Sunday, January 19, 2014


My shoulder started hurting for no good reason around Thanksgiving. I guess it's because I'm getting old. I told my friend Jane that I was babying it a bit because I was afraid I'd torn something, and she said, "Don't baby it! That's the worst thing you could do. You might end up with a Frozen Shoulder." She gave me exercises, which of course I didn't do.


So, this week I finally dragged myself to a doctor and found out I have....a Frozen Shoulder! Yippee! Right after giving me a shot in the shoulder and referring me to a physical therapist who would then recommend the exact same exercises Jane told me about two months ago, the doc sat down for some chit chat.

"What do you do for a living?"

I recently quit my job managing a small Christian bookstore, so I tried out something new:

"I'm a writer."

I've never said that before. It sounded strange, maybe a little bit of a stretch, but it felt good, too. I hadn't anticipated the next question, even though it was an obvious one.

"So, have you written any books?"

"Well, yes, my first book is coming out in September." Now, THAT felt great to say!

But why oh why wasn't I ready for the next question? I know I need to get used to speaking about my book. I need to not be embarrassed or ashamed about the subject matter. I need to believe that there is a reason I've been given the chance to tell my story, and that it can't help anyone if I don't share it.

Deep breath: "Well, it's a memoir about losing my son."

"Oh, I'm sorry. But I sure won't be reading it. I don't DO tragedy."

The doctor's words did not offend me. He was on the spot, in that little exam room. He had plunged into something uncomfortable and scary, when all he wanted was a few seconds of small talk. And his thoughts were not so very different from ones that I have voiced before. I mean, who wants to DO tragedy, if they can help it?

I remember that when Jack was born almost 15 years ago, I abruptly stopped watching some of my favorite shows, most notably Law and Order SVU. I just couldn't take the depravity of the world and the way it made me feel so vulnerable, especially since I had a little one to take care of now. No longer fascinated by the dark side of the human experience, I wanted to shield us from it any way I could, and covering my eyes and ears seemed like a viable option. I had to seriously limit the Oprah book club books I read, too.

I understand that the doctor doesn't want to read my book. I totally get it.

Then today, at my first physical therapy appointment, the therapist asked me how many kids I have. I had already cried when it felt like she was breaking my arm, and more tears trickled out when I said, "I used to have 2, but now I have 1." It's not what I expected to say when asked this question, as if Jack had ceased to exist in a "poof!" but it's what came out. Usually I just say "2" and leave it at that, but she and I will be seeing each other 3 times a week for a while, and I didn't want to make her feel even more awkward later with follow-up questions if I had led her to believe I had two healthy kids at home with me.

It's interesting, because in the next months, I'm going to have to figure out how to talk about what I write about. I'll have to get out behind the screen and actually talk to people. I'll be attending conferences and meeting people, and eventually promoting my book. Not only am I a horrible sales person, "Umm, you, uh, wouldn't want to buy some Girl Scout cookies, would you?" I am also reluctant to put people on the spot and make them uncomfortable.

They are such natural questions, "What do you blog about? What's your book about? How many kids do you have?" but they freak me out. The last blog conference I went to, I brought a stack of business cards that I was too chicken to give out, when people asked what I blogged about, I said, "Uh, Life," and when I wasn't hiding in my room, I tried to stick very close to people who already knew my story.

I'm thinking my honest yet awkward answers to the doctor and the physical therapist were important baby steps for me.

Do you have any suggestions? Is there a way to know if someone just wants a quick, pleasant interaction versus the truth? Do I use the same gauges I use in determining whether someone really wants to know how I'm doing or is just asking to ask?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

We've shared a lot of signs from above on this blog and through many kind emails you've sent me. I have appreciated every single one! They have buoyed me up time and again, which I think is why we are given signs in the first place. To feel less alone. To feel cared about. Known. Held. To at once remember our very small size in this huge, mysterious universe, while also realizing that we may be small but we are in no way insignificant or forgotten.

When writing the book, I included only a few signs, even though I've experienced many, because I think sometimes their impact can be diminished or lost entirely when shared. Sometimes they are hard to explain, in a "you just had to be there" kind of way. And what is encouraging to one person, can easily sound convoluted and grasping to another. What a bummer.

I was thinking about that and how the very personal way a sign or a "god wink" speaks to one particular hurting heart in a specific moment can be why they are so hard to explain to one another. Of course that doesn't diminish the encouragement and love conveyed in that moment.

Anyway, today I remembered a god wink that I never shared with you, that I thought might be a neat way to start the day.

When Margaret had her first soccer tryouts after Jack died, she was nervous. We had spent a lot of time that first winter sitting on the couch, she'd missed a few games because of illness, and she wasn't sure if she still had what it took to make the travel team again. To pump herself up, she took a black Sharpie and wrote 4:13 on her hand. This was to remind her of a special Bible verse, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." She was nervous, and she didn't feel all that strong, but she was going to show up, get out there, and try anyway!

As we drove through town toward the middle school field for tryouts, we pulled behind a fire truck. It turned, we turned. It stopped, we stopped. When we were at a stoplight, Margaret said, "Look!" There, emblazoned on the back of the truck in tall black paint, was its engine number: 413.

She smiled, I smiled, and the engine pulled into the station right next to the middle school and we continued to the field.

I'm glad Margaret noticed the number in front of her that day, matching the number on her hand. It was a moment of connection and encouragement she needed, and it reminded me to keep my eyes and heart open.

By the way, she made the team!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ages and Stages

You might remember that Jack didn't like looking young for his age.

I told him he'd appreciate it later, much later;  lucky Tim looks about a decade younger than he is. Stinks for me. But being small and looking young rankled Jack. In his (obligatory) letters home from summer camp in 5th and 6th grade, he lamented that there were a few boys in other cabins who made fun of him. They would call out insults as Jack and his buddies walked around camp, "What are you doing with them? You look like you should be in the 2nd grade cabin!"

I know it sounds weird, but it really bothers me that Jack is "stuck" as a 12 year old in so many hearts and minds, not just because of the obvious sadness that he's not able to be alive and well with us right now, but also because I hate that he didn't get to have the growth spurt that he wanted that so badly. I wonder if he'd be embarrassed that he's remembered as a boy, not a teenager or a young man. Souls are souls are souls, and even from the first days of mothering Jack and getting to know him, his soul struck me as wise and mature, as if he'd known me for 1000 years. But in our memory, Jack is 12, and always will be.

All around me are markers of what his life could/should be like now because I see teenage boys all the time, but the truth is, we don't really know what Jack would interested in at this point. I mean, it's pretty obvious that he would have liked Minecraft or an iphone and PlayStation 4 if he'd lived long enough to experience them. But what would he be involved in in high school? Debate? Would he be running cross country? What would be his hardest class? Would he be driving us crazy? Would he have joined the youth choir at church, even though his singing was a joyful noise more than anything else?  Would he have a girlfriend? How many of our interests and loves at age 12 can define us for the rest of our lives?

We spent time at my sister's house for New Year's Eve. Jack's favorite cousin, just 9 months older than Jack, had gotten his learner's permit 3 days earlier. We sat in my sister's little car as he carefully chauffeured us around the neighborhood. We praised him for how long he stopped at the stop sign and how he smoothly pulled in and out of the garage. It was wonderful to share this moment with our nephew, and we are so proud of him.

But oh, the absence and lack. It was painfully obvious that he was pulling ahead of Jack once again. As he must. We discussed grown-up movies and told slightly off color stories, that would have been unthinkable just 2 1/2 years ago, but that made my nephew grin. We included him more in our adult circle than ever before. It was time. But it hurt.

And that's really what Christmas and New Year's were like. Honoring the past AND moving ahead in necessary ways. Embracing traditions like Christmas Eve lunch at Chevy's, the candlelight service at church, and watching It's a Wonderful Life together on the couch. The poem scavenger hunt to find that one last gift hidden somewhere in the house.

There is stability in knowing that I'll cry every time I hear: "To George Bailey, the richest man in town!"

But there were new parts, too, like giving Margaret the chance to connect more with friends, and our family socializing more with friends, some of whom knew Jack well, and others who didn't know him at all.

Invariably, each time we had people over to the "new" house over the holidays, someone would pull  me aside and say, "I can really sense Jack's presence here."

And it was true.

Not necessarily 12 year old Jack. Or almost 15 year old Jack. Just Jack.