Thursday, March 7, 2019

Good-bye, Shadow

Tuesday I let Shadow out in the yard while I got dressed for a pancake supper at our friends' house. When I came downstairs, Andrew decided he wanted to go for a walk. Even though we didn't have much daylight left, I said agreed and bundled him up.

When we walked out through the garage, I saw Shadow motionless on the grass.

My mind couldn't put together what I was seeing. Why was she on the cold ground? Was it even Shadow, or could it be the other chocolate lab that frequents our yard? What was happening? I put Andrew back in the house in front of the TV, whispered to Margaret that we might have a problem, and headed back out.

Yes, it was our Shadow. She was warm to the touch but lifeless. Her ears still velvet. I tucked my cold hands into the soft fold where her tummy met her legs and thought of what to do next.

Shadow was 12 years old; her death should not have come as a surprise, but it did. She was still  energetic, with barely any gray and just a little stiffness in her hips. The day had not seemed unusual in her world. Extra banana from me while I made my morning smoothie. A treat from Andrew later. Up to her usual tricks, she even seized an opportunity when the cleaning lady left the dog food/mop closet ajar. I caught her with her head inside a large bag of Purina before I called her name sternly and she backed out of there. All markers of a very good day.

So it was hard to imagine that in the few minutes she was outside, she would just...die. I am grateful we didn't have to deal with the usual issues related to the slow decline of an aging dog, but it felt shocking. Just the day before she'd jumped up onto the couch next to me, hoping I wouldn't notice.

With a dog, you tend to think you'll have a chance to say goodbye. When you and the vet talk about options and quality of life, and you finally make the hard, hard decision to let her go. When you whisper into her ear, "It's okay. Good girl. Good girl. I love you."

But in this instance, I knelt on the grass, closed her eyes, and called Tim on a ski trip in Utah. It felt similar to another call I'd had to make to Tim 7 years ago, but it was without panic and terror. Tim was her favorite person.

I let Charlie out so he could see her, sniff her, and understand. Margaret had been having a hard day already when I told her and asked if she wanted to see her. "Why would I want to do something like that?" she snapped. A few minutes later she came, saw her, touched her, this beloved one who was so familiar to us that we each had our preferred zones on her body. I wasn't sure about bringing Andrew out, but I did. I explained that she died and wondered if this would help make Jack and Grandma Margaret's deaths less abstract.

Two neighbors lifted Shadow into the back of the car, on top of Jack's butter-soft blue twin bed sheet, and Andrew and I drove in the dark to the vet. We talked about how much we were going to miss her, and Andrew comforted me from the back seat as I cried.

Shadow had always been the quietest, calmest car companion, because nothing made her happier than to know her family was on a trip with her. We'd often arrive at a destination with her stirring from the floorboard for the very first time. Scenery? Who cared? She was with her people. She loved us and we loved her.

She was already named when we adopted her at nearly one year old. Within hours of knowing her, we realized "Shadow" suited her for the way she wanted to be near us at all times. In fact, tales of her mischief, which I've shared with you over the years, stemmed either from her voracious appetite or from her anxiety of not being with her us. Just search "Dog" on this blog and you will read tale after tale about Shadow.

Standing on the kitchen table at the old house? She needed a way to keep watch for our car. Eating 100 vitamin D tablets from the counter top? Well, I did have the audacity to take Charlie in the car (to the vet) thereby leaving her behind  FOREVER! Incessant barking heard through the neighborhood when Andrew and I went on walks? She had to let us know she was right there, available, waiting for us to come home. And if we could please keep little Charlie from humping her mercilessly, that would be helpful, too.

As long as we were with her, she was fine. I remember the time Jack, Margaret and their cousins came crying to me because Shadow had disappeared. Run away. Gone forever. Turns out she was stuck in an upstairs bathroom because she'd quietly gone in to keep one of them company and been left behind. So many memories. Of Easter baskets eaten, so that she pooped pastel foil for days. Of the way she convinced this work-at-home mom that her evening meal should be served no later than 1:30 p.m. Of Santa hats, doggie Halloween costumes, and her very own Snuggie. Of kayak rides, tennis balls, family hikes, and the time she dragged me though the air.

Dogs don't live long, and part of life is saying goodbye to them.

Of course we will miss more than just our precious, loyal family member and Snuggler-in-Chief. She takes with her a connection to our old home, our old lives, to Jack and Margaret's childhood. She lived two months longer than Jack did, which makes it a good run for dog, but a ludicrous one for a child.

Thank you for everything, Shadow.

Good girl. Good girl. I love you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Taking Down the Crib

 We planned on keeping Andrew in his happy yellow crib until he turned three. After the disintegration of his last remaining pacifier a few weeks ago, and the ensuing nights of restless sleep, things accelerated. 

Last Thursday, after bedtime and prayers, he was not settling down. I could hear him through the door, "Um, Mom? Mom! Mom-eeeeeeeeeee!!!" This went on for a while. I was TIRED. Exhausted, really, by the fact that there had been only 6 hours of Very Excellent Preschool since December 14. By Tim's long work hours, and his scary week-long bought with pneumonia. By the fact that with an aging dog and a toddler with poor aim, our house now smells like pee.

I really needed Andrew to fall asleep.

First, I went in for another hug. Next, I helped him locate his lovey, which he had thrown overboard  so he could yell, "I can't find LOVEY!" Almost out of ideas, I said, "Would you be more comfortable in your big boy bed?" An excited and not at all tired sounding, "YES!" led me to tuck him in the twin bed on the other side of his room.

He slept.

My friend's daughter is having another baby, so as soon as I got the a-ok from Andrew to give the crib away, we dismantled it and put it in my car. I'll probably drive around with it for 3 months before remembering to drop it off.

This feels different than when I gave away Jack and Margaret's crib. Back then, I hoped we would have a third child someday, but it felt uncertain. Would we ever figure out how to fit another child into our lives? The door felt more closed than open. In the short term, I knew our neighbor needed the crib, and we could use the extra space.

This time, I know that unless God himself wants to impregnate me to carry His child, there will be no more fruit of this geriatric womb. I toyed with keeping the crib for grand kids, but I have met  Margaret, and therefore know that is not a wise move. First, having a giant ball of need toddler in the house has convinced Margaret that babies are a heck of a lot of work, and she's not sure if she's up to it-- ever. Second, I realize there's nothing more fun for your self-esteem than having a grown daughter or daughter-in-law give you a self-righteous lecture when you try to pawn-off a decades-old baby crib aka death trap on them. I don't need a cute little Jenny Lind crib leaning against the basement wall either pressuring Margaret to procreate or showcasing how little I know about anything.

So off it goes.

His race car sheets and gray comforter arrive next week. I hope he likes them, but I know not to get too wrapped up in them.

Soon, he'll have his own ideas of how to decorate his room... and the little stinker is in our bed for half the night anyway.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Back to It!

Today Margaret is back to her senior year and Andrew is back in preschool. Time for a serious TV/Netflix detox for all of us! Some of the shows I watched were The Bodyguard and An Innocent Man.

We had a nice holiday, although we traded around pretty bad colds the entire time. We went through so many tissues. I thought we were in the clear until a little cutie sneezed right in Andrew's mouth at the barber shop the other day, and the whole cycle started over again. Gah!

Here are some photos from the past few weeks. I loved our Christmas PJ's this year. SO COZY.  Looks like a laugh on Andrew's face, but it was a cry-laugh by this point on Christmas Day.

3 day jaunt to NYC with Margaret and a few friends. They took artsy photos around the city:

Tim and I pretty much rested, since Andrew was in the capable care of my sister:

New Year's "hike" in the woods was a hit with Andrew:

Have you been watching Marie Kondo on Netflix? I haven't, but I did encourage Tim to unload a ton of shirts that no longer "sparked joy." Here's Andrew wearing one of Daddy's shirts.

Tomorrow my awesome sister in law is having surgery for breast cancer. Her body has already been through so much with lyme disease. Could you please pray for a smooth surgery and complete recovery?

Thank you!

Much love to you as we enter 2019. Thank you for being here for me. I am so happy to be here for you, too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

 Tim, Jack Margaret 2006
Tim, Andrew, Anna, Margaret 2017

Andrew is VERY excited about Christmas. He has been a little more "hands-on" with our two trees than I'd prefer, but so far breakage has been minimal. Without a peep from me about Santa, he is very much on board with the jolly guy delivering him a fire engine down the chimney in a few weeks. I'm guessing he got this intel from Mickey Mouse and Llama Llama on TV.

We've also been reading books and talking about Baby Jesus. Last week Andrew messed with a present I bought for a local charity. When I asked him about it, he said, "I think Baby Jesus came into our house and broke it." Wonder if he thinks Jesus used the chimney? It was pretty funny.

Guess who else is looking forward to Christmas?


I wanted to let you know that, because some of you are in the early days and months of grief, and the holidays are something to be endured, ignored, slogged through, and merely survived, not enjoyed or anticipated. It is hardly conceivable to you that someone who has endured great loss as you have would be able to look forward to ANYTHING again, let alone precious family traditions. I see you. I hear you. I understand that at a deep level. All you can do at this point is hold on and be gentle to yourself. If I can provide any measure of hope to you, I want to do that. And if hope seems like far too much, I want to bear witness to your pain.

Many others of you were with me those first few years when I showed up for holidays in order to be there for Margaret and to continue family traditions. It was brutally painful. You prayed us through those days. Thank you.

Last week, as Margaret and I hung ornaments, she said, "I love Christmas! The decorations, the music, everything." I was shocked and happy to hear this. First, because teenage girls tend not to express a love or appreciation of much, but also because I'd wondered whether Christmas was ruined for her 7 years ago when her childhood became a clear Before/After.

My own optimism is enriched by the opportunity to experience the joy and magic of Christmas with a small child again, but it is not BECAUSE OF THIS. Some factors have been the passage of time, giving myself permission to mourn, and an eventual re-framing of my thoughts about death. I see death as a transition now, versus an ending. Just as Margaret's Christmases faced a transition, a very painful one, when Jack died, they did not end there. In death, Jack transitioned to heaven, but nothing about him, except his physical presence has ended.

In the early years, naturally so, I grieved his physical presence mightily. Having a toddler to kiss and snuggle again reminds me even more of what it is like for a mother to be so physically enmeshed with a beloved child as to know every part of him/her. No part of Andrew is foreign to me.

My own thinking has landed at there being a time for everything, and that although I do not understand why Jack's time here on earth, or my mother's, was so short-- and why mine is longer, I am learning to accept that. The brittle bag of bones I felt like just a few years ago has been replenished with life and hope, despite new wrinkles and the scars I carry. This is not something that can be forced or rushed, and you will NEVER find me pushing it on anyone else. Forced peace, inflicted gratitude, and faked acceptance is not helpful or healing.

Instead, I will just say I'm really looking forward to the holidays this year. And if you are not, I see you, I care, and you don't need to be a smidge different to be here with me.

**p.s. A Hug from Heaven is Amazon's #1 New Release in Children's Death and Dying books! Email me at if you would like me to send you a signed copy with FREE shipping and a photo sleeve for your loved one's picture.

**p.p.s. Right now I am having an online Stella and Dot party to raise money to support families whose kids are in cancer treatment. Please treat yourself to something awesome and help Stillbrave Childhood Cancer Foundation at the same time!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Holidays and Empty Chairs

This piece by John Pavlovitz really spoke to me, so I thought I'd share it with you. I've been thinking of so many people who will face an empty chair these holidays, through death or estrangement. And, with the devastating fires in CA, many, many people won't even have a home, or a chair this year. How traumatic and disorienting that must be. If you are struggling to be grateful or to "make merry" please be gentle on yourself.

Undated Hand Turkey From Jack:
Dear Mom and Dad
Thank you for:

            Being great parents,
              Taking care of me, 

            Loving me forever.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Hug from Heaven Release Day!

November is Children's Grief Awareness Month, so it seemed like a most appropriate time to release my children's book A Hug from Heaven.

If you preordered the book, it should arrive any day now! If you haven't ordered it yet, keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open for any grieving children in your midst who might be comforted by the book.

People often ask me where they should buy my books. This is a great question, especially since I chose self-publishing this time around. What I usually suggest is that people who know me (family, blog readers like you) order directly from the publisher. This helps me earn back my investment.

I direct other people to Amazon because it's so simple. This helps me get reviews, which then introduces the book to people who are unfamiliar with me and might find themselves wading through many books in the middle of the night, not sure what would be a good choice. I make very little money through sales on Amazon, but it is good exposure for the book.

Either way, my hope is that the book will get "out there" and touch lives!

Speaking of reviews, if you have read the book, please consider leaving an honest review on Amazon, whether or not you purchased a book there. I wouldn't buy a can opener without reading reviews first, let alone a book for grieving children.

Well, that's about all for now. Andrew is sick again with the croup, so it could be another long day and night. Thank you, again, for your continued support. It means the world to me!

And remember: If you are local to Northern Virginia, please come to my book party at Caffe Amouri in Vienna, VA on Nov 7 at 7 pm. We'll have coffee, tea, wine, and goodies to eat. I'll be selling and signing books. 

P.S. If you didn't see it on Facebook yet, Andrew was a scary monster for Halloween. Here he is with his grandma:

Monday, October 29, 2018

When it Comes to Supporting Grieving Children, Parents Need all the Help They Can Get

When our son Jack died in an accident, our daughter Margaret, had just turned ten. I was not sure how to help her navigate her grief as I dealt with my own. Some things felt instinctual: helping her feel safe, staying close to home, and being as stable as possible even though the world seemed upside down and terrifying. I chose not to drink alcohol for several months so I could be fully present, and my husband and I tucked her little frame between us each night even though we had not been a bed sharing family before. 

Our loss left us reeling, and beyond the basics of eating, sleeping, and working, we had little energy left to figure out how to best support our daughter. Bereaved parents in our community reached out share about support meetings and books that helped them when their own devastation was fresh, but few had resources specifically for our daughter. Well-meaning friends asked us whether we were getting her therapy. We were, but it was an epic struggle, and we questioned each step we took— was this the right therapist? Should we persist when Margaret pushed back? What kind of support would be best for her?  

It never seemed fair to me that when someone is newly-diagnosed with cancer or another disease, family members and the patient himself must quickly become experts in subjects that were foreign to them just moments before diagnosis. Understanding the science, protocols, and the mysteries of insurance policies seemed to rest upon already-weary shoulders. Likewise, we found ourselves on a crash course in grief in our most depleted state. The loved ones who became our primary support after Jack’s death were grieving as well, so it was difficult for them to connect us to help.

In the years since Jack’s death, my work as a writer and speaker has introduced me to many resources available for grieving children and families. Camps like Comfort Zone Camp and Camp Erin, support groups, retreat centers and numerous grief organizations such as The National Alliance for Grieving Children do amazing work to cultivate resilience in young grievers. Often, what they do stems from needs they encountered while mourning a death in their own families.

My new children’s book, A Hug from Heaven, is something I wish we’d had for Margaret when Jack died. It’s a book for a child who has experienced the death of ANY loved one. It shows that a range of emotions is appropriate, it models healthy grieving, and it encourages memorializing and celebrating the loved one who died. What makes it unique is that it encourages kids (and adults) to look for “hugs from heaven” -- signs from their loved ones that show that even if a person dies, their LOVE does not

Your child may not be grieving, but I’m guessing you know a child who is. After all, 1 out of 5 children will experience the death of a close loved one by age 18.Perhaps you could be that person who sees a need and steps in with specific resources when it seems too overwhelming for immediate family members to figure out. Buy a book, give a ride, connect them to a local grief center, find the name of a great therapist for them—and maybe even make the call to set up the first appointment. Not everyone can do everything for a grieving child, but whatever you do will show that you care and help make a devastating time more bearable. 

To order A Hug from Heaven ($14.95), please email or purchase through Mascot Books or Amazon.