3-16 Finding a way to show up March 16, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — emilyltripp @ 2:43 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I woke up the morning following my last post with a feeling of dread after yet another near-sleepless night trying to get my mom’s pain under control. I felt stripped raw–so vulnerable–and I questioned my own sanity at putting something so honest up in the public sphere. Who does that?? But I shouldn’t have worried, because following my mother’s advice rarely works out poorly for me. The response I received was overwhelming, and you all gave me kindness and strength and love that could very well have come straight from her. Overall, it was clear that you all agree with CT (of course). I need to take better care of me.

Still feeling a bit frantic, I decided to go to the store and hopefully clear my head. Leaving the house these past few weeks has been a great source of anxiety for me–I worry about about running into people I know, about having 5 minute conversations about my situation, about things going wrong while I’m gone (the thought that she could die while I’m running around trying to find the right brand of vanilla almond milk is paralyzing). I sat in the car outside of Kroger on my phone, delaying the task while fighting back tears. Then I saw this:

Today has been rough. I’ve been missing my Aunt Linda so much. When I’m upset, I clean. Maniacally. I’ve been tearing apart my room all morning. I got to my closet and sat on the floor. I look to my left and there she is. Showing me she never left. The stone has two angels carved into it and I’ve always thought of them as my aunt Linda and Uncle Tom. On difficult days I carry it with me for strength. The last time I saw this stone was the day I took it to Sloan for my last scan results. I haven’t seen it since. But I wasn’t afraid I lost it. Because it always shows up when I need it. Like today. So for anyone out there thinking you lost someone that you love, you haven’t. They’re still with you. Call for them. They’ll find a way to show up.


I met Kathleen* almost five years ago at a concert in New York. She’s an all-around incredible human, and there have been a lot of times since then that I have drawn strength from her words, but this just knocked me out. I sat in the car sobbing, feeling all of the misery and panic inside me just rush out. Of course she’s still with me, of course. I just need to allow her to show me that.

Later that evening Alive Hospice sent over a R.N. to evaluate Cynthia and try to better ease her pain and agitation. I cannot say this enough: hospice workers have some of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered in my life. After we talked about her symptoms, and the concerns I have been having for her comfort, Debbie looked at me and said exactly what I needed to hear–that I am not, and cannot do anything wrong in this situation. She spoke plainly about the reality of all of this, and answered questions I didn’t even know I had. While we talked, Cynthia slept between us, and she assured me that we could not say anything that she did not already know–that it is important to keep talking to her, because while it is difficult for her to communicate with us, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t understand what is happening (in fact, there are many studies that show that at the end of life, even people who are completely unresponsive are actually aware of everything that happens around them). As always, Momma still calls the shots, and she would want complete transparency.

The next day felt like a breakthrough in my mindset. I tried to make deliberate choices to honor her wish–to take care of myself, and in doing so I felt like I was better able to take care of her. Sarah James came over and we went out for a bit together. We talked about how confusing this whole thing is, how at times we are overwhelmed by how quickly our circumstances have changed, and about how glad we are to have each other to lean on.

So when I was awakened early this morning by her erratic breathing I just…started to talk to her. It was easy to imagine her responses to my babbling. As her breath continued to be in turns fitful and even in her sleep, I pulled out my copy of Tennyson’s complete works (published in 1868, a Christmas gift from her last year) and started reading Ulysses. Halfway through the poem, she opened her eyes. When I reached the last section, she smiled. I have the last line of this poem tattooed on my body, in her handwriting. (All of my tattoos are in her handwriting, actually. It’s something we’ve secretly shared with each other for years.)

Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I kept reading. I read i carry your heart with me by e. e. cummings. She looked in my eyes and moaned softly, and nodded. I read one of my recent posts, A Lifetime Contained. The lines You have many ordinary days behind you, Most of which were filled with sweat and work evoked a noise joined by an eye roll that I took to mean “Yes, Emily. Obviously.” She closed her eyes, face going soft when I spoke of the realization of her next big moment. I asked her after a while if she wanted to sleep some more, and she nodded. I turned out the lights and we fell back asleep. She’s been mostly asleep since then.

I had a conversation with my mother at 4 a.m this morning. I can’t wait until the next one.


*Kathleen Emmets is a lovely writer, and is not at all unfamiliar with fighting this vile, insidious disease. You can find more of her work HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.


3-13 “No. You take care of YOU.” March 13, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — emilyltripp @ 11:27 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Emily and Cynthia in Cold Springs, NY – November 2014

It’s difficult to know what to write–how to write–on bad days. This week hasn’t been all bad, but it has been very, very difficult. The clarity and the humor that filled last weekend seem distant, and what’s left sometimes leaves me feeling hollow. The anger I was struggling with earlier in the week has simmered into a kind of desperate sadness, a grief for something that isn’t completely lost. I find myself thinking a lot about my mom’s last visit to New York in November. We took the train up to Cold Springs one day to go antiquing, and spent most of the day just sitting in a little hole in the wall diner, talking about our lives. That’s mostly what we do when she visits–we eat good food, we rest, and we talk. She’s always been my first call when the slightest thing happens in my life, and I can always count on her to hear me and know what to say. She gets me. I think that’s what’s so difficult about this for me–losing the person that has been my person for so long (even though she’s still here, in so many ways).

The spread of the cancer has caused her an incredible amount of pain in the past few days, which means more pain medication, which amplifies her disorientation. She is very weak–unable to hold herself upright or stand at all, and her appetite has nearly disappeared–except for breakfast food, strangely. She never used to eat in the mornings, but now she’s giving my cooking skills a much needed workout. Upon request I have revived a favorite French Toast recipe, and tomorrow I’ll be attempting crepes! Things like that give me purpose, move me forward through the days.

But what’s missing for me is her conversation. Every once in a while she will just look at me and it feels a second away from normal, and then it’s gone. The last interaction that truly made sense between us came the day we brought her home from the hospital–and she has no memory of it now. She held my hand and asked what was going to happen next and I told her not to worry, that I would take care of it. I said that I would take care of our family, that I was here and I wasn’t going anywhere. She looked at me and firmly said, “No. You take care of YOU.” I cried, and laughed because that is so her, and then promptly put that advice from my head because there was just so much to doAnd now I’ve spent the last 2 weeks with her nearly every second of every day. I am in complete control of every drug that goes into her body, of every meal she occasionally consumes. I keep detailed notes about blood sugar levels, and how that affects the sliding scale of her insulin. My only interactions with people that aren’t her or my family have been stilted, awkward attempts at connection that just sort of fizzle out at the end. I’m an emotional wreck, but I’m a great compartmentalizer! I am completely, totally, not taking care of me at all. Gentle but firm prodding from both my dad and my sister proves that they see the seams coming apart, too.

My mom wrote in a note to me last summer after we spent the week at a quiet Florida beach, that “while we are all essentially alone, our connections to people we love and who love us makes our aloneness not lonely.” It’s time to pull on those connections, to take care of me, so that I can better take care of her. I think one of the first steps is to give thanks to all of you, for continuing to love us through it. My mother has been better about this. She did a Devotion for the Upper School at BA in November all about the difference between saying thanks and giving thanks–and to be honest, I’m not sure exactly where to start, so I’m going to stay right here and do something small: respond to your comments, your emails, your texts. I’ll warn you that I’m bad at this, but I feel that it’s important. Each message from you has been a bit of sturdy ground for us to stand on, and we are so grateful for you. My connection to each of you, even those of you I don’t really know at all, makes my aloneness not so lonely.




3-9 A Lifetime Contained March 9, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — emilyltripp @ 3:21 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This weekend has been so sweet. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write about all of the silly, ridiculous, frustrating, joyful, strange, goofy (all so precious) moments that have happened in the past 3 days, but for now my dad and my sister and I must hold them close, protect them, cherish them. We’ve held our breath for days, on the edge of hilarity. She’s been so animated, so herself. Even though her aphasia has gotten extreme (a lot of the words she says aren’t at all what she means), every now and then there will be a second of pure perfection. On Saturday, as she dozed and I wrote, I heard her say “Don’t you doubt for a second–you have given me a lifetime contained.” Later that night she declared Sarah James and I the wardens of her heart. “You guard it,” she said. Even in the in-between times, when it seems like she isn’t quite sure where or when she is, she’s still all Cynthia: impatient, stubborn, captivating.

Yesterday she and Sarah James lounged in bed while I sorted through a dresser drawer stuffed with papers. We giggled for hours over her C’s in Bowling and Social Dance freshman year of college (a small stain on an otherwise impeccable transcript), passive aggressive notes from mine and SJ’s childhood (a list in my handwriting includes ‘LEAVE SJ ALONE’ as both a chore and a goal, a list in hers states ‘she won’t leave me alone’ as one of the many reasons I annoy her), a tiny faded photo of her and dad laughing poolside in the early years of their marriage–all tucked in amongst paperwork and Target receipts. I could spend years combing through this house and continue to be delighted by the riches sheltered inside.

Aruba, 1995

Aruba, 1995

On Saturday night, when transferring her from her wheelchair into bed, she complained of pain on her right side, above her ribcage. The area is swollen, and very tender–likely caused by inflammation in the liver due to the spread of the cancer. This morning she woke screaming at 7 am, in excruciating pain in both her head and chest. We got it under control and she slept most of the morning. When she woke on Friday, she looked at me and said, “I think I’m going to beat this,” and my dad, my sister, and I have been living in that suspended moment ever since. I’ll be honest with you all: I’m trying so desperately not to be angry, to instead be thankful for this borrowed time, but sometimes it seems impossible. My dad told me that it’s hard to understand why we can’t just keep her, and I agree. She’s ours. She belongs to us (and we thank you for understanding our need to be selfish with her time). She’s worried a few times that we’ll get bored of this, conscious of our needs even now that hers surpass them, but my breath catches every time she smiles. I found this passage in with all the rest of the treasures–

Don’t you kids know,
That life is made up of ordinary days
When there is no one to pat you on the back?
When there is no one to praise you?
When there is no one to honor you?
When there is no one to see how brave and noble you are?

Almost all of life is made of these ordinary days.
And it is how you live your ordinary days
That determines whether or not you have big moments.
Get out there and make something of your ordinary days.

You have many ordinary days behind you,
Most of which were filled with sweat and work.
And you have also had some big moments
That were a result of the ordinary days.
But there is a big moment that has not
been realized for quite some time.

It is time for that moment!

Ann Kiemel Anderson “I’m Out To Change My World”

–we want to stay grounded in these ordinary days, as much as possible, for as long as possible.



3-5 Certainty March 5, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — emilyltripp @ 7:46 pm
Tags: , ,

snow dayToday we woke up refreshed after 12 full hours of sleep. Sarah James suggested that maybe it was a good day to get out of bed and into the wheelchair, which was a great idea! We sat by the front door to eat breakfast and watch the snow fall–it’s been a week since we came home and started hospice care, and things are finally starting to feel a bit more even. I started a calendar to keep track of each day’s ups and downs–we’ll add to it as we go.

We’ve been talking a lot about the future. Yesterday a chaplain from the hospice came by and sat with my Dad and me for a bit. This thing we are doing–not seeking further treatment but instead focusing on palliative care–is messy. It goes against what we’ve been taught our whole lives: when you are sick, you have to do things to start or speed the healing process. But when you know that the job is too big, that treatment will only cause pain and discomfort and most likely will not succeed, this is a path to choose.

There are all kinds of ideas about how this will progress. Certain sets of symptoms mean certain things (but are not completely certain): weeks, days, hours left. The truth is that we have no idea when that moment will come–none of us do. Cynthia has been struggling lately with what most of us will face at some point in our future: the knowledge that that moment will probably be sooner than later. In true CT fashion, she is on the case. She has spoken often about being ready, and–not one to do things by halves–is a bit impatient to get on with it. There’s a box to be checked, a task to be completed, and it doesn’t seem to make sense that there’s really nothing to do but wait. Chaplain Lovelace talked about finding meaning in these days, so that’s next on our to-do list. We want to be blessed by each extra day, and not spend too much time worrying about the why? of it all.



March 4th, 2015 – Happy Birthday, Cynthia! March 4, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — emilyltripp @ 1:25 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Cynthia turns 65 today! For her birthday, I had originally planned to put together a book of some kind for her, but after becoming overwhelmed by both the number of stories and our situation in general, I instead started just reading them to her in quiet moments. Here are just a few of the many stories, thoughts, and tributes that you have shared with us (all used with permission from their authors).

Thank you all so much,

Emily, Sarah James, James, and of course, Cynthia

The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
But the great teacher inspires.

– William A. Ward

(A thought shared with me today by Lisa Springman, who found this quote on her calendar for March 4th.)

In the years that Cindy and I have worked together, I have realized that she is, to quote an early Bee Gees album (circa 1840s), something “rare, precious, and beautiful.” When I had the opportunity to sit in on her grammar classes, I was dumbfounded by the enthusiasm she could bring to squiggles such as commas. Her true delight, however, was in her students, and she told me that being with them was the one thing she would miss as her role at school expanded. 

There are few teachers who are equally capable of being great teachers and fine administrators. What made Cindy so effective is that she brought the drive that served her so well in the classroom to her new office. Even as she worked to define her responsibilities with the faculty and with representing the school, Cindy remained the encourager and the teacher for her colleagues. 

I am more of a teacher now than I was before I met Cindy, and for that I am always grateful.

– David Sawyer

No one has impacted Mason’s life any more powerfully than Cindy Tripp.  As a squirrelly middle schooler with more than the usual dose of angst, energy and emotional over reaction, Cindy believed in him.  Always patient and kind, always encouraging and supportive, always with the dependable boundaries that he needed for security.  When I was at the end of my rope with this difficult child of mine, Cindy was always confident of his true self and helped me keep the faith, knowing God had him right where he wanted him.

– Katy Graham

Mrs. Tripp and Mason Graham

Mrs. Tripp and Mason Graham

A few weeks before I graduated, she asked me what I was most looking forward to about life after BA. Like a brat, I responded, “Being able to do whatever I want.” She let out a deep laugh–the kind that makes you rock your head back to let it out–and told me, “Chris, we always let you get away with what you wanted.” I was a bit taken aback at the time, but now laugh whenever I think about it.

Your mother is amazing woman, and I am truly grateful that she was my teacher. Few people are as kind as her.

– Christopher Blankenship

You are such an inspiration to me. The bracelet you gave me gives me daily strength. Yes, there are knots in the bracelet to signify that life is sometimes hard. God never promised a life free of struggles. But the bracelet also has a cross to signify that He is always there with us…no matter what happens. And then the pearl reminds me that I am special. The bracelet* means so much to me because of what it signifies, and because it is from you. I will always cherish it as a tangible reminder of our friendship and how much it will always mean to me.

– Teresa Neely-White

Mrs. Tripp and Neely White

Mrs. Tripp and Neely White


When I think of who you are, the words that most come to mind are intelligent, thoughtful, caring, constant, persevering, and professional. I have always admired those qualities in you, and you have certainly set the bar high.

I look to you to know who to be professionally. You have shown me how to be analytical and thoughtful, to examine every side of a difficult situation, never judgmental, always supportive of others experiencing crisis. The objectivity you demonstrate when dealing with emotional issues with the fine arts world (and let’s face it, we are never short of those!) is something I strive to emulate. You are always calm, cool, and professional.

– Jenny Oldham


My daughter Caroline was torn about where to go to college.  We looked all up and down the East Coast and at Miami of Ohio before Courtney Jones suggested that we visit Virginia Tech.  We knew nothing about Tech but remembered that Sarah James had gone to school there so we went to talk to Cindy.  Never have I seen her face light up like it did when she talked about Blacksburg!  She even offered to drive up there with me to visit Caroline because, at that point, Sarah James had graduated and Cindy had no logical reason to make that six hour drive.  She even went so far as to meet me at Starbucks and draw a map of all the “safe” truck-stops where Caroline could stop and fill up when she was driving alone.  She also gave me a step by step of where to eat when we were in Blacksburg (including Macado’s and the Homeplace), how the Hokie passport worked, what dining plan to get, where she should live (The Well), what to wear to football games (Orange and Maroon Effect t-shirts), and all other things Virginia Tech.  So Caroline made her choice and off we went to the most amazing university in the country! To say it was the best four years of her life to date would be an understatement. We all lived and breathed maroon and orange and when she graduated we all cried like babies because now we were in Cindy’s shoes. We no longer had a logical reason to make that six hour drive!

What an incredibly brilliant, passionate and caring person you have in your mom. We hold her and your family in our hearts, and would gladly load up right now with her and make that crazy six hour drive.  GO HOKIES!

– Vicki Askew

Cynthia, James, Sarah James, and Abigail in Monroe

Cynthia, James, Sarah James, and Abigail in Monroe

Honestly, I read it for the articles.

We were in a mediocre hotel restaurant in Wilmington, DE shooting the breeze. I’m a former English teacher and occasional writer, so at some point Cindy suggested that I start reading Garden and Gun. I nodded politely. No, I thought, must be a Brentwood thing. I have neither a garden nor a gun.

She persisted. “It’s great writing.”

So, sure enough, based on her recommendation, I’m a current subscriber to Garden and Gun and she’s right! It’s my most anticipated magazine each month. I’ve bought music and scheduled vacations all based on a magazine that, as Cindy promised, is not so much about gardens or guns.

So, thanks, Cindy, for convincing me to read it for the articles. You have great taste in writing indeed!

– Lorrie Jackson

It was such a special day when Emily and Mrs. Tripp made a breakfast feast of bacon, baked eggs in avocado and pancakes. The day was made supremely special by Mrs. Tripp, who generously gifted me with a bracelet* off her own wrist. She and I were washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen when I had complimented her turquoise cross bracelets. When she told me the beautiful story of their origin I think she could tell I loved the story so much and what the bracelet represented that in that very moment she undid one of the bracelets from her own wrist and put it on mine. I wear it often. It makes me feel strong. Every time I get a compliment on the bracelet I am so excited to tell them the story behind it, that the cross represents life and the knots represent our struggle and that the pearl represents the beauty that we are. I have butchered how poetically it was said to me that morning, but is still one of my favorite little life moments.

– Hannah Cranton

Momma and Emily

Momma and Emily


My MOST endearing story (there are many) of Mrs Tripp is when she greeted my incoming 7th grader on the 1st day of school with a decked out wheelchair and said “hop in Carly this is going to be fun! We’ll get all the boys to open doors and carry your books and all the girls are going to want to push you around!” and off they went. Carly had been in a terrible ATV accident just 3 weeks prior to school starting and suffered a broken arm and broken back…we were both dreading her going back to school. Not to worry–thanks to Mrs Tripp (and others at BA, of course) she never missed a beat.  I held onto the pillow that CT had softened my daughter’s wheelchair with for years–I wish I still had it–a reminder of the happy, no-nonsense courage imparted to Carly Smallwood.

– Susan Smallwood


The Brentwood Academy Faculty recorded a sweet birthday song for CT–we asked that they sing softly and slowly so that she could truly take it all in. She loved it–we paused the video several times to look at faces and talk about her love for all of you.

*the bracelet is made by Pam Murray, and can be found at It was first gifted to my mother by Shelley Wolf in the days following her initial diagnosis. It has been a great comfort to her friends and family to be connected to so many others walking this path.