Tuesday, November 22, 2022

It's the Little Things

I am a white lights on the Christmas tree kind of girl. The artificial tree I bought 2 years ago has about 7 options, including blinking (ugh!), and cycling through from white to colored and back again.

My buddy Andrew loves the colored lights, and we are in a sneaky battle with each other, changing it back and forth when we walk past to go to the bathroom, multiple times a day. We haven't spoken a word about it, and I love it so much!
It reminds me of when my teen brother used to do something similar to my mom. She was a fantastic florist, and when she would go on deliveries, she had large "Flowers by Margaret" magnetic signs on her car doors. Sometimes she'd drive around all day before realizing her signs were upside down, thanks to her firstborn pranking her.
Sometimes connection and I love you's come in funny forms.
Now when my high school boyfriend did deliveries for her and changed every single one of her radio presets from country and classical to whatever the hell he listened to, that was just plain rude.
Like, read the room, Dude.

Monday, October 31, 2022


I just spent 45 minutes in the toy section of Target looking at Legos with Andrew. It wasn't what I would have chosen for a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, but he had money burning a hole in his pocket and was excited buy something new. We compared prices, and talked pro's and cons of each Minecraft set. It was no surprise that after reading Minecraft books, hearing Andrew's running commentary about all of the characters, and watching him play for months, I was able to hold my own in the conversation.

After we checked out, I let him try some parkour moves on the giant red concrete balls out front. We've been watching American Ninja-type shows and he's developing an interest in climbing. As I watched, an old friend from the "before times" crossed the lot. We hadn't seen each other in years. We were young parents together in the same mothers' group at church. I remember when she had her third, thinking "Oh boy, Laura just set her ticket to freedom back about three years." I was so tired and so busy with two little ones, that I kept my eyes on what I thought was the prize, getting them launched someday.

As we know, I didn't get to launch Jack in the way I thought I would, my "baby" Margaret is now 21, and  launching Andrew feels like a lifetime away. 

After my friend and I chatted, Andrew and I headed to the car. He was proud of the money he'd earned selling original comic books to our friends and neighbors. He showed no regret about reducing his nest egg down to one 2 dollar bill and a Sacajawea coin. I knew the coffee table would, once again, be taken over by colorful bricks for the next days or weeks.

I gave myself a minute on the way home in the car to be proud of myself. Proud for persevering after devastating loss. Proud for embracing my 50's and 60's and beyond that will look a lot different than I thought they would, even as I acknowledge the twinge I still feel when I see my peers at different stages. Proud for being in the moment with Andrew, and fully invested in what makes him tick.

Can you think of something today that makes you proud? 

Life is not made up of grand accomplishments. Sometimes it's just waking up, showing up, and taking baby-steps, even if the baby is 35, 45, or 60.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Walk in the Woods

A good friend and I were taking a walk when she asked if I'd like to explore a path near her house. It wasn't until about 10 minutes in that I realized we were headed right into the woods behind my old neighborhood, the woods where Jack died. 

I hadn't been back there in many years. I didn't want to make my friend feel bad for not connecting the dots that her neighborhood eventually ran into my former one. She's been going through a rough time, and I'd wanted the focus of our time to be on her, not on me.

As we walked beside the empty creek bed, noticeably dry even after 5 straight days of storms, I was transported back to the terrifying afternoon and evening 11 years ago when Jack fell in the creek and drowned. 

As my friend and I spoke of other things, I silently checked in with my feelings, letting thoughts pass in and out of my head: 

"There's the house where it happened." 

"I wish no one had let them to play back there."

Then, as we followed the long path parallel to the creek, traversing the distance between where Jack fell in and where he was found, I thought of his small body hurtling through the churning water.

"This is really far. Wow. This is even farther than I remembered." 

In checking in with myself, I found that I was okay. I wasn't stuffing my grief down. I was acknowledging the significance of the location, while still able to stay present with my friend with genuine interest and concern. I then shared some personal difficulties I'm having and got wise counsel from her. 

Both of these things felt significant. 

First, it was a gift that I was able to truly care about another's situation, because in the early days of grief, that seemed impossible. Back then, I couldn't imagine the ticker tape in my mind or heart saying anything other than "Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack" for the rest of my days. 

Second, I was able to talk about problems I'm currently facing in the life I have, not just the pain of Jack's death and the life I thought I would have.

We made it to the end of the path, retraced our steps, and ended up back at her house. 

I don't know whether this experience is helpful to anyone in early grief because frankly, thinking about years and years down the road was distasteful and scary to me at that time. It was torture to consider living so long without Jack's physical presence, and the impossible concept of healing or "getting better" provided no comfort whatsoever.

Eleven years??? 

I was worried about 11 seconds! 

Surviving grief is not about years, months, weeks, or even days. Sometimes it is a moment by moment slog in which your brain tries to process your new, unwanted reality, while also being forced to remain tethered to the rest of the world. 

This walk made me think about how amazing it is that pain can lessen and soften-- although not through sheer will, or the desire of others for us to "get better." 

In my case, it lessened through being acknowledged. Through glimmers of hope. Through my understanding that love never dies. And yes, through time. Lots of time

I am no longer a raw, exposed nerve-ending. I am a person who can take a walk in the woods with a friend on a gorgeous fall day, appreciating the crunch of leaves under my feet, while living in this moment, being supportive, and being supported as well. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

11 Years

 11 years ago today my 12 year old son died.

Depending on the year, the "crapiversary" is about reflection, memorializing Jack, muddling through, being grateful, or sitting in anger and jealousy. It all depends. Lately it's been about shuttling Andrew here or there, trying to keep him entertained, and whispering a "Thank you, I love you," to my Jack.
Today is different. Coming off a difficult summer, I'm home with my first case of COVID. Andrew is sick too, although testing negative, and our lives have been reduced to one bed, like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but with screens. A lot of screens. This limited sphere, as well as the misery in my body, made Sept 8 sneak up on me, sidling up to my sick bed in the night. I knew it was coming. It loomed. I felt it in my soul for weeks, but it whispered, "Trudge, Anna, trudge. This is your life now. Just deal."
In a way, the sick bed represents how I've been feeling for a long while: depleted, limited, trapped. "Trudge, Anna, trudge. This is your life now. Just deal."
If you are looking for a tribute to my amazing Jack today, I can't even muster it. My heart, my soul, my person, how could this be? Yet his memory flits away from me as the demands of the here and now keep me rooted as if my legs are half-sunk in concrete.
I have no guilt over this, for I know I can't disappoint my boy. I know that he sees me struggle and cheers me on, just as I supported him through every struggle he faced on earth.
While certain memories fail, I'll never forget how he made me feel-- like the best mother in the world. In the 34 years since my own mother went to heaven, what remains is how she made me feel: SAFE and BELOVED.
I know I'll feel better soon. I know Andrew will go to school and I can reclaim some autonomy and find my spark again.
Maybe then I will write a beautiful tribute post to a 12 year old who changed so many lives.
But today I will whisper, "Thank you Jack. I love you" and I will think about how even in my weakness, when I can't control ANYTHING, I can consider how I make people feel, and put that into the world.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Von Trapp Family Swimmers?

Menopause slapped me with a 20 lb weight gain, and I had to update my swimming wardrobe. So in April, before a trip to Tim's parents' house in Florida, I bought a Lands End tummy control swim dress. It covered everything I wanted to cover and squeezed in everything I wanted to be squeezed. Getting that thing on and off was like wrestling a walrus, and I had to resort to the pull-over method in order to pee in the pool bathroom, but I was pleased with my purchase.

With whatever breath I could manage to exhale while squeezed in my suit, I breathed a sigh of relief that Andrew is a boy and he likely won't give me as much of a hard time about my wardrobe choices as a little girl would. I've been down that road and it was brutal. So far, he hasn't seemed to notice that I'm older than his friends' parents, that I don't rock a bikini, or that I put my bathrobe on around 5 pm each day (ok, 4 in winter).

Tim, however, may have pushed things a little too far. After wearing thrifted brown and orange swim trunks for over 15 years, he decided this summer was the time to go wild with a new bathing suit before dry rot set in. I told him Lands End was having a sale, and he could likely find something for less than 20 bucks.

Imagine my surprise when, utterly clueless, he pulled out swim trunks that match the suit I've been wearing for 4 straight months. I've often said he would not notice my being injured if I weren't bleeding from the head, but now I wonder about even that. 

And poor Andrew. 

Do we wear these to the pool together? 

Do we see if they come in kids' sizes and just embrace the WEIRD? 

It's one thing when your mom listens to 80's music that makes your friends groan in the camp carpool. Or when she consistently has 2-3 inches of gray roots. But your mom and Dad wearing matching bathing suits? 

What do YOU think? 

(Photo credit to the 6 year old who could use his nails clipped)

P.S. do you think Tim will notice my new pajamas?

Monday, July 11, 2022

Liz's Eulogy for Jack

Do you follow writer/podcaster/thinker Kelly Corrigan? She has an amazing podcast, a PBS show, and several wonderful books. 

On Sundays she has been reading eulogies aloud, and yesterday she read the eulogy my sister Liz wrote for Jack 10 years ago. I can't believe my precious sister had the presence of mind to write something so beautiful and eloquent just a day or so after Jack's shocking death. 

Hearing it again reminded me there is still much to learn from my boy. I'd love for you to take a listen!

Friday, May 6, 2022

Living Your Dash

 What an honor it was to speak at Full Circle Grief Center's Live Your Dash Luncheon! 

This fundraiser helps Full Circle provide comprehensive grief support for those in the Richmond, VA area. When Jack died, I was in too much shock to even look for or access this kind of grief support. If you are grieving, or know someone who is grieving, I'd encourage you to see whether there is a grief center in your area. They often offer individual counseling and family groups and activities. 

By just EXISTING, grief centers help acknowledge to our world that grief is a real issue that lasts well beyond the few days between a death and a funeral. 

Something really special happened after my speech last Friday. The setting was a super fancy country club, and many of the servers were young adults. After the luncheon, 5 of the servers came up to me to share how my speech impacted them. We often wonder about this next generation, but let me say, they are all right! They were on the clock, working, but they let themselves open up and be touched by my words and then took the time to share with me their impact. Wow! I am so grateful.

The theme of the luncheon was Living your Dash, and it refers to the dash on a gravestone between the birth date and the death date. 

I'be been putting too much pressure on myself lately about what I'm going to do with my dash during this  short and precious life. It's overwhelming and I feel burnt out and ineffective. 

Maybe you do too.

So today I will just try to do one small thing: be kind.