I was all set to teach the class of art teachers at a college in Baltimore when one of them (let’s call her Nina) came up to me for a private talk. She spoke softly, with composure, telling me about how she had just lost her mother the week before. I kept my eyes on hers even though I wanted to scream, you just lost your mother LAST WEEK?? What are you doing here? But I stayed calm, knowing way too well how it feels to lose a Mama when you’re 20-something and have a class to attend but desperately need someone to cry with.


She sniffled as she shared, pausing a few times to wipe her nose on her sweater.

Wait. Let’s stop here for a moment: do you do that, too? Run out of tissue, and there can never be enough tissue when you’re grieving, and think, ‘what the hell; might as well use my collar or my wrist to wipe up.

Which brings me to this: somebody should design a snot-shirt; an adorable, disposable blouse or tee that you can just toss at the end of the day or at the conclusion of a really thorough crying session. Wouldn’t that be cool? The shirt could serve double duty: identify you as a griever and keep your good shirts clean and fresh. Let’s face it. Silk and snot do not mix well and neither do corduroy and tears which get trapped in the folds and creases.

So, anyway, Nina talked while I listened and remembered. I lost my first Mama (more about that later) when I was a graduate student at Syracuse. I was 24. Everyday was cold and snowy and awful. Sometimes the winds were so fierce, they made the dorms tremble and sway. I’m amazed that I made it through that winter and even managed to graduate with shirts that had sustained tremendous snot avalanches. I cried so much, I wondered if I had any tears left. I cried myself dry. I felt I had no one to talk to, especially not any older women who had also lost their moms and had survived with stories and warm hugs to spare.

I let the student talk and snot and I tried not to interrupt. She had so much to say and I, the matron survivor, had a bunch of  hugs just for her. I taught the class how to bring poetry to their elementary art classes while keeping my eye on Nina. I watched her collar and her wrists become shiny with tears and beautiful, silvery strands of snot.

They look good on me, too.


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