Wednesday, May 21, 2014


 I lost a beautiful friend to sudden death this week. In the blink of an eye she was gone. Her family and all her friends will miss her terribly.

It transported me to the moments and days after Jack's accident and the profound disbelief and disorientation we experienced as our minds struggled to grasp what had happened.

It got me thinking about sudden death versus the long goodbye. It does no good comparing them and wondering if one is better or worse. They both suck.

But I still thought about them.

In sudden death, I think perhaps it takes longer to get used to the fact that this is not just a bad dream, whereas with a slow descent there may have been time to start to process that death was coming. I bet the end is a shock regardless.

There's  a lot of pain and sadness that accompanies the fight to keep someone you love alive. Even one week after Jack's death, I was already conscious of the fact that we had never had to go to a hospital with him, never had to step foot in an ER or ICU, never had to make decisions about artificial means to keep him alive. Instead, he was here, then the police in our family room were telling us he was gone.

While I yearned for the chance to say goodbye, to make sure I told him, once again, that I loved him and that nothing between us was left unsaid, I felt the relief of never having to convince him that procedures and treatments that were scary or painful could make him better. That he'd have to stay out of school and away from his friends to avoid germs. That his body was failing but his spirit was strong. I didn't have to lose Jack by degrees the way too many parents do, with the losses piling up day by day until a small body can't take it any more.

I pondered whether the "Wham, Bam, He's gone Ma'am" aspect of Jack's death was part of a plan to spare us because Tim and I were so ill-equipped to deal with complications. Second opinions. Research. We are both the youngest children in our families of origin and we tend to get hopeless and exhausted, daunted by even the smallest of tasks.

I used to joke that no one in our marriage was able to return pants. Or deal with customer service reps. So I wonder how we would have held up if faced with insurance companies and treatment plans and specialists if Jack had had cancer rather than being in an accident. Would we have done a good job caring for him?  I like to think we would do what parents do, despite the fear and exhaustion. Fight for our kids. Buoy them up when we have nothing left in our own reserves. But I don't know. So maybe God was sparing us that, most likely not.

I will say I think that whole, "God only gives us what we can handle" thing is a bunch of crap. Do we really think moms and dads with kids with cancer want to hear the flawed logic that their kid is enduring so much because Mom and Dad are just so darn strong?!? No way.

Our family got the shock of sending a perfectly healthy child out to play and having him never come home.  Yet Jack didn't have to know he would die young. We never had to look in those huge brown eyes and say to him, "Jack, it's okay to let go." I guess I'm grateful for that.

But comparing is useless.

Death is death and there is ALWAYS something so wrong about a child dying, whether from an accident, murder, or a terrible disease.

I have dear friends who are involved with the following organizations. The first two come alongside families whose children are fighting cancer, by providing practical and financial help. The third funds research to find cures for Childhood Cancers. Perhaps you would be able to support them today!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Easing In

It's weird that with all of the end of the year talk of busy-ness and the scramble to get everything done, I haven't been feeling that way at all. I've taken a break from a lot of things, and Margaret isn't super busy (her school doesn't get out until LATE June-- yuck). It's weird to not be needed every second. That feeling was hard to imagine when the kids were younger and they were all up in my business, but it's kind of a quiet empty nest-y feeling and I can't say that I care for it.

We have sports a couple of days a week, church activities on Sundays, and that's about it. I've been working on getting advance reader copies of  my book out, and coming up with some marketing strategies. I realize I get more done when I'm busier, if that makes sense, so I may need to beef up my schedule a bit. And while I know there is a time for slowing down and making space in one's life,  it's not as if I'm at home praying and contemplating all day or even going to an exercise class.

I'm just being quiet in my house, doing laundry, and waiting. Not sure for what.

While I was waiting last week, I painted two very sturdy, lovely end tables from Hickory Chair Company. They looked very good as-is, even though they had some scratches and cosmetic damage on their surfaces. They were very shiny and formal, however, and I don't think that look is selling these days. I thought they might be more likely to find a new home if I painted them a soft gray.



Ooh! I hope someone special loves them as much as I do.

I hope your week is starting off well. Mine began with a 9 am mammogram, so I think that counts as hitting the ground running (squeezing?).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love Flash Mob!

One of the best things people have done for me since Jack died is to help me feel LESS ALONE. Life and grief and loss and pain can be so isolating, and even though I know God is always with me, I need to know his children are, too, rooting for our family, praying, noticing.

Points of connection, no matter how small, scatter flashes of light and stave off the darkness.

Today I had the chance to take part in a Love Flash Mob over at Momastery. I smiled to think that my small donation, only $25, would make a significant difference in women's lives. Their stories were compelling, and I could put my friends' faces on their faces, my daughter's name, or my sister's  or name in the circumstances of need described there.

It's so easy to feel that our small part can't do any real good. For many years, that thought paralyzed me. Now, I realize love begets love, and there is beauty in even the smallest gestures.

The Love Flash Mob is still going on for just a few more hours and they need more donations to meet the goal! Will you consider making a small donation? In fact, NO donations over $25 are accepted, so that more people will be able to take part.

Love and Hugs.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lessons from my Mother

I only had 18 years to learn from my mother, and I worried when we lost her so suddenly one May day, that maybe her mothering of me might not "stick." These life lessons were not ever spoken aloud; they were "caught" not "taught." In many ways I am more closed than she was, more insular, more grasping and fearful. Yet in the 26 years since her death, I know that we are more alike than we are different, and that I'm still learning from her.

1. People matter. Whether you are talking to the bus driver, the garbage man, the head pastor, or an eight year old child, show that you are interested in them as people, not because of their status or what they can do for you. My mom was a cheerleader. Homecoming queen. She married an oral surgeon and lived in a big house. She could have been exclusive, a Queen Bee, but she wasn't.  She was down to earth, consistent, and genuine.

2. You are enough on your own, and there's enough of you to go around. Even though I'm sure she had the usual doubts and insecurities, my mother operated with a level of security in herself that snuffed out drama before it had the chance to flame up. She cultivated her own interests. She had no thirst or time for soul-sucking friendships or possessiveness.

3. Operate out of abundance, not lack. Widening a circle and opening up our house (to her teenage kids' friends, the 80 year old former babysitter who decided she needed a break from her husband, the exchange student stuck in an unhealthy living situation) did not mean there was LESS for our family, but MORE.

4. Laugh. Be silly. Let your high school boy and his friends try to eat spaghetti through their noses and play tunes with their farts. Break into song now and then. Play Pictionary with a table full of teenagers. Let your kids make big messes and medium-sized mistakes.

5. Small gestures mean a lot. Whether she was dropping off armfuls of pussy willow branches at a friend's house ("Hi! I have some nice pussies for you!" Oh dear Lord, kill my 13 year old self right now, please)-- writing notes to our friends when they were away at college, or making a tiny flower arrangement in a teacup for my bedside table-- Mom knew that it's the little things, not the grand gestures, that make people feel loved.

6. Who needs a purse when you have a bra? Keys? Metro tickets? No telling what she would pull out of her generous bosom. I'm not as well endowed  she was, but my bra still serves as a  good storage area in a pinch.

7. You will love your kids equally, but they don't have to be the same. When I vied desperately to secure the most favored daughter status by trying to put down my sister, my mother would have none of it, "Quit trying so hard. Nothing you can do will make me love you more, and nothing your sister does can make me love her less." She got a kick out of our individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and did not compare us or play us against each other.

8. Life doesn't have to be BIG to be meaningful. She never held a high-powered job. She never went on a single exotic vacation, traveled the world, or met famous people, but she is still remembered all of these years later for how she made people feel.

9. Take the high road, but also be real. She could have pulled us in many times with bitterness, gossip and negativity, but she didn't. She was judicious with her words. But even in her restraint, she didn't act fake. She was known for speaking hard truths in church meetings, calling out bullshit, and cutting to the chase.

10. Be a friendly mom, but be a MOM not a friend. Don't try to be cool by buying your kids alcohol or hosting keg parties at your house. Just be present, accessible, and ready to listen. Being flexible, safe, and non-judgmental, NOT COOL, is why teenagers wanted to be around her.

11. Your friends don't have to look like you or act exactly like you.  Sure, it was mortifying when my mom would drop a line like, "Well Sheila, my lesbian friend, got a new job." Ugh. So embarrassing, Mom, you know you can leave off the lesbian part, right? But she wanted us to know she had friends from all races, religions, sexual orientations, and political persuasions.

12. Putting people down does not build you up. Ever.

13. Trust God. When you put your trust in God, you are not led to catastrophize when your kids aren't behaving the way you want them to. Each report card, curse word, and ugly sneer doesn't lead you down the path of picturing your children in Juvie or beyond. There is freedom in trusting God with our kids.

14. Don't try to be perfect. She was known for her great taste in clothes and her decorating sense, but our house was often chaotic with papers and pets and sports equipment everywhere. She eventually learned how to just pull our bedroom doors shut and have a good exterminator on call. Acting perfect doesn't do anyone any favors.

15. The most important things in life aren't things. Mom loved beautiful things, but when they broke, we never got the idea that she cared more about them than about us. Instead of screaming at us when the STERLING SILVER teaspoons started to disappear out of the china cabinet, she challenged us to go on a treasure hunt in the sandbox and offered us and our friends a dollar for each one that we found. Stainless steel only got a quarter.

16. Wear comfortable shoes. Her long, gorgeous legs looked stunning in heels. But high heels can make you cranky after a while, so why not have a pair of comfy shoes on hand? p.s. Nothing beats a cozy pair of knee socks in winter.  

17. Teenage girls are a wreck. Let the sputum and venom roll off of you. Don't engage, don't pout about it, and don't let them define you. One day they will grow up and realize how smart you were.

18. You don't have to be good at everything as an adult, so why feel like you must as a kid? My mother was a self-professed Spanish and typing drop-out. Her spelling wasn't so hot either. There were so many things she was good at, but it wasn't EVERYTHING, and that gave us permission to be mediocre (or worse) at a lot things too.

19. Life is scary, but try anyway. Starting her own small business, taking us to NYC on the train and figuring out how to get tickets to a Broadway show, convincing a bank executive to give her a credit card in her own name, may seem like small things to us now, but they were scary at the time. Mom got scared. She faced challenges. Her life in her 40's most likely didn't look like she'd pictured it in her 20's, but she didn't give up.