Tag Archives: Grief

The Marathon

I.

A year ago today my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and six weeks later she was dead. I try to hold her hand in my memory, but it’s not working; it’s not working. Every day she becomes less human, more ethereal. I signed a lease on an apartment in St. Paul recently. It has bay windows and French doors and a glass porch. A young person’s first place has no right to be so beautiful.

The juxtaposition of the two events is jolting and sad. Numbing.

I hear you’re not supposed to “put a timeline” on grief. But I want to. Because grief hurts and whips and drains like a motherfucker, and I want to be done with it. Or at least be able to regard it knowingly, and from a great distance.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making progress. Like I’ve come through intact. But then every time I’ve caught my balance, I trip on something else.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m feeling until it’s too late. Then I realize I’ve been putting on a facade for other people.

Or, more likely, putting on a facade for myself.

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IV. Eaux Claires Festival: Starlight

Eaux Claires, Saturday, after sunset. The ticket stand was close to abandoned; the workers were joking around as I paid cash for a second ticket. The murmur of the crowd echoed in the valley. Walking down into the field, parts of the path were so dark I couldn’t see my hands.

“Here?” I asked my friend. Close enough to see, far enough away to watch.

“Sure.”

She took off her sweater and spread it across the grass. People around us sat, then stood, then sat again. Some were laughing. A few were smoking. The heat had finally broken. Muggy, expectant starlight now.

The crowd shrieked itself into ecstasy as a figure took the stage. It was festival narrator and beautifully talented local author Michael Perry, lit up from behind like a rock star. “Good to see you here. Everybody’s gathered round for…” and his voice sharpened: “vespers.”

Perry offered a brief meditation on the nature of neighbors, of the valley, of music. “And so here we are, cradled by a river in a sanctuary of sound, craving consecration, exultation, on bended knee, seeking benediction.” About halfway through, electronic noises began spattering away behind his baseball cap. New Bon Iver backup singers The Staves listened, their arms around each other. Everything felt tuned to a higher pitch. In more ways than one, the stage was set.

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III. Eaux Claires Festival: Twilight

We don’t talk about Bon Iver’s name enough. A homonym of “bon hiver,” or “good winter” in French, the words recall a wooden Wisconsin cabin, probably with the chimney puffing and snowbanks heaped outside. But this Friday and Saturday in that very state, the average high temperature was much hotter: the heat reached around 90 degrees, plus humidity. Far from the icy grip of winter, a July audience enjoyed a rare Bon Iver set from musician Justin Vernon. The occasion? None other than the inaugural Eaux Claires festival, which Vernon founded and co-curated with the National’s Aaron Dessner. It kicked off on Friday; read a recap here. Eaux Claires’s second and final day of music featured extra genre-blurring excitement, a fun Indigo Girls set, and Vernon’s first Bon Iver performance since 2012….

[Sufjan] Stevens also shared some of his personal feelings about the show: “Great to be here and have this view…beautiful and happy faces. It’s a picture of abundance.” He looked out from stage. “I never play festivals — I have such a fear of crowds — agoraphobia, social anxiety. The last two days have been proving all my fears wrong. It’s been like a 48-hour episode of My Little Pony.”…

Billboard, July 19

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II: Eaux Claires Festival: Afternoon

On a cold March night, I found a video of The Staves and Justin Vernon singing Make It Holy.

It was early in the month: the time of year when spring seems both impossibly near and far. My mother and I were living at my grandmother’s farm, sleeping in my dead grandfather’s bed. There was nowhere else to put us.

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I. Eaux Claires Festival: Morning

Her family owns a woods, and like a girl in a fairytale, she disappears between the trees. Leaves murmur above her. Sun dapples her face. Brittle twigs snap beneath her feet.

She is in her mid-twenties, tall and fine-boned and long. Her eyes are piercing. They have a touch of skepticism in the corners. She has a sharp tongue, and a crippling insecurity. She is oblivious to her own strength.

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Death and the Maiden

I have a lot of music news to write about that I just haven’t, and I kinda want to explain why.

Saturday June 20th was my grandfather and mother’s dual memorial service. I admit, I wasn’t thrilled about including my mother on the double bill, but it all worked out, and it was lovely. I threw together a violin and cello version of the Dvorak Largo, and a friend and I played it. I know at least a couple of my readers were in the congregation, and I want to extend my deepest thanks to them for attending.

On Wednesday the 24th, my grandmother Carol Hogstad woke up, walked past the kitchen table of half-finished thank-you notes, went outside with the dog, and died.

If there is such a thing as a perfect death, she had it. She was eighty-six. Her heart just – stopped. She had no, or a very brief pain: the autopsy revealed she was dead before she hit the ground. She was on the land she’d loved. She’d never had to endure the dehumanization of an extended stay in a hospital or nursing home. Her mind was still sharp. She cooked until the end. Speaking of which, she fortunately hadn’t started her daily baking yet, so there were no flames licking the sky a la the finale of Rebecca. Her body didn’t fall on the dog (in fact, the dog actually slept on her back after she passed). She died outside, so none of us needed to break in a door or window. She’d spent the week previous with family she hadn’t seen for years. She met all nine of her great-grandchildren, and sat for pictures with them. She’d stubbornly survived the death of her husband and her baby daughter, and the only thing left to wrap up from their service was some cold cut leftovers. She was stubbornly strong…but she was also very tired.

She was an extraordinary steely woman. There was much to learn from her. I look forward to sharing some of the lessons she taught me. (DISCLAIMER: My family is currently averaging a death a quarter, so I may not survive long enough to share, but trust me, they were good lessons.) (DEATH JOKES!)

My most recent selfie

My most recent selfie

Anyway! Until I’m done with writing her obituary, and planning her memorial service, and working with the bedraggled survivors to determine how to settle her estate – forgive another (hopefully brief) absence from the blog. Please feel free to laugh about the absurdity of this situation. She didn’t suffer, she missed her husband and her daughter so much, we are all doing okay, and I think we all learned during the lockout that the best way to break absurdity is to deride it.

So. Rest in peace, dear soul. You worked hard. You did a great job. You earned every moment of the sweet rest you are now enjoying. I’m proud I was your granddaughter.

I’ve had a couple of people ask, so I’ll mention it here. The family requests that memorial gifts go to UW-Stout, the college that she earned her multiple degrees at, and where she was a well-beloved professor for many years. Many thanks.

Also: hello, Hartford Symphony. I can already tell my muse is coming after you next. Hopefully my family will stop dying long enough for me to cover the inevitable orchestral labor disputes that every modern autumn brings.

***

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The Lark Ascending

The last time I heard the Eroica symphony was in July 2012: the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Winona for the Minnesota Beethoven Festival. My mom wanted to bring me. Her daughter had no money. She had no money. But together we had some money, and so we went.

In those days, Erin Keefe was the new concertmaster. In fact, in the first half of the Eroica concert, she made her concerto debut with the Minnesota Orchestra in the Beethoven violin concerto. A man named Osmo Vänskä was conducting. That performance marked the beginning of a very promising musical relationship.

The Orchestra’s Eroica that day was thrilling. Every pitch was hit, every jarring accent pounded. But looking back, there was not much joy to it. There was fire, conviction, energy, passion – but not much joy. It was an Eroica that intimidated in its hard-edged perfection, like a diamond you’d admire breathlessly but be afraid to wear. And I have a recording off MPR of that July weekend’s concerts, so I’m not reconstructing this entirely by memory.

I remember talking briefly to one musician after the show and somehow intuitively understanding that he was very, very distracted. In fact, there was a distant look in all the players’ eyes that scared me. I remember fretting. I felt I had seen something very important without understanding why it was very important, and I drove home with Mom feeling blown away and very, very uneasy.

Turns out negotiations for the musicians’ new contract had begun that spring. They were going badly. To the best of my knowledge, that performance – in a middle school auditorium in Winona, Minnesota – was the last time that Osmo Vänskä conducted the Minnesota Orchestra before the sixteen month lockout broke everything apart.

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Winging Up and Up

On March 9th, my mother Dorothy (Dodie) Hogstad passed away at the age of 59. Less than six weeks had elapsed from her cancer diagnosis to her death. Her dad had died a little over seven months previous.

My mother and I, August 1995

My mother and me, late August 1995

We are overwhelmed and humbled by the fundraiser my friends and readers set up to help the family with the many expenses associated with her passage, and I simply do not know what to say besides: thank you.

Thank you.

After Stephen Colbert’s beloved mom Lorna Colbert passed away, he did a segment on The Report in tribute to her. So much of what he said applies to my own relationship with my mother. You can watch the whole thing here, but here are some excerpts:

I’ve been away from the Report for a week because one week ago today my mother, Lorna Tuck Colbert, died. And I want to thank everybody who offered their thoughts and prayers. Now if you watch this show, and you like this show, that’s because of everybody who works here, and I’m lucky to be one of them. But when you watch the show, if you also like me, that’s because of my mom.

She made a very loving home for us… Hugs never needed a reason in her house. Singing and dancing were encouraged, except at the dinner table…

She was fun.

She knew more than her share of tragedy… But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on, but to love life without bitterness, and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we had together…

We were the light of her life and she let us know it til the end.

And that’s it. Thank you for listening. Now we can get to the truly important work of television broadcasting, which is what she would want me to do. When I was leaving her last week, I leaned over and I said, “Mom, I’m going back to New York to do the show.” And she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

So. [deep breath]

With that in mind, this is the Colbert Report.

And this is Song of the Lark.

So. Once I settle our affairs, and the time is right, and the finances work out, I will be moving from Eau Claire and starting a new life in Minnesota. Her rebirth into death will ultimately bring a rebirth to the blog, to my work, to my education, to my passion for great orchestral music. There is no more beautiful final gift she could have given.

Thankfully, her presence is enveloping. I dearly hope that her legacy of love and love of beauty and love of hilarious snark can somehow live on in me. And thankfully, music heals. I’ll be at Orchestra Hall a lot this spring, so I anticipate a lot of healing. I look forward to being the best I can possibly be, and to making you – and her – proud. Keep an eye on this space.

In lieu of a funeral I am in the early stages of planning a celebration of her life to take place sometime this year: a fabulous chamber music concert with Minnesota Orchestra musicians as guest artists. I will keep the community posted when I know more.

A few adapted lines of George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending:

For singing till her heaven fills, / Tis love of earth that she instils, / And ever winging up and up, / Our valley is her golden cup, / And she the wine which overflows / To lift us with her as she goes…

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away.

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away

With much gratitude – Emily

***

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Eulogy

I’ve been quiet lately, but not by choice. A month ago my grandfather fell and broke his hip. Two weeks ago, on his sixty-fourth wedding anniversary, he died. Our family is small; the loss is large. For the next little while I might prefer silence to writing on topics that seem – temporarily – so inconsequential.

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