Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fab Fit Fun Box is Coming My Way! Want to try it too?

As many of you saw on my Facebook Live Video this morning, I am super excited that I finally took the plunge to order a Fab Fit Fun box! I've been wanting to do it for months, but when I saw this month's 50% off deal, with between 250-350 worth of luxury goodies for only $25, I couldn't resist any longer. My BFF just got her box and loves it! If you want to check it out and see all that Fab Fit Fun offers, please use my affiliate link here! The discount code is: Fall50

I'll share pictures when my box arrives!

XO, Anna

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ripples



Don't for a second think you don't make a difference in the lives of others. 

I just got back from the park with Andrew, where I saw a woman I recognized from my early childhood playing with her grandkids. I introduced myself, and after she got over the shock of seeing me with a 3 year old, she said:

"Your mom saved me."

When she and her husband moved to our town from out of state, she was isolated and alone with a newborn. My mother met her and said, "Come to my house on Tuesday." The woman told of babies lined up in cribs in the dining room, tuna fish sandwiches for mothers and kids, cups of coffee, and surreptitious drags on cigarettes. One Tuesday led to another and another. Later, Mom invited her to a Bible study and eventually, our church. 

I can picture our big old house with toys strewn across the floor, and pots full of inexpensive coffee. The drafty house where something always needed fixing. With 3 kids under 4 years old, Mom offered nothing fancy, just a welcoming spirit, irreverent sense of humor, and radical hospitality. With a husband who worked long hours, and all family support out of state, she may have felt frustrated and house-bound, so she invited people to come to her. 

I doubt my mother knew that what she offered this other woman would have ripples all the way to this park 50 years later. Not to be too dramatic, but I am guessing the love and encouragement that made a young mom feel less isolated and helped plug her into a faith community rippled outward for three generations, all the way to the grandkids I saw today at the park. 

My mom, who never left the country, held a fancy job or went on a real vacation, made a difference in people's lives because she made them feel special and worth it. And you know what? Everyone is worth it. If you help other people know they are worth your time, your friendship, your notice, then you too make a difference. 

This message hit home for me today because I am a frustrated achiever. I couldn't just punch a clock at Blockbuster in grad school for my $3.10 an hour; I had to be employee of the month. I couldn't just teach English; I wanted to be the best. I willingly put achievement on the back burner as a stay-at-home mom, because holy hell if you don't yet know that trying to "achieve" as a parent is an exercise in hubris and futility, you will figure it out at some point. Big-time.

I just held on for the ride and thought my 40's and 50's would be the chance to prove myself as a productive member of society who made a difference. Once I found my passion for writing and speaking, I imagined myself speaking from large stages (you win a car! and you win a car!), writing more books, and contributing to my family financially in significant ways. Instead, I found myself in the park on a gorgeous October day pushing Andrew "higher! higher!" And despite knowing how fleeting his childhood will be, I also know I'm not guaranteed a season of productivity after he's grown. We are not promised tomorrow, only today. 

Nothing I did today felt very epic. I didn't figure out how to promote my books. I failed to make childcare arrangements so I could go to a conference and learn, once again, how much I don't know about social media. I didn't even buy baby carrots.

But I did play in the park with Andrew. I did enjoy a beautiful walk with a newly-bereaved friend. This afternoon I can encourage my friend across the street that she's doing a great job with baby #2 while wrangling baby #1 (BTW, Kelly, you are!). Tonight I can return an email from a precious mama whose teen daughter died unexpectedly in September. I can try not to take out my exhaustion and peri-menopausal period on my husband when he's trying to watch the "baseball playoffs", whatever that means. 

It may not be much.

It doesn't feel like much. 

But you know what? Ripples rarely do. 

We all make ripples, whether positively or negatively. Maybe I'll never make a big splash in this lifetime, but I can try to make my ripples more helpful than hurtful. More generous than stingy. More loving than lacking. 

And even if I think tuna fish is gross, I can open my home and heart just a little bit more. 

Here, have a cheese stick.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Always Andy's Mom Podcast for Bereaved Parents and Those who Support Us

I want to introduce you to a new podcast for bereaved parents. Losing a Child: Always Andy's Mom.

It is the kind of podcast I dreamed of setting up years ago, but never did. Marcy Larson, Andy's mom, is amazing, and the stories and guests on this podcast will help bereaved parents feel less alone!

I was honored to be a guest on the podcast this week. While I am sad that my head cold made my audio less than ideal, I hope you will give it a listen and subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss a single episode.

Hugs,

Anna

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Turn of a Page: Living in the After

While organizing our basement recently, I came across our family calendar page from September 2011. It hung next to the kitchen door of our old house, and if something wasn't written on the calendar, it wasn't going to happen.

After Jack's sudden death, I couldn't bear to see all of his activities for the entire school year, which I'd dutifully filled out in Sharpie as soon as school, practice and scout schedules came out. Things as mundane as dental appointments screamed LOSS and UNFAIRNESS and DESPAIR. What about the Bible study I was supposed to lead, but I'd cancel, along with any other activities of mine outside of work and caring for my lonely little girl? Did I even believe what I once taught?

What about the day itself, September 8th, mocking me with its normalcy? Nothing unique there: the cleaning lady, packing for a camping trip, a work meeting with a pastor friend, a Walmart run. Nothing notable on a day when my world shifted on its axis. When I stood in the hallway of the church and shared with a friend a strange foreboding I had about Jack and his friendships, then laughed it off, all but forgotten a few hours later when it might have mattered. How do you recognize rumblings of a cosmic shift when you speak the language of Sharpies and calendars and soccer snacks, not souls, heaven, life and death?

I remember saving my mother's check register after her sudden death at age 46. I looked at it to marvel at the stark before/after of a full life and then an absence. Everyone else's life seemed to be going forward as usual, but ours had stopped. I could see that four days ago, one week ago, one month ago, she was paying bills. Bills! For that same reason, I suppose, I saved this one calendar page.

To remember a life before the after.

Our calendar today doesn't look much different. It hangs in the same spot in a different house, that is remarkably similar to the one before. Sure, preschool swim lessons, and Margaret's college breaks take the place of elementary school busy-ness, but there are still grocery runs, vet visits, and hair color appointments.

And life is very, very different.

I have learned to live in this new life, to lean into it, and to embrace it as much as my sleep-deprived self will let me. How did I get here, to this place of being able to live in the mundane again while being keenly aware of the spiritual reality of my loved ones being by my side every step of the way? How do I now experience joy in the land of the living? I have no easy answers how this shift happened. Time. Hugs from Heaven. You. Gratitude. Letting tears flow.

If you are living in the shocking, stark AFTER right now, all of those things sound trite and meaningless. I know. I remember. I honor you and that reality.

But I will just whisper, I'm still here. I may not know exactly how I got here, but I'm here, just a bit farther down the road, and if that helps at all, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I Can Only Imagine

On September 11, 2001 I sat in the parlor of our church with my besties from my moms' group. We were so happy to be together after a summer apart. It was my chance to show off newborn Margaret, while 2 year old Jack played happily in the nursery. In the room that day we had a flight attendant, a woman whose husband worked at the Pentagon, another whose sister worked in the World Trade Center, and another for whom the Oklahoma City terrorist attack was not just an abstraction, but a reality. Her husband was the only one who called and said, "Get home now. This is terrorism."

As the news unfolded, we tried to take in what we were hearing, yet for the most part, we continued in our meeting. It didn't seem real. I looked at our agenda items, and crossed them off one by one. Later, as people fled Washington DC, some on foot, Tim chose to stay at work in his office, 3 blocks from the White House. It didn't cross his mind to come home early.

Our passivity seemed stark to me. As we learned more, I became certain that if told that everything was fine and to return to my desk at the Trade Center, I would have done so. It worried me that I didn't seem to have much of a survival instinct. I remembered back to childhood when my brother and sister would chase me and I would just stop. I knew they'd catch me sooner or later, so why not make it sooner?

When we heard of flight attendants and passengers fighting back, of fire fighters trudging up flight after flight of stairs toward the danger, I tried to picture myself in their position of bravery and self-sacrifice and couldn't.

Of course trying to inject myself into these scenarios was futile. It's similar to when I hear someone say, "Well, I would have gone all Mama Bear on them..." when discussing a scenario related to a child. Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not. How do you know?

I would have liked to have believed I would have plunged into a raging creek after my dying son, not sat quietly in our kitchen waiting for news. I would have imagined Tim would have run to the creek, yet he came quietly to the door, shattered, confused, saying, "What do I do? Should I go down there?"

For all of the heroic acts of that terrible day 18 years ago, surely there were ordinary acts too. People sitting at their desks, trying to make a phone call. Those not processing, wondering if the whole work day would be a waste. Making nervous jokes. Weighing the options of climbing down 60-plus flights of stairs in high heels versus waiting until everything was resolved. It was the final few moments of a world where steel buildings didn't fall. Right before people had to make a terrible choice of staying in a burning skyscraper or leaping out of one.

Or maybe it was really the "during" but not yet the "after."

And when the after came, and we were able to imagine scenarios, so inconceivable a short time before, our country came together in the magnitude and sacredness of the horror and loss of life and promise. We put small differences aside. We talked to strangers. We hung out American flags. We went to church. We honored the pain and grief.

18 years later, domestic terrorists hunt down and murder our children in school. Our children spend time training for and injecting themselves into scenarios such as deciding whether to be brave and try to confront a shooter. How to block a door. Whether to throw their bodies on top of each other. Or whether to crouch and pray for survival.

I try to imagine if we'd been told in September 2001 that our great country would be losing kids this way, not just 2 years post-Columbine, but 20. We would surely have pictured ourselves coming together in love and bravery, putting all differences aside and finding a way to protect our children.

But sometimes what we imagine we would do is not what we do.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Ready or Not (Mom), Here She Comes!


We move Margaret into her dorm on Friday.

Today, instead of taking her to lunch and exhorting her to never swim in a quarry, to keep her drink with her at all times, and to attend any and all goofy activities her RA sets up, I am sitting at McDonald's with Andrew enjoying a 59 cent cone. People ask how I'm coping with Margaret, my original "baby", heading off to school. But the truth is, I haven't been able to focus on what I'm feeling, at least not yet, because I'm in the day-to-day of keeping up with an active 3 year old during what surely is the word's longest preschool break.

I am processing neither Margaret's imminent departure nor the fact that the nest I always thought would be empty as of Sept 2019 is full-ish again. Questions like-- "Who am I now? What is it like to parent a young-adult, when I never had the chance to have an adult mother/daughter relationship? Will I be able to do the dorm move-in for Andrew when I'm 65?"-- all remain unexamined. No, I'm just doing the thing. And the thing seems to be snuggling on the couch with too much Netflix, reminding Andrew to un-clench when I wipe his bottom, and an awful lot of playing with the garden hose.

It makes me think of when Jack died, almost 8 years ago. My very first thoughts in those terrifying moments turned to the need to make Margaret feel safe. To showing my sadness but also my strength (what strength?) so she wouldn't think I would disappear too. I didn't check out. I drove to every soccer practice, marveling that the other parents would even let their kids drive with me, when inside I felt so utterly unhinged, each telephone pole taunting me with sweet relief if only I would steer into it. My love for and my responsibility toward Margaret kept me going. And things got better. Much, much better.

I'm NOT comparing college drop-off to the death of a child, but rather pondering whether being busy and focused on other things is healthy, or whether it's just one more way of covering up, rather than exploring one's feelings. I don't know any other way. Just as I was glad when college classes started up soon after my mom died, I was grateful Margaret's needs were too ever-present to ignore. I was grateful to have to go to work to try to stimulate my brain. Keeping busy with Andrew, which can feel both soul-sucking and life-giving, hasn't left much room to consider my girl's latest chapter even though it is right upon us.

But then I remember it didn't all go unexamined, in the face of responsibility, busy-ness, and gaping need. Late nights with you and this laptop were where I did most of my processing those years ago, and I'm grateful you are here with me now.

Friday, August 9, 2019

&



Do you know what an ampersand is? 

It’s the “&” symbol on a keyboard. A long time ago, I bought a huge ampersand to hang on my office wall. It had no special meaning for me then, but it does now. 

I realized recently that I’ve been living, and even flourishing, in what I’ll call an ampersand life: a life of AND. 

You see, when my sweet son Jack died by drowning, I could not imagine anything other than a future of abject grief and pain. Life felt meaningless and our family hopelessly broken. I am very sorry that many of my readers also know the pain of child loss.

I noticed over time, however, that I’d begun living a life of hope that I could not have fathomed right away, and that certain actions and attitudes helped get me there. 

First was letting myself feel my grief. I used writing to explore feelings of loneliness, pain, anger, fear, and sadness. I did not answer with “fine” when people asked how I was doing. My husband used exercise to push his body to its limits and feel the loss of Jack. You might have a church group, a therapist, a group like TCF or Bereaved Parents of the USA, or one safe person who acknowledges your loss and doesn’t rush you or run away, no matter what scary feelings you share. 

I also tried to be open to the possibility of hope. Even when I felt very little hope, I let myself be open to the chance of hope at some point in the future. To do this, I limited my use of words like “always” and “never” because when I told myself, “I will always feel this way,” and “life will never get better,” I felt closed off from hope.

Staying connected to Jack helped too. I looked for signs from him everywhere, calling them “hugs from heaven”. I dug deep for gratitude and realized I was grateful for the 12 years I’d been able to hug him and hold him on earth. I shared stories about Jack, and said his name.

Now, almost eight years after Jack's death, I experience genuine joy and hope every day. The disorienting pain has softened into a gentle longing and a real appreciation for the time I have left on earth. I find value and meaning in relationships, work, and life again—without faking it!

So what does any of this have to do with an ampersand?

None of this healing came from ignoring the fact that my son died, or shoving feelings of grief away. It came from learning to live in the AND. 


This is what it looks like for me:

I hold sadness & joy at the same time.
I miss my son’s physical presence & I am fully present in the lives of my living loved ones.
I miss the past & I’m excited for the future.
I grieve & I am healing.
I have lost friends & I have made new ones.
My child died & I can still be close to him.
I have one foot in heaven & one foot on earth.
I know great pain & I know great love.


AND does not negate reality. It is not an easy, cheap fix. It is holding two truths at the same time. It is an awareness of the complexity of life and loss & an embracing of what is versus what could have been.


What might living in the AND look like for you?