Clare Saumell VanderWeele

word wrangler.

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Birthday Wishes

I’ve found out over the years that I’m pretty good at killing things.

Walk in my house and you’ll see the ridiculous number of plants that thrive in my home. But in reality, they are a mere fraction of all the ones I’ve ever owned before inadvertently killing them off.

And it’s not just plants. I’ve lost count of the number of fish I ever saw floating lifelessly upside down before I decided to get rid of the fish tank.

This year, though, I’ve planted a hundred promising seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, watermelon, cauliflower, and more. Some are growing already, their tiny green heads poking up above the rich soil.

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The Mythical Timeline of Grief

My best friend is getting married this week. I frequently wonder how I ever got so lucky to know her like I do. I’ve known her more than half my life, and she’s the sister I never had. She’s been my lifeline in my darkest days and my laughter on the best days.

And I am unbelievably excited to see her walk down the aisle towards the man she loves.

She chose the date of her wedding at random. It happened to be a Friday in March. It happened to fit into her and her fiance’s schedule. And so she booked it. And then she told me the date. And it also happens to be the 10-year anniversary of when Chris and I started dating.

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On Being Known

Our world seems to have an obsession with being known. Perhaps it is an innate human need, I don’t know. But it lies at the heart of the insane phenomenon of celebrity culture and leaves few people unaffected by the opportunity to claim a mere 15 minutes of fame.

But is being known by many the same as really, genuinely being known?
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The Voice That Sings

A year ago, I published my first blog post. I wrote out of the desperate need to tell my story, to share my grief after the death of my husband.

I wrote about how there’s something deeply human about imagining worst case scenarios.

A year later, in this 3rd year since Chris passed, I haven’t stopped imagining. And yet, that initial grief has shifted. What once tore me apart on the inside and made it hard to breathe has since calmed itself.

It lingers like a scar.
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The Year I Learned to Listen

This year has been my year of throwing on mismatched fluffy socks and devouring Harry Potter page by page for the eighteenth time.

It’s been a year of dance parties with the three year old and dinners with the friends I love.

A year of storytelling and struggling with how to write what I need to say.

A year of admitting that I don’t know how to pray and realizing that God meets us wherever we may be.

It’s been a year of opening doors.

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The Forgotten Thank Yous

The only existing audio clip I have of Chris is from when he persuaded one of his best friends to try “Dave’s Gourmet” ghost pepper hot sauce. You can’t see him in the video, but you can hear his laughter and commentary in the background as his friend’s mouth burns – “It’s not unbearable… it’s just… it’s spicy,” says Chris.

And it makes my heart swell. To hear my husband’s voice again… There are no words.

It would have been a forgotten moment in a series of many, equally hilarious scenarios. It would have been altogether passed by, lost in the haste and spinning of our lives.

Except that death reminds us that life is composed of the small moments.

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The Unexpected Goodbye: A Letter to Chris

My new neighbor cut their tree down last week. It wasn’t dead or diseased, but I’m sure there was some legitimate reason behind their decision to chop it down.

It was surrounded by other trees and houses, so it had to be cut limb from limb, one slice of trunk at a time. By the time they got to the base, I could see just how old it really was, its life on display in concentric circles, each telling a story.

My whole yard was littered in saw dust and broken branches and torn leaves, and the men sucked it all up clean and tidy, leaving nothing but space. But the roots are still there, all over everything. They snake over the ground and plunge into the earth. Big, old knotty things, preventing anything from growing in its place.

And isn’t that the way it is? Death strikes us down, but our roots stay stubborn and strong, our lives splayed out over everything.

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What exactly am I waiting for?

I don’t like to admit that much of my life these days is a fiery battle with a three year old. But that’s the truth.

And that’s how I ended up squeezed into his bed at 10pm one night, buried in Thomas the Tank Engine blankets, and reading yet another book.

Which is when I came across this most perfect verse:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.

-from Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

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On Empty Milk Cartons and Gum Wrappers

Chris used to put almost empty milk cartons back in the fridge.

And when I say “almost” I mean there was literally one gulp left.

He’d eat almost all his dinner except two bites and put the almost empty plate uncovered in the fridge… On the off chance that one lonely bite of cold, congealed dinner would sound appetizing later.

He would leave empty tupperware containers in his car after work. Empty gum wrappers littered the bedroom floor as they came flying out his pockets, and empty Marlboro Reds packages would stack up on his night stand.

All the empty drove me nuts.

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What No One Tells You About Moving On

“[There is a] universal truth that we are all are responsible for our lives — that we all suffer and we all need to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness.” This quote from Chery Strayed is how I ended my last blog post.

These words are still echoing in my head. I’m wondering what it would look like if I didn’t take that responsibility, if I didn’t try to find the light and the strength.

What would it look like if I gave in to the heart-clenching anxiety that knots itself in my belly and sticks in my throat? What would it look like if I let the particles of my life break down around me, letting the darkness crowd into the emptiness of the night?

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