Friday, November 30, 2012


I thought you might enjoy seeing our family photos taken by amazing local photographer Dorie Howell. Thank you, Dorie, for making something so hard, fun. And thank you for doing whatever you did to make it not so obvious I was at my class reunion until 2:30 a.m. the night before. Poor planning on my part!

What do you think? Does one in particular scream Christmas card to you? I didn't do cards last year, and am contemplating, but not stressing over, doing them this year. Click here to see our cards from years' past.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Buck Doesn't Stop Here

So I was kind of hoping a week in the woods would make Tim reconsider his yearly commitment to a guys' hunting trip with my brother. This would mean I would no longer have to drive on long, curving WV roads by myself until which time we could meet up for Thanksgiving dinner.

I had high hopes.

I mean this is the guy who is known to fall asleep in the woods, John Irving novel at his side. He's the one who got "scoped" by a rifle a few years back just in time for family Christmas photos.

He may even be known to lift a pinky finger while (whilst?) drinking tea. So I guess I'm saying, a wild mountain man Tim is not.

But darn if he didn't kill the biggest buck in hunting camp history.

I'm screwed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Out in the Open

I’m big into acknowledgment. 

When Jack and Margaret would fall down, I didn’t say, “Get up! Shake it off!” even though I know that works for some people. Instead, I did what I would want someone to do for me, “Wow! That was some fall? Where does it hurt?” It’s not that I wanted to turn tiny things into big things, or make my kids into wimps, but I don’t believe that’s how acknowledgment works anyway. I think acknowledging someone’s pain, stress, or struggle helps them feel understood and strengthens them to move forward.

 I tried to teach Tim this early in our relationship, because we seemed complete opposites in this regard. The results have been mixed. When I would be going through something, either big or small, and try to tell him about it, he would be silent. Like no sounds whatsoever.  This could be because he processes things more s-l-o-w-l-y than I do. Or that he was under the impression that if you ignore a problem, it goes away, but if you acknowledge it, it grows. Ha.

Take, for example, if I got sick, like maybe even cracking a rib from coughing while pregnant. I'd want to hear, "That sucks!" or, "What a pain!” This would make me feel cared about, and I would want to be brave and strong and try my best to get better.

I don’t think Tim ever thought about it consciously, but it seemed to me that he worried if he acknowledged my pain, whether physical or emotional, that somehow he’d get stuck staying home from work taking care of me and who knows what kind of chaos and madness would erupt? 

I think it’s the opposite.

I believe acknowledgment, or letting someone know she’s been heard, diffuses many situations.  In fact, when he didn’t acknowledge that I was sick or stressed, I’d feel the need to say, “Boy I still feel terrible today! Cough. Cough” again and again, because, Hello, he obviously hadn’t heard me the first 5 times! Same thing with problems in our relationship. I would want to acknowledge when we were in a bad spot. Not talk it to death, mind you, but at least bring it out into the light. He would look scared, shocked, and silent.

This has improved over the years as Tim gingerly uses a few phrases I’ve taught him, “That must be scary.” “You sound pretty upset about that.” “That stinks.” He has found if he acknowledges me, I feel like he is present with me and is not just hoping I’ll just shut up and go away.

When it comes to losing a child, particularly in a split-second accident, many people are ready and able to acknowledge your pain. They may not be able to fully grasp how terrible it is to try to live without your child, but they freely acknowledge a huge, huge loss has occurred. The acknowledgment we have received from so many people (YOU!) has surely made us feel less alone.

But there are many people suffering losses who might not get the kind of support we have. They may be going through a divorce. They may have lost their job and therefore, their identity.  They may be mourning an elderly parent or a good friend.  They may have lost a child during pregnancy or at birth.
Acknowledgment of child loss could also be complicated by it being a suicide, drunk driving, or a drug overdose.

I wonder whether those who lose children to cancer get as much acknowledgement as those who have died in a sudden accident like Jack did. If a child has struggled for years, friends may compassionately think it is a blessing for the child to be free from treatments and pain, but they may forget parents are mourning the healthy child they knew and loved and also all they hoped for that child in the future.

Even as I crave acknowledgment in my life, I admit many times I’ve avoided acknowledging others’ pain because I was afraid they would then need too much from me. Sound a little like Tim? It’s like when I prayed and prayed for new neighbors because I wanted to be a bright light for them, helping them find their way in our town. But I really didn’t want them to be too needy or vulnerable, just enough for me to swoop in (and OUT!) with a smile and maybe a cookie tray. 

Now, with Jack’s death, I am the hurting, vulnerable one. I am the one who needs acknowledgment and support. I pray that I can meet the needs of those around me without worrying that being with them in their pain will require more than I can give.
I want to remind myself that acknowledging others' pain can be a balm to their hurting souls.
I want to show up for others as you have shown up for me.




Friday, November 16, 2012

If the Shoe Box Fits...

75 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes packed and delivered! Our family did 35 and we joined Tim's office in doing 40 more!

Margaret made these cute stickers with a "Jack" blue ribbon on them for the plastic shoeboxes.

Shadow behaved and didn't eat any of the candy.

Tonight our 5th and 6th grade youth group will pack even more!

A big thank you to all of you who participated in this wonderful way to let kids all over the world know that THEY ARE LOVED.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Deer Me

Tim is going to West Virginia to go hunting with my brother next week, an annual tradition. Don't get me started on his lame explanation as to why he needs to leave Saturday morning when hunting season doesn't start until Monday. Something about male bonding (beer). Please don't point out how hunting season coincides so very nicely with Margaret's chilly fall soccer tournament, the same way last spring's male ski trip (beer) coincided with her very rainy spring soccer tournament.  I mean, I love crying and cursing the GPS lady as I try to find far-flung soccer fields on my own.

Oh well. This post isn't about my marriage; it's about the big ole buck that is standing in my yard, right outside my office window at 9:30 on a Wednesday morning. It has a huge 10 point rack, and like his buddies who sauntered by earlier, seems undeterred by the traffic noises and barking dogs of suburbia. Pretty as they are to look at, these deer spread Lyme's disease all over the region and eat my plants. As an outraged Margaret said when she was little, "The deer ate our Pasta!" She meant hosta.

But just as this post is not about my marriage, it's not about the the moral ins and outs of hunting either. I've never killed a deer and don't plan to, unless you count the time I hit one with my car on the way to school. Anyway, I convinced the kids and myself that, "She's fine! Really!" I don't want to get into all that here.

It's just that I'm a woman of thrift and ease.

It's seems like a lot of hoopla to travel five hours away to hunt something that hangs out on your lawn in broad daylight.

I think it would save a lot of time and money and gas if it were legal for me to go outside and bonk this deer on the head with one of my comfortable shoes. No need for a license or equipment or travel time. Think of the money saved on beer alone.

Somehow I think Tim would go anyway.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Mash-up

A HUGE Thank you to all the veterans who have served our country and to their families who have sacrificed at home!

We had a pretty good weekend around here. Friday night was my 25th high school reunion. Thanks to Facebook, I did not have to tell my story to anyone. I was so very grateful for that. Friends bravely and quietly acknowledged our loss. I know that was probably scary for them to do, but it meant a lot to me.

There is never enough time to catch up with everyone, even when a group isn't that large, but overall it felt relaxed, supportive, and un-rushed. My friend Judy and I managed to stay up until 2:30, which I consider pretty darn good.

The camera part of my iphone "disappeared" early in the evening, brought back later by helpful texted instructions from my 14 year old nephew. Got to love a teenager who can figure out in 10 seconds what I'd been struggling with all evening. As a result, I only have a few pictures. Here's one with my friend Helen so you can see my $35.00 New York and Company wrap dress. Super easy and I got to wear cushy (Aerosole) black suede boots with it. Yay for being warm and comfortable! You may remember Helen from when I wrote about her here. Love that woman!

Saturday we got our family picture taken by the amazing Dorie Howell. Dorie is a professional photographer and a reader here at An Inch of Gray. I was reluctant to get the photos taken because I was mad at myself for not putting more of an effort in when Jack was here. I mean how handsome would he have looked out in a field with the sun going down behind him? Sheesh.

We did it anyway, and my Jack necklace hopefully keeps him in the picture. Here's the first one Dorie sent us. I am freaking out at how good it is. If I had known professional photos could de-jowlify me and erase the effects of a 5-ish beer 25th reunion the night before, I would have jumped on this sooner!

Looking forward to sharing more photos with you soon.

Love and light to you as you start your week.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


If you compare our lives to how they were a little more than a year ago, there is so much that is different. Nearly unrecognizable, even though our faces and our clothes and cars are the same. You could be saying, "No Shit, Sherlock, your son is gone. Of course everything is different!" and that would be true. But I guess I just did not know what to expect, so I am continually surprised.

You know those annoying books, "What to Expect When You're Expecting"? Even if I'd read about all the potential changes we could experience with grief, I don't think I'd have been able to process the information. At the time of Jack's accident, the smaller changes, or collateral losses, wouldn't have mattered to me anyway. The only thing that mattered was not knowing what his last seconds were like. Not being there to hold him when he died. Never snuggling with him again. Okay, maybe there are a lot of "only things."

In general, I'm not all that comfortable with change. It doesn't energize or excite me. If my steady-Eddie personality hasn't sunk in with you by now, let me give you a few illustrations. I'm 43 and live in my hometown. When I finished grad school I returned to teach 10th grade in my old 10th grade English classroom. I attend the church where I was baptized and confirmed. Jack played with the same Fisher Price toys in the church nursery that I did.

I wanted to buy back my family home someday so I could raise my kids there. I even wrote a letter to the new owners asking them to please contact me if they would be willing to sell.  I wanted my kids to climb the tall trees dubbed "The Titanic" and "The 3-Double Tree" in the back yard and bury their goldfish in the "pet cemetery" by the fence. They could pick tiny wild violets out of the grass and bring them to me as a gift and suck that one sweet drop of honey off of each honeysuckle blossom in the side yard. I wanted them to walk to school across the street, and go to the pool down the block, hiding their snack money under the folded corner of their towels.

I guess you could say I like to bloom where I'm planted and my roots run deep. It gives me pleasure to be the steady one. The one with institutional knowledge. The one to make people feel comfortable and safe.


On the surface, many things do still look the same around here. I still wear my blue fleece bathrobe and penguin pj's from the thrift store--  the banana clip in my hair predating my 1991 college graduation. I still come up empty when I need lunch packing ideas in the mornings and dinner every single relentless night. Margaret still sits in "her" seat in the car. Shadow ignores my commands. We arrive bickering at 9:45 for the 9:30 church service. We still eat ice cream every night.

But our friendships have changed. Some friends have retreated in their own pain, while others have drawn closer to us. It is often hard to be in groups because loss hangs heavy over us. We no longer dwell in the world of both boys and girls. We feel like misfits.We do not have a middle school child, about to head to high school. When talk turns to dating and Algebra and droves of kids loitering at Chipotle or walking into town, our heart stings, and we come up empty.

We drive through town, and there are more changes to see.

The independent toy store closes. Then the pet shop where I used to take the kids to see the tropical fish. We hear our favorite Mexican restaurant might be next. We fiddle with our iPhones at stoplights, unable to sit with the silence and boredom that would have seemed normal just 2 or 3 years ago.

I think of the elderly, and all the change they have seen in their lifetimes. So much change; so much loss. I am amazed at their resilience. What about my grandparents who have seen so much change at such dizzying speed? How do they do it? How do they adapt and keep moving forward?

Because I'm tired of adapting. I don't want a damn thing to change ever again.

Or maybe I don't really care, because for all the changes we are going through, and for how frustrating they are, change might piss me off, but it certainly doesn't scare me anymore. I think I would be unfazed if you told me we were moving to Jakarta next week. Or that we'd been selected to colonize the moon.

Whereas in years past I would consider losing a friendship, changing churches, switching jobs, or moving away from my hometown to be tragic and terrifying, driving me to obsessive rumination, I think now they would just leave me saying....meh.

As my sister said this summer, upon learning she and her family would be moving on very short notice, leaving a town town they loved, "Anna, I used to think moving would be the end of the world. We've seen the end of the world, and this ain't it."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Big News

Sooooo, I have some exciting news to share with you:

I'm writing a book.

A book!

You may think that my light-ish number of posts recently would be a direct result of the fact that I've been typing away in my laundry room/office writing said book. Truth is, as soon as I decided to write a book, fear set in, as did a lovely case of the shingles all over my scalp. This rendered me incapable of writing anything much more detailed than a grocery list or an occasional non-pithy Facebook status update. And then the storm came. Oh my.

Tim said to me tonight, in that most helpful way he has, "I was reading your blog and I think it's time for a more substantial blog post. You know, not like 'I did this today, or I went there.'" Humph.

Here's the thing: I will not let fear make my decisions. I will not let fear make my decisions. I will not let fear make my decisions. Yeah, I typed that three times. It has also been on a hot pink notecard on my fridge for the past 7 years during which, unfortunately, I've let fear make a lot of my decisions.

I did not want to wait another day before telling you, my friends, about this brand new thing. Even though typing it here scares the heck out of me. Thank you so much for the encouragement you have given me and will give me.

You help make me feel stronger than I am.

I hope I'll make you proud.

Oh, and if you want to know what I did today, or where I went, I saw the movie "Argo." Wow. Best thing I've seen in years! That update was for you, Tim:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Well, That Sure Didn't Take Very Long

Guess who I just ran into at the grocery store?

Yep. Mrs. Davidson. That took less than a week.

My eyes filled with tears as I asked her if this grief thing was going to get any better.

She said yes. She said yes. She said yes. Clinging to her words today.

And look who is still struggling but was well enough to go to school:

Meet Margaret, The Elvinking from The Hobbit.

She aced her presentation. I told her it would be funny if she dressed like Elvis and said to her teacher, "What? I thought I was supposed to be Elvis, The King." At least I crack myself up.
We'll be doing a lot of shopping and packing Operation Christmas Child boxes this weekend in memory of Jack.
Maybe you'll be doing that too. It's a great activity for the kids. Or if you are like me and you enjoy sorting things and sticking them in piles, for moms too.
Much love to you this weekend.
And to reader Laura, who lost her almost 19 year old son 7 weeks ago in a car accident: I am so very, very sorry. I hope this will continue to be a safe place for you to come. I don't have your email address so I've been unable to contact you directly.
Friends, could you join me in sending love and prayers to this hurting mom?