The monks walk barefoot wherever they go to avoid crushing any living thing.  They also carry a broom made of woolen threads, using it to sweep away creatures in their path. 

I am not so conscientious.  Arachnids and insects in the house are either captured and released outside, or killed.  The fungus gnats are so annoying that my twinges of guilt last barely a millisecond.

One helpful video advises putting some apple cider vinegar in a little dish.  The gnats will drown themselves in it.  Also, one can make a triangle out of thick yellow paper (school folder, or paint strip sampler) and coat it with Vaseline.  Cinnamon powder on the soil might work as well.

All this pondering on violence to insect life recalled a song from Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. During my teens, I was a big fan of this band.  My idol was Maria D’Amato, the only female member of the group.  She played the violin and sang in her husky, sexy voice.  She later found fame going solo as Maria Muldaur.

Here’s the link to the recording I used to listen to, and the lyrics.  The song itself dates from the 1930s.

Never Swat a Fly


As recorded by JIM KWESKIN & THE JUG BAND:

Never swat a fly

He may love another fly

He may sit with her and sigh

The way I do with you


Never harm a flea

He may have a favourite she

That he bounces on his knee

The way I do with you


Never hurt a bee

If he is going anywhere

You may be concluding

Some terrific love affair, be careful


Don’t step on an ant

In the middle of a plant

He may want to, but he can’t

The way I do with you

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Oh, Summer Night!


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Sit on the back deck.

Spit cherry pits over the rail

While crickets sing in the hayfield

And fireflies’ searchlights flicker

Those tiny green stars blink

Like planes

Coming in for a landing.


Smell the leaf mold

The cut grass

Hear the river gurgle below the old willow

The breeze kisses your cheek

On its way to the ridge.


Once I read a story

About a summer night like this.

Three children sat by a brook

Drinking rootbeer

And slapping at mosquitoes.

I wish they were here

With me now.


Welcome, new followers! Thanks for reading.


What’s your favorite part of summer? Coming from a West Coast childhood, I’m still enchanted by fireflies and Queen Anne’s lace.


Available from Handersen Publishing or Amazon.com

Come Meet Me at the Radiant Book Fair August 21

Zeddicus is the warlock who keeps Malcolm prisoner in Book I, Tangled in Magic

I’ve left my sewing projects in favor of creating figures from my books, the Karakesh Chronicles.

You can see them all at the Radiant Book Fair in Wallkill on Saturday, August 21, 10 am-6 pm.

The springtime Green Man appears in Book V, Growing Magic.


Hope to see you at the Book Fair!



Come Meet Me at the Radiant Book Fair

8/21 in Wallkill, NY – Book Fair, Author Discovery, Crafts, Games and Prizes

By Radiant Publishing House Inc. on 

Radiant Publishing House is hosting an Author Discovery and Book Fair featuring games and prizes!

It is Saturday, August 21 from 10am – 6pm @ Popp Park 3182 Route 208 Wallkill, NY 12589. Admission for visitors is FREE for guests!

I will be there with my books and some special guests from the Karakesh Chronicles:

The Green Man, or Leshy, in his spring time form

The Green Man is a legendary spirit who appears as the Old Man of the Forest in Book V, Growing Magic, of the Karakesh Chronicles. Growing Magic will be available soon.

Come to my table and say hi! Meet me and the monk bear Frere Floriot, Blink, the evil warlock Zeddicus, and more!



Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com


You already know the secret

That shimmers in the humid air

Between you and your mother.


Your mother knew the secret,

That tangled link

That floated in the space

Between her and her mother

But she forgot it

After she slipped out of

The birth canal

And her mother left her

In the care of the German governess.

That hidden ingredient

The invisible lace

That twines heart to heart

Too easy to unravel with ignorance

Or by simply turning away.


My mother’s eyes

Go blank as I stand

Right there in her sight path

Look at me! My heart pleads

Let me see joy in your eyes


But she is thinking about something else

She is talking to a parent on the phone.

She is planning the cocktail party.


The secret lace that bonds

Is broken.


Available from Handersen Publishing or Amazon.com

The Continental Circus


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On the way from here to there, my husband and I see a fancy motorcycle at a stoplight.  It is metallic teal with red spokes and wheel rims. 

“Did I ever tell you about my summer with motorcycles?” I say to him, knowing that even if I had, he would no longer remember.  We have a twenty-minute drive ahead of us.  Why not tell him again–from the beginning–?

“So I met this French-American guy through a friend of a friend who was living in Paris.  I’ll call him Jean-Claude.  He grew up in Connecticut, but his parents were French and lived in Paris.  Jean-Claude was tall and lean.  He had a space between his front teeth, longish brown hair and hound dog brown eyes.

“I was in school at the University of Bordeaux, and when the semester was over, I moved into a Paris sublet with Jean-Claude.  He had a job as assistant producer for a documentary film about the Continental Circus.  That’s what the motorcycle racing season in Europe was called.  It may still be going.  I don’t know.

“Anyway, we shared this tiny studio apartment.  I got a silly job as the gatekeeper at the American Center in Paris.  I sat around on a bench by the front gate, reading a book, and occasionally letting approved people in or out.  Of course, I slammed my finger in the gate, but that’s not part of the motorcycle story.

“The producer of the documentary was a young Frenchman named Jerome Laperrousaz.  He had made a contract with Jack Findlay, a private motorcycle racer.  Jack agreed to let Jerome film him for the whole season, everywhere he went.  Jack was Australian.  Private riders like Jack had to support themselves during the season.  Jack’s girlfriend and manager was Nanou, a French woman.  They lived in a trailer while they followed the Circus.

“The star of the Continental Circus in those days was an Italian playboy named Giacomo Agostini.  He was dashing and handsome.  Agostini was a factory rider, sponsored by Moto Agusta, the manufacturer of the winning MV model motorcycle.

“Jean-Claude brought me along to one of the races, somewhere near Lyons. We got press passes that allowed us to be on the track.  Jean-Claude went off with Jerome.  I wandered around and found a good vantage point on the median near the track’s edge.  I must have watched a number of races, but I remember only two things. First, Jean-Claude was impressed that I was able to identify the sound of the Norton bike before it rounded the bend.

“The second memory still makes my legs weak.  I watched the side-car racers come around the curve.  These side cars were not the little capsules attached to motorcycles that we know from World War I films. Oh, no.

These “side cars” consisted only of a platform on which the driver’s partner knelt.  It was the side car rider’s job to lean out over the track to counterbalance the bike as it dipped around the curves.  The rider would be barely inches above the asphalt.  How fast were they going?  Seventy?  Eighty? Ninety miles an hour? 

“I was amazed to learn that many of the side car riders were women, the partners of the racers.

“What happened to Jack Findlay? He lost races that season.  Then he crashed and was injured.  The last scene of the film was Jack limping along the track with a cane. 

“As for life in Paris, I had thought to stay there with Jean-Claude.  But my father rather firmly pointed out that I had only one more quarter to graduate from U.C. Irvine, and that I should come home and do it. 

“So I did.  Jean-Claude stayed in France while Jerome finished up the film.  Then he came to live with me in Claremont for a short while.  It wasn’t so exciting, the two of us in California.  I had a job making hand-forged jewelry.  He eventually got a delivery job driving a van.  A few days later, Jerome called from Paris with a new project.  Jean-Claude left for Europe while I courted deafness pounding silver on an anvil.

“I heard later that he had an affair with the actor Terrence Stamp.” 


Available from Handersen Publishing and Amazon.com

The First Phase of Growth



I am a victim of my own devising

I am a shooting star

I am a singer who begs revising

I stand with truth and a cracked guitar


So steer the course without a rudder

swim the sea in a ripping tide

If words won’t lift me over Jordan

I’ll beg the porpoise for a ride.


Send me a moon to trace the water

Send me a cat to climb the dawn

Ring the bluebells, mix the mortar

Build a cairn when day is gone.


Welcome, new followers! Thanks for reading! Send me a comment once in while!


Available from Handersen Publishing or Amazon.com

The Dinosaur Sticker



Here is another story from my teaching days.


Having Jorge in my kindergarten ESL class was simply exhausting.  Just walking from his regular classroom to mine was a challenge.  If he wasn’t walking backward, Jorge was pushing the kid in front of him, or stopping and running to catch up.  Staying in line was out of the question.  All the while he would be calling out to me in his high, piping voice, “Ms. Ellis!  I hungry!”  “Ms. Ellis!  Look!  Spiderman!”

         Jorge seemed to come from a household where no limits were put on his behavior.  In school, he was “all over the place” as his harried teacher, Mrs. R., put it.  He appeared deaf to directions, and if I made the mistake of trying to take his hand to guide him back into line, he became a rigid, unmovable statue.  Given consequences, Jorge showed no remorse.

         When the group was finally seated on the rug in my room, Jorge rolled around or talked to his cousin.  Mrs. R and I were exasperated, seeing little progress in English acquisition or any other basic kindergarten knowledge.  We asked our Spanish-speaking teacher to call Jorge’s mother and discuss his behavior.  Our principal rode the bus and reported that Jorge’s behavior to and from school was just as lawless.

         To keep Jorge’s hands occupied, I tried one of my cleverest teacher tricks:  I gave him something to carry when we walked in the hall.  It worked for a short time until Jorge began using the book or papers as weapons. 

         And then one day in January I was teaching a lesson on rhyming word pairs using picture cards.  Jorge was not only paying attention, he was practically in my lap, eyes fixed on the pocket chart.  His voice was the first and loudest, naming each pair as we sang the rhyming song.  I was astounded. 

         We walked back to the classroom with Jorge doing his usual antics, but at Mrs. R’s door, I took Jorge aside.  “You did such a good job in class today, I want you to have this special sticker,” I told him.  I gave him a shiny dinosaur sticker.  Jorge put it in the center of his navy blue and dark green striped shirt, right over his heart.

         Mrs. R was absent that Monday, so I couldn’t tell her about the change in Jorge’s behavior.  On Tuesday she was absent as well.  I noticed that Jorge was wearing the same shirt with the dinosaur sticker.  On Wednesday, Mrs. R was back in school, and Jorge was back with the same shirt.  By now the dinosaur sticker was a little ragged and curling at the edges.

         Before we left for the ESL classroom, I brought Jorge over to Mrs. R and told her about Jorge’s great day.

         “OK, Jorge, Mrs. R knows what a good job you did,” I said.  “Now you can let your mom wash your shirt.”