Friday, October 8, 2010

At Home

There is nothing like Chapel Hill in the fall. It’s even enough to soothe the system after a difficult encounter at a lunch meeting with someone who did not know Hudson had died. My colleague, whom I see only twice a year at the meeting of a law alumni committee I serve on, was asking all the usual catch-up questions: “Remind me what your practice is?” “I left practice. I’m the pro bono coordinator at Catholic Law School now.” “Where do you stay when you are here in town?” “My dad lives in Pittsboro.” “And did you bring anyone with you? Your spouse?” “He’s coming tonight—he couldn’t get off of work today.” (The red warning lights started flashing in my head—I knew the inevitable was coming.) And before I could even steel myself, before I could even prepare…

“Oh, and you have a baby, right?”

“Yes, she…”

“Is she here with you, too?”

“No, she passed away in May from a sudden illness.”

Tears. Mine. Hers. “Oh, I am so sorry.” I spent the next minute trying to keep from bursting into total sobs—after all, we were sitting at a banquet table with 8 other people. I looked around and was relieved to see that everyone else was engaged in conversation—no one was staring at us wondering what might have brought me to tears. Once I had mostly recovered, we talked more about Hudson and why I changed jobs. And then it was over. Terrible, but not as bad as I always imagine it will be, and then it was behind me.

And the rest of the day acted as a salve. It was 75 degrees, sunny, and breezy in the beautiful town I love so much. There is no other place in the world where I feel more at home. My dear friend Chad and I wandered around Franklin Street, ending up on the patio at Top of the Hill, where we sat and talked about politics, the First Amendment, and the state of American schools for an hour or two. Then I got a pedicure with a fresh coat of Carolina blue polish for my girl. And then I wandered back down Franklin Street, popping in and out of the numerous stores that sell all kinds of Carolina paraphernalia. I was reminded of a trip we made to Chapel Hill when Hudson was about 4 months old.  It was March 2009, and on a particularly warm day, we went downtown, where her grandparents indulged their urges to dress her in every kind of Carolina outfit imaginable—bloomers, dresses, onesies—she practically had a whole new wardrobe by the time we got off of Franklin Street. I have such fond memories of nursing Hudson that day on the bench near the Davie Poplar—something about that just felt so right to me. I thought about that today as I walked up through McCorkle Place. I walked slowly, deliberately, taking it all in, remembering. And smiling. That trip is really the only memory we have of her on campus and around town with us—all of our other trips home were spent mostly at the grandparents’ houses.

I kept walking through campus, feeling so uplifted by the palpable sense of community all around me. Students, their parents, alumni—people of all kinds were trickling into town, enjoying the weather, preparing for tomorrow’s game. Every other person was wearing Carolina gear of some sort. As I drove home, I got stuck in a small traffic jam going up the hill by the field where the marching band was practicing. My windows were open, and as I drove by, they were playing, “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred…” I was so taken in by the experience, it took me several moments to recall that I used to sing those words to Hudson every night before she went to bed.

For several months after Hudson died (and to some extent still today), I felt really strongly that I couldn’t wait to move back to North Carolina, to get out of DC, where I couldn’t go anywhere without painful reminders of Hudson’s absence. Then I read a novel in which one of the characters goes to Europe for college after her sister dies, and she spends the year depressed and distraught, thrown off balance by being in a place where no evidence existed of her sister’s life. I wondered for the first time whether I might ultimately regret acting too soon on my urge to get out of DC. I wondered if, contrary to my instincts, I might feel Hudson’s absence even more acutely in a place where we had not made as many memories with her. Today helped me resolve some of those worries. Not only do I have fond and very tangible memories of Hudson in my favorite place on earth, I also see her everywhere. In every small child I see walking on Franklin Street with a Carolina pom pom, or chasing a sibling around the quad, or riding in a parent’s jogging stroller. She is always with me. Maybe even moreso in those places I love most.

My little Carolina girl.  My home.  My heart. 


  1. It is truly a magical place!

  2. I clearly remember your FB posts from that March 2009 visit. I remember you wondering how she would do during the Dook game. And I remember your post about nursing on the bench by the Davie Poplar (at the time I thought, man, she's become such a lactation pro!) I could close my eyes and so clearly see the picture of you and her having a peaceful moment. I am so glad that you have those memories. Peace to you, dear Mandy.
    Love, Megan

  3. What a wonderful post Mandy...brings me back to sweet memories of Chapel Hill. I am glad you had a chance to bring Hudson to this magical place...she learned at a very early age to say NO to dook! :-) I love watching that video of her...what an angel.

    And I am so glad you feel her presence no matter where you are...she will be with you as long as walk this earth, and although our religious beliefs differ, I know in my heart you will be reunited with her again one day.

    Love, Shabnam

  4. In my mind, I'm gone to Carolina. No better place on earth. So glad it has brought you peace and comfort. ((((HUGS))))

    - Melissa Rasberry

  5. I just love this picture. MandyD.

  6. I love the picture- there truly is no place like my precious Carolinas- though down here we prefer tigers to tarheels ;o)
    In all seriousness though I hope that every time you see blue you think of her.
    Grace- Leslie

  7. It was so good to see you yesterday and spend some time together. I, along with so many others, love you, Ed, and Hudson so much. Live in the present, one day at a time . . . .


  8. wow, you put into words beautifully how lovely it is here. i can clearly visualize you and hudson together. may you continue to find peace and strength while you are here...welcome home to NC.

    kirsten 2lilbirds

  9. Welcome home, Mandy. I love this. Hope to be able to see you sometime when you are home for more than a few days.

  10. Those of us who keep you in our hearts and prayers are so happy to hear that you feel your precious girl with you in the places you love.

    "What is it that draws us to this place like no other?" It is the balm of home.

  11. What a sweet picture.

  12. Even without ever had the delight of hanging out with Hudson, this photo, among others, shows her intelligence, awareness, senses of mischief and humor, not to mention wittiness.

    Rebecca Wish Esche

  13. I love this picture. So sweet, so excited, so loved she is...

  14. It's true, "there's no place like home". So grateful we all have beautiful memories. My favorite memory is trekking in the snowdom to Turkey Thicket after being house bound forever! I loved watching Hudson sledding; while Amaris remained uncertain. My favorite part of the adventure was seeing Hudson contained in her snowsuit determined to eat snow. When you realized Hudson was trying to eat the pretty flakes, you dug deep to snow that wasn't burried in dirt and fed her out of your hand; protecting and giving her the best always.

  15. Beautiful photograph. I'm glad you feel Hudson's presence with you, in places that she knew and those she didn't but that you love. x

  16. Love the photo. My husband, a Tar Heel, loves it more. Glad your trip was rejuvenating. Hugs to you, Olivia

  17. I was sorry I couldn't be at the law school on Saturday to welcome you and Ed back home, but I thought of you often in Chapel Hill over the weekend. I was happy the Carolina skies were blue and the sun was shining (and the Tar Heels won!) As Sylvia said, so many of us here love you and Ed and Hudson. And I’ve so appreciated your blog, and your beautiful and brave writing, as a way to follow your journey.

    I was very happy last week to read of your new baby on the way. To echo Sylvia once again, focus on the present, with your eyes on the days ahead. You’ll never leave Hudson behind; she’s in your heart forever.

    Love to you and to Ed -- Patricia B.

  18. This is such a beautiful post.

  19. I stumbled across your blog when I did a google search on Carolina Girls. Hudson's picture is just so precious. As a mommy with 3 angels I totally understand how you feel and the whole grieving process. I'am so sorry that you had to lose your precious little Carolina Girl.