Where we’re at: I’m recapping my journey in 2019, including this time in my home state in October.
I think anyone who has ever lost someone very close to them can relate to the idea that in the days and weeks that follow, life really is kind of just a blur.
And so the first few weeks passed, after we said goodbye to my mom. It was a weird time — I guess that’s an understatement, right? At first comes a flood of family and friends and tasks that need to be completed, and black dresses and flower arrangements and documents, and all you crave is a quiet dark room to curl up in. And then the memorial is over and everyone goes home and the first flurry of logistics are taken care of, and you find yourself thinking, well what now?
The sensation that I found the most surreal, which took me quite some time to adjust to, was one that is quite unremarkable to most twenty-nine year old single women: going about my day freely, not having to account for my whereabouts, not having to consult a carefully-crafted schedule. Not having to keep my phone next to my mat in a yoga class in case of an emergency. Not feeling that panicked sense of dread creep in when I knew I’d been away from the house too long.
My stepdad Miller and I talked about that a lot, those first few weeks and months. It was weird to just go out, and do what you wanted, and not be needed. It was weird to come home to an empty house.
My mom had been my reason for returning to Albany. With her gone, I knew I wouldn’t be in New York for very long. So, I wanted to attempt to make the most of it, and the beautiful fall foliage that I kept remarking I didn’t even remember seeing the prior year, so blurry our vision had become with panic over my mom’s rapidly deteriorating condition.
Despite having lived together in my childhood home for a year, my stepdad and I had spent little to no quality time together outside of it — one of us had always had to be home. So I was quite pleased to suggest we get to tick something off my local bucket list — one of LL Bean’s Outdoor School activities.
In a few dozen stores around the country, the outdoor experts hold everything from SUPing with your pup to guided full moon hikes to map and compass reading courses.
I’d had my eye on the Albany location’s events for a while, and was smitten when I found a fall foliage paddle on offer. A bit of sunshine, crisp October air, and natural beauty sounded like just what we needed to soothe our souls, a bit.
The launch point was Six Mile Waterworks Park in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, a little slice of nature I’d actually never been to before, right in my hometown. We paddled right under a highway bridge, at one point — though you’d never guess we were so close to civilization just a few paddle strokes away. The instructor couldn’t believe how lucky we were — peak leaf peeping, and with perfect weather.
She also passed along a hot tip I’ll share with any of you considering a big purchase like a kayak of your own. Participants of these excursions get a 10% off coupon that can be super lucrative for major purchases — consider joining one if you’re thinking of picking up a watercraft or other big ticket item of your own.
I handed the camera to Miller for a bit and asked him to snap some photos of me, with entertaining results.
The technicolor leaves weren’t the only thing we spotted. The preserve was bursting with life — birds, turtles and curious fish were willing, if hesitant, to share their space with us.
It was a good day.
One crisp morning, I got up before dawn and took the train to New York City. I went to see my dad before he left the East Coast to return to California, and to attend a courthouse wedding of two dear friends. And just to let the magic of New York heal me a bit, as it tends to do.
To be honest, I’d hesitated to accept the wedding invitation. It had been issued long ago, alongside a tempting offer to attempt the blowout ceremony and reception in Israel a few weeks later. I’d demurred, at the time — my mom was not in good shape at the time the invitation was issued, to the point that I was no longer making any further plans beyond my existing commitments. Maybe I’ll be able to make it down to the city for a day for the courthouse ceremony, I’d mused.
But when the time came I hesitated — I was afraid to be a distraction, to cause discomfort, like my grief might be so inescapable it would be written all over my face.
Don’t be silly, the bride told me. We want you there. And since Israelis say what they mean, and after moving to Israel and marrying an Israeli I figured Jannah was pretty much on her way to being one, I believed her.
After a morning at Drybar, where I shrugged and drank champagne at 8am, because why not, and went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine and spent an exorbitant amount on a cake that brought me joy, because why not, I made my way to New York City’s Marriage Bureau.
Have you ever seen a more resplendent couple?
This was my first time attending a courthouse wedding and guys I LOVED it. It really filled my heart right up. Sure it was a little weird entering a government building and going through a metal detector to attend a wedding but I knew it was going to be fun when while walking through said detector the old security guard said, “congratulations, sweetie!” and I laughed and said, “oh, I’m not a bride,” and he just shrugged and said well, you never know.
While in my mind Jannah and Nim were the most beautiful bride and groom city hall had ever seen, it would be pretty hard to pick a runner up. From the cute old biracial gay couple wearing paint-splattered jeans and quietly holding hands while they waited for their turn to the brides looking like they just walked off a fashion week runway with avant-garde feathers in their hair to the big, boisterous families that couldn’t stop snapping photos and smiling, there was just love, love, love everywhere you looked.
It was the best people watching I’d ever done.
And after a joy-filled couple hours of waiting our turn, we finally were ushered into one of the rooms, where the brief ceremony was heavily documented and live-streamed back to Israel via multiple devices.
And then, it was time for dim sum.
With the families headed back to their homes and hotels, it was just us kids — me, Jannah, Nim, and Nim’s best friend Gil, who I found myself pleased to see again. We grabbed a bottle of champagne and drank it out of a paper bag along the pier in true New York style.
I have an idea, I announced as we neared the end of the bottle. It’s a surprise, I said, and everyone enthusiastically consented, much to my thrill.
Soon, we were approaching the ticket booth at another New York to-do I’d been itching to scratch from my list: The Battery Park Seaglass Carousel.
That night, our dance enthusiast Jannah requested we attend Company XIV’s Queen of Hearts production. I didn’t need to be asked twice — Alice in Wanderland themed burlesque in Brooklyn? Take all my money.
I’ve been to a lot of performances of this type and let me tell you, few are of this caliber. When New York State allows the performing arts to resume operations, they will be one of my first stops. It was nothing short of spectacular. I was just in awe.
We all kept whispering back and forth to each other, where else does magic like this happen? A performance so innovative, so full of raw talent, so intimately performed and in which you can find yourself across the bar from the performers at the end of it. Only in New York, we all agreed.
It’s days and nights that make me think, could I move back?
I found myself contemplating a lot of big life questions like that. But my heart’s vision was still so blurry, I didn’t really get to the answer stage at that point.
And soon I found myself back in Albany, working through the shock each day seemed to bring and inhaling more of the crisp fall air that makes this such a popular season in which to enjoy Upstate New York.
One of my favorite places to do so was June Farms, one of the place I go whenever I need a little bit of fresh air and freedom.
I also discovered a small new agricultural obsession, Forts Ferry Farm.
While it’s smaller in size and scope than June Farms, it’s designed with an equal amount of love. It’s also a working farm that sells produce and other local goods, as well as a few fresh baked products that can be enjoyed on-site. In pre and hopefully post-COVID times, they hold ocasional events here, like pop-up outdoor movies, too.
I was so smitten, it’s worth updating my Wanderland Guide to Albany for.
And it wasn’t the only thing I was smitten with. I was thrilled to have a visitor Upstate, Nim’s best man Gil, who appeared Upstate as the perfect charming comfort and warm distraction when I needed it most.
I always love playing tour guide, and Grafton Peace Pagoda and Grafton State Park put on the perfect show for us. It was on our little meander here that I discovered the view from Dickinson Hill Fire Tower, well worth the journey for anyone unafraid of heights. I think the beauty of nature is something I just clung to, in these weird days where time felt fully suspended.
Despite my initial craving of solitude, I know I couldn’t have made it through these first three weeks without all the people in my life that found ways to make me feel loved and supported — family getting on planes, friends showing up with hugs and problem solutions, handwritten letters in my mailbox, sweet texts in my inbox, flowers from retreat guests delivered to my door.
All those things that when I’m on the sending end I think, “does this even matter?” and I can confidently now say, as a receiver, it does.
And then I got back on a plane, and tried to figure out what putting the pieces of my life back together looked like.
Thanks for being a part of the love I felt so buoyed by, friends.