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?


Sandie said...

I’m feel lonely again & I know I’ll meet new friends.
I’m learning a new school system again & it will embrace me
I have disappointments so palpable I can taste them & Yet it will all work out for my good in the end
My body is aging & I can renew my mind daily

Sandie said...

I’m feel lonely again & I know I’ll meet new friends.
I’m learning a new school system again & it will embrace me
I have disappointments so palpable I can taste them & Yet it will all work out for my good in the end
My body is aging & I can renew my mind daily

Pschooltoolbox said...

Yes! So much of this is true. Living my AND means sharing my truth and being authentic...letting go of the grief mask and exposing myself. Allowing myself to ask for help and helping others on the journey after child loss. It’s a knowledge that the time “between” is so very short - I truly believe it’s a “blink of an eye” to our children who travel slightly before us. Love is the only thing that endures for eternity. It exists here and there...we must reach for that light and honor it with every inch of our soul. Healing begins and ends there. Thank you for your post.

Linda Johnson said...

Oh I so agree with you....thank you for helping me identify my new life....I also am living in the &....The AND is how I am managing, 9 months after losing my youngest child, my dear son ADAM, forever 30, last October 29, 2018..... I have 2 other kids...a son and a daughter...and I have "Adam Memories" and experiences to relive when I'm ready...I have a husband AND 5 beautiful grandsons...ages 10, 9, 6, 3, 1...and they give me so much JOY &, along this Life Sentence journey...I read something on a post in FB that reminded me...don't keep reliving the night I got "THE CALL".....I was doing that...and it was killing, I'm not ready to stop crying and my heart isn't completely healed...but, I will live with the pain & the joy that is Life.....THANK YOU FOR THE &...HUGS & LOVE from a fellow bereaved Mom....

Joan said...

I love this so much! I lost my daughter to cancer in 2008 and my husband to heart failure in 2011. Life in the & can be lovely even though part of my heart longs to be with them.
Thank you for articulating what I feel.

Kristi Campbell said...

I love this. I'm learning to live in the &. Hugs to you.

Kim said...

As always, thank you for your beautiful posts. So many resonate with me in a way I can't put into words even though I'm a writer too. I lost my oldest son to depression on 9/4/17 and miss him every single day. I too though am living the AND life, as this is not the first time of grief for me. I lost my first husband to cancer, and my mom in 2015. This time of year from my birthday in mid-August to the first of September is very hard for me, even though I live in the AND. However, on Saturday I found out we're to be first time grandparents! It was just the news I needed. So grateful for blessings that always come when I least expect them.

mayhem said...

amazing post. thank you.

'do i contradict myself? very well, i contradict myself. i am large, i contain multitudes.' - walt whitman

nanadarla said...

Beautifully said! I have followed your blog, Anna since hearing you speak at Emmanuel Lutheran Church many years ago. It’s been a joy to see how far you have come and how you have used your grief to help others. Thank you!

Unknown said...


Kristine said...

Beautiful! It was recently my son's 10th birthday which also would have been my mom's 68th birthday. I was able to celebrate my son AND miss my mom. This year was much easier than last year so I do have hope that it gets better. Oh the duality of grief.

Ann-Marie Johnson said...

Ampersand. Living the duality of tragedy and hope and finding a way to honor and respect both has become a fundamental truth for me. Your articulation of this duality is beautiful. Thank you for continuing your writing.