18 October 2013

A Letter To My Grandfather In October

I remembered how at your funeral there was a place in your casket where notes could be placed; how we were encouraged to write something down; how I was instantly suspicious and how my mom had said, "Jennifer, come on."

10 October 2013

Before I Was Me

The Queens and I had the gift of today together and while we were running around playing, suddenly the sight of them laughing caught me off guard and sent me careening backwards, into yesteryear, my own sister by my side, a fall day shining down on us.

There was nothing particularly memorable about the day, nothing specific regarding the memory, but just for a moment, I could almost feel her beside me, her hand in mine, the way that she'd lean on me.

It struck me then, while I was lingering between what I thought would be and what is, that I've spent a lot of time thinking of what is to come, rather than focusing on what is now.

09 October 2013

And What Will You Do?

 *This post has been edited; please see below for updates. 

I cannot express how sad I am to write this post.  I have written drafts with many paragraphs, linked to many sites, raged many rages, cried many tears, but we've all read enough words and seen enough news.

Ultimately, I don't believe that I can write what I want to say.  Instead, I am going to use minimal words and try to get my point across in photos.

I ask that you click on each one; study each face; memorize each detail, for those details are important.

04 July 2013


Jennifer Barko Abrielle Barko
Seven tomorrow; just as all the rest have come, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, the Questionable One.


The picture is from Six, of course, for who knows what Seven will bring, but I am assuming it will not bring Time to write this post, for it will be filled with friends, a pool, sisters and a ball park to watch Big A easily display the magic combination of youth and a softball glove.

Funny thing; Time, that in all my writing about it, it's still a mystery; a knot that the more I try to unravel the tighter it becomes; weaving within my chest a separate knot that leaves me forever caught between a smile and a tear.

I want her to grow; I want her to stay small. I want her to be aware. I want her to have no idea.

She's my enigma. How she can so simply know the deepest truths while still believing the most innocent of things?
"Well do you believe in Santa, Peanut? Who do you think you would know better if there's a Santa? You or some silly kids on the bus? Of course there are fairies, Little A; how else would those letters with Pixie Dust make their way under your pillows? Let's look at the pictures of the Fairy Villages!"


And Santa still lives here. The Tooth Fairy still lives here. Children grow faster, know more now. Will Little A's Seven become Big A's Eight? I don't remember who I was before I was their mother; who will I be when I am no longer the mother of children? Is
that the knot ever-growing within my chest?

Six was magic. Six was the summer of Justin Verlander. Six was when the ability to memorize and recite stats began to come in handy rather than be a freakish anomaly.

Six was the first letter home from a teacher that read,
"Jenn, I thought you would want to know that today Little A played with kids and wasn't alone at lunch." Six was reading entire chapter books under covers with flashlights carefully hidden so I wouldn't find them before she went to bed. Six was when she used her Magic to make the Tigers win multiple games in a row.

Six was hard. Six meant explaining why Magic can make the Tigers make it to the playoffs and not to the World Series. Six meant explaining cancer. Repeatedly. Why some cancers can be cured; why some cancers cannot. Why Magic cannot cure cancer. Six meant explaining that yes, mommies and daddies die sometimes. Why Santa cannot fix cancer. Six meant new medications and new therapies and new exhaustion when I didn't think there could be new ones.

I would keep Six, if I could. Which I cannot.

So tomorrow I am happy to greet Seven. I've heard that in Fairy lore Seven is the age when Fairy villages begin to appear to those that believe....

To Seven, Little A.

I love you more than love,

05 March 2013


Adriana Burkhart Jennifer Barko

Dear Big A, 


I have to pause and take a deep breath as I try to wrap my mind around this moment, this day. I remember when you turned five that I was thinking, "In five more years, she's going to be ten, five years after that, she's going to be fifteen" and on and on. 

At that point in time, the concept seemed impossible. It still does, except this morning you blew out fifteen candles on your birthday pancake and there I was, drifting between five and fifteen and stunned, still, with the realization that I have no idea where the time has gone. 

I know I tell you so many times that I think that you are amazing. I know that hearing it from your mom isn't the blanket of comfort to you that I mean for it to be. I'm aware that me loving you doesn't solve anything for you; that it isn't the salve that can heal the wounds that come with being a teen; that it doesn't make things easier. I know that my kisses don't make things better anymore and that your belief in my magic is gone. My saving hope is that your belief in your own magic remains.

Could you bear it, one more time, me telling you of how much I loved you the moment that I saw you? I know that you cannot, but I think that I cannot tell you it enough. You sliced my world apart; cut me to the core and filled it with such a light that I was momentarily blinded. I still feel that each time I look at you. "How can something so wonderful be mine?" And then I remember that you're not mine, that you are yours and then I hope that someday you will feel something so powerful that it moves you to beyond anything that words can describe and you will think, "That is how much she loved me."

So many times within the past year I have seen you from afar and not recognized you. I knew who you were, of course, but to see you, really see you, that slayed me each time. You are so beautiful, so composed, so gifted that I have to remind myself of the moment that I met you, that you were a part of my being, because I cannot imagine having created and nurtured someone so wonderful. 

I'm sorry for all of the times that you felt that I didn't think you were anything but my world. I'm sorry if you ever thought that I pushed you too much, that I wasn't happy with something that you did--it's just that I want you to see how the world is in your hands and all of the potential that you hold--it's much different than where I am at now in my life; my world being in the hands of you and your sister. 

Today I couldn't stop myself from thinking that in five more years, you will be twenty. You will be gone from our home, out making your way in the universe. I know that you will come back, but that it will never be the same, nothing is ever the same anyway, so that doesn't bother me so much anymore. What makes me ache is how much I miss the little you, your precious cheeks and legs and how you would lay on my chest and sleep all night.  

I don't think of time as passing and the moments being gone so much as I think of it as the moments remaining there forever, each second living on within its own universe. That thought soothes me some, thinking that those precious minutes exist still and that I can visit them, feel them, smell them whenever I wish. The trick is not staying there reminiscing too long, for I want to make sure that I participate in today and tomorrow and each gift of time with you that I have. 

I love that we can speak fluent sarcasm with each other and know that it's a language of love. I love that you can sing the words of my favorite songs. I loved that last night when we were singing in the car and you said something about being embarrassing and got out to run into the gym and I rolled down the window so that Little A and I could belt out, "Born and raised in south Detroit", I could see your face in the glass door and that you were laughing. Your beautiful face grinning from ear to ear made even the saddest corners of my soul smile. 

Fifteen, Big A. You are my sunshine; you always have been from the moment I laid my eyes upon you.

Happy, happy birthday my love.

Love always, 

Your Adoring Mother

29 January 2013

The Edge

"You figured what?  You'd just get out of there and bounce right back?"  

I shrugged, wiped away my tears that seem to always be threatening to fall and said that I just thought I would feel better.

"You probably feel better than being dead. It's been a little over a month. A month. Think of that."

"I think of it too much, I think."  

17 January 2013

A Letter To The A's Following 40

Dear A's,

I always write a birthday letter to you on your birthdays, but I figured for this milestone that has just passed that I would write a letter to you following my birthday.

40 is different; an age that I'm sure feels a million miles away from your beautiful faces; I hope it always does. There are things I want to tell you, sitting here at 40, realizing how time does really does pass and immortality begins to wash away as the moments that add up to a lifetime march across the decades.

First, you are my entire world. It's crazy that I know that an entire galaxy exists around me, yet you hold it all within your hands. I hope that you never love anyone this much, but I hope that you are always this loved. I know that if you have children, you will understand what I mean when I say this--unless you do, don't try to dissect what I've said--the words will never make sense to you. 

I want you to know that it's OK to take chances. And fail. And get back up and try again. Ignore what everyone else says and listen to what you hear within you; follow that course with all that you have, no matter where it takes you. Just always get back up again. It's with the falling that we learn to rise.

I beg of you your patience with me as you grow. My direction is, sadly, but truly, what most well-meaning parents direction is made of--the realization of how truly each moment matters; how the smallest of actions can do or undo almost anything--an entire life can hinge on the tiniest of circumstances. I would urge you to do it, whatever it is that you fear, whether that means jumping from an airplane or reaching out for a hand in front of you, speaking in a moment that won't ever come again or simply allowing yourself to be loved.

Whatever it is you choose to do, do it with wild abandon. Be the scrappiest player on the court, be able to hold intellectual conversations and keep an open mind, but be able to hold your ground when you know from the deepest parts within that they are right. Laugh--loudly, cry when you need to and always understand that not everyone can do those things at the same time. Study the times when you feel the very happiest and know what it is that made you feel that way; don't let go of those things.

It's not easy to sometimes hear the loudest of sounds around us; sometimes you have to listen from within. It's an acquired trait and I've seen it in both of you; please, wherever you go, whatever you do, do not forget that compassion and pass it onto your children should you choose to have them; it would be the greatest trait possible to pass on.

Hug more. Hate less. Your energy is your energy--only let you decide how you use it, but do know that you only have a certain amount and you can use it positively or negatively, I pray that you choose positively.  

Books! Don't forget books. I hope that you always let the magic pull you in. You cannot recall how religiously I read to you from infancy, but I know that you've both realized the magic and worlds that are within them. 

It's alright to be an introvert. It doesn't mean being anti-social, but it means that you are alright on your own--and that is the thing that I want you both to be, more than anything--good with being with just you.  Whether that means always having someplace or something for just you, or whether that means simply choosing to never anchor yourself to someone or something, I want you to know that it's OK. 

Baseball. I want you to remember baseball, but I want you to be able to watch it without crying when you recall all of the Detroit Tiger games that we attended. It's tricky; I haven't figured it out yet. I can tell you that one of the strongest dreams that I had while I was fighting in the hospital was me riding in a pick-up truck with my Grandpa, Ernie Harwell was on the radio.  

It's why I couldn't watch the Tigers the year after he was gone. It's why I cry still, three years after he's been gone, when the Tigers are on. It's why I keep reminding you when we go to the games to shut your eyes and listen; study the field; stop; to remember the moment. Because those are the moments that you will realize at 40 that were the best moments of your lives. You won't know that until time passes and you will wish that you slowed down to remember.

I wish for you every happiness, but enough sorrow to understand that there are those that know nothing but that. I wish for you enough challenges along the way to make you stronger; smarter; your very best and enough knowledge gained from those challenges to make you happy; so very happy that you never feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, but realize that there are those that feel only that and a heart wide enough and bright enough and big enough to help them.  

Realize that there is not enough good you can do in the world.

Take off your coat when you see someone without one on the street of a city that I hope you roam and give it to them. Open doors for everyone, with a smile. Pay the toll for the car behind you when you can. It will come back to you; I promise it will; sometimes when you least expect it and most need it. 

Realize that beauty lies within almost everything; sometimes you have to look for it, sometimes you just feel it. Make sure that you, too, sleep with your daughters, should you have them, under the stars on a warm summer night on a trampoline. Feel free to watch them as they sleep under the very galaxy that they hold within their hands.

Do not listen to those that tell you that you can hold your child too much, let them sleep with you too much or love them too much, for time passes quickly and before you know it they may stand taller than you and you will wonder where the time has gone, and no matter how much you held them, you will find yourself wishing that you'd held them more.

I love you both so very much.  

I love you more than love.

Your most willing servant, always,


14 January 2013

On Turning 40

  Today is the last day of my 30's.  I'm home today because Little A is sick with the flu.  It's sunny outside; I wish I could lace up my shoes and go for a run; I wish I could make my lungs ache the way they used to after running outside in the cold instead of the way that they ache now. 

  I didn't spend the last year in my thirties as planned.  When I added it up in my ever-thinking brain, I spent about three months in the hospital and almost all of it laid up because of my hip.  Four surgeries later and I finally have hope; sometimes that is what springs from the darkest of nights. 

  After my last surgery, the day after I came home, my temperature was 102.9.  The following day it was 103.2 with a racing heart and difficulty breathing.  When I said that I was hurting and couldn't breathe, I was met with disbelieving eyes, so I quit saying it.  The next day I had an ache in my back that I said pain was radiating from.  That was the same day that I had to promise the visiting nurses that I could get to the hospital faster than them calling 911.

  It wasn't the emergency room that was so bad; it was what followed about six hours later when nurses and a doctor ran into the room.  They told me I was being moved to a bed for more tests; when I got back, the doctor sat down on my bed and reached for my hand.  "You're very sick, you are septic."

  After initially joking that sepsis couldn't kill me (yes, I still joke at the darkest times; it's my coping mechanism of choice) I asked him if I was going to live.  I expected him to answer yes, but instead he said that I had a big battle ahead of me.  It was an odd sensation; like a whirling inside, spinning fast, yet slow; hearing voices, remembering moments, recalling regrets, all at once, with The A's wrapped around all of it.

  I had to call my parents.  I remember the conversation, asking my mom if my dad was home.  I tried to sound casual, but my mother wasn't buying it.  I told her that I was in the hospital and sick; that I was septic.  "Are you going to die?" she asked.  I can't imagine asking either of my daughters that question.  I don't remember how I answered her.  When I awoke, my friends were there.  I had IV's in both arms and the room was dark.  The fight began.   

  I asked for my computer; not out of boredom, but to type up letters to say goodbye.  I did this periodically, between waking and sleeping.  I worried about the A's.  I worried about my family. I worried about my friends.  I wonder now if I should just send the letters despite making it; that's the hardest part-the wondering. 

  I wanted to go home; I wanted to be with the girls, but at the same time, not let my family see me.  I wept each day as the infection grew and began to compress my internal organs. Each time they tried to draw blood, it was an extremely painful process; it took an eternity as my veins rolled around inside of me and IV's blew out of my arms.  I wept each time until they finally gave me a PICC line.  It entered in by my elbow and ran to near my heart.  When they pulled it out of me, I asked to keep it as a reminder of what I'd done, just in case I lose my nerve or hope again. 

  I had dreams; dreams of my grandfather, dreams full of light.  Dreams that I was swimming deep within the ocean.  

  I wasn't afraid to die; I just didn't want to.  Those are two very different things. 

 Each day my lungs filled with fluid.  Each day I thought of the irony-that all my life I'd worried about open water and drowning in it, but the reality was that I would drown myself in a hospital. I would say the lung tap was the worst pain that I endured there, but truly, it was a visit from Big A that was the most unbearable.  She had broken down and wept and wept and wept.  I wanted to take all of her pain and place it within me.  I know that this is not how it works. 

  I wonder now why I pushed her so hard to grow up.  She's a freshman excelling in advanced classes with a 4.0 GPA; next year, the odds are that she will actually attend college rather than high school.  I tell her each day how much I love her.  Each day I wish for more time.  Almost without fail, I cry on a daily basis from being so happy or seeing something so beautiful that it makes me ache and want to share it with her and Little A.  I want more time with her.  I will not get it.  

  The day I came home, it was easier to let go of the people that weren't really friends; it was easier to see appreciation in each sunrise, easier to breathe, figuratively, although each day the breathing does come easier.  

  Tomorrow when I turn 40, my grandmother turns 80.  I never would have imagined us spending birthdays apart, yet we will.  I've loved sharing our birthdays over the years, but I can see dreading them in the future.  So much of me was woven with her; by her, and  yet here we are, so many miles apart.  I wonder what it will be like if I get the opportunity to grow that old and not be with the people I love the most.  

  I thought I was going to dread tomorrow.  Rather I am grateful for it.  For a new chance; for a new day; for a new birth at 40.  Here is to 2013; to 40; to The A's; to life in general.