Monday, December 23, 2019

Happy Holidays!

We celebrated early this year because we will be traveling for the next week (follow me on Instagram @annawhistondonaldson for trip pics!)

It is fun to put out cookies for Santa again and see it all through the eyes of a child, although I must admit it has been a while since I've had a kid who thinks Santa does EVERYTHING. I'm like, "Hello, where's the Mom-credit? That toy is from Santa, but that game, hat and book are from moi!" Nope, according to Andrew, it's all Santa.

My favorite part was having an indoor snowball fight with all of us, including my grown nephew who was visiting, and spending the majority of the day in pj's. My days are all mixed up now, because "Fake Christmas on the 22nd" really felt like Christmas! An unexpected benefit of Fake Christmas was being able to find a Mexican restaurant that was open when we got a hankering for queso.

Here are some photos from the past few days.

Sending you love and light this week, whether your holidays are full of joy, sadness, or a mixture of both.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Love Never Dies

Last night when many of my dear friends were lighting candles on Worldwide Candlelighting Day in honor of their precious children who ran ahead to heaven, I was sitting in the Michaels parking lot bracing myself for the crowds inside. Andrew loved the red, gold and silver jumbo ornaments I bought last week to hang in our Dogwood tree, but he was hoping for some green ones, so back to the store I went. When I realized I had missed lighting a candle, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, because I know that we cannot disappoint our loved ones in Heaven. Their response to us is Love, pure LOVE. 

My candle is lit now, as I type and look at the winter rain outside my window. 

Lighting a candle is a beautiful way to slow down and honor them and to say, "You are loved, you are missed, you are never forgotten." Braving the crowds at Michaels is a way of saying, "I'm still standing, I'm still trying, your little brother really loves Christmas." Both are valid, and both are beautiful. Isn't it wonderful to know our loved ones are cheering us on in the quiet, reflective moments and the hectic ones too?

Love never dies.

Fabletics Offer! 2 Pairs of Leggings for $24

Last-minute shopping hint:

Here's the offer for 2 pairs of leggings for $24 that I just talked about on Facebook!

If you are looking for gorgeous, high-quality leggings and athletic wear that does not break the bank like certain brands, I highly recommend Fabletics. My daughter Margaret signed up as a VIP member and got 5 pairs of great leggings for less than one pair of the pricey ones she used to wear.

She is SO PICKY, but she is THRILLED with these leggings.

This is a limited time offer for new VIP customers only: 2 Pairs of Leggings for just $24! You can cancel your VIP membership right away after you get your first order (easy 24 hour phone number to cancel anytime), or you can choose to have them send you more leggings. If you don't want leggings a certain month, you just tell them to skip it.

Margaret ordered hers in September and has skipped each month since. She won't order again until sometime in the spring, but she will still be able to get the great VIP member prices.

If you decide to order, please use my link so that I will receive referral credit to help fund Margaret's clothing habit this website's hosting fees.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Children's Grief Awareness Day: How to Help a Grieving Child

Here are ways to help support a grieving child in your life: 

1. Take them out for a fun activity to give them a break from the home. This works best if you are ALREADY close to the child, so they feel safe and trust you. Help the child know that having fun is ok, and all feelings are welcome!

2. Help them memorialize the one they love by doing a craft together: making a photo album, a stepping stone, or a pillow with significant symbols, words, etc.

3. Bring up their loved one, again and again, even when it seems as if everyone has gone back to normal. Share memories and photos you have of their loved one.

4. Give a meaningful gift such as a bracelet, necklace, or pocket token that can be an everyday reminder of the one they love. You can get it personalized with a name, photo, birthstone, or even handwriting.

5. Buy a book or journal. A Hug from Heaven (Mascot Books, Amazon, Barnes and NobleTarget online and Walmart online) is a love letter from the point of view of the person who died. There is space in the back for photos or journaling. The Invisible String is not a grief book, but it gently shows we are always connected!

6.  Provide resources to the child’s caregivers. Rather than asking, “Is Sophia in counseling?” which can seem overwhelming and even judgy, try: “I’ve asked around and found 3 grief counselors in your area. If you are interested, I’m happy to call and make an appointment for you, and if Sophia is comfortable with me, I’m happy to take her.” “I’ve researched grief camps and am happy to help register Sophia for you if you are interested. This is an open-ended offer, so I’m happy to follow-up with you later if you think that would be better, or never bring it up again.”

7.  Remember significant dates and reach out: birthdays, death days, and major (and minor) holidays: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween. If you are not in the nuclear family, ask if the child and family would like to be included in your family’s traditions. 

8. Meet physical needs such as back to school shopping, and taking the child to church, if the primary caregivers are having trouble doing it. Ask first.

9. Be a shining light. If you experienced early loss, show them by example there is hope for a great life ahead. 

10. Answer questions honestly, using age appropriate language. Ask if the child has any questions about the loved one’s death. 
💙No matter what you choose to do, you will help the child know he or she is important! 💙

I’m sure there are many other suggestions! Please add yours in the comments.

This post may contain affiliate links 

Monday, November 18, 2019

College Students and Depression: Resources and IMPORTANT SURVEY FOR YOU

This is a sponsored post.

Sending a child off to college for the first time has been a learning experience! Sure we miss her, but it has been great to be more hands-off and to start developing an adult relationship with our daughter. I am so proud of her for everything she has figured out on her own so far. We got to see her one Sunday to go apple picking and we'll see her again soon for the holidays. 

I can't think of another life-stage with as much rapid-fire change as the beginning of college, from deciding where and when to eat, navigating a campus, living with strangers, doing schoolwork without your parents breathing down your neck, deciding how much partying is too much, making friends, and managing one's time. It's startling, really. And with all of the happy posts on social media, you can get the impression that you are the only one experiencing any struggles adjusting. Ugh. That's just one more reason to be glad there wasn't social media when I was in college! 

You may remember that I teamed up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness and education around teen depression and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals. 

Like our daughter, other college students are figuring out how to "Adult" for the first time in their lives, and parents are figuring out how to be supportive without micromanaging. It sure is nice not to know how much (or how little) sleep she's getting or how much Netflix she watches, but being several hours away and communicating only through text and the occasional FaceTime, means we can't really know how she's doing like we would if she were home. Like other parents, I've found myself wondering: is what I'm hearing discomfort at starting something new, is it homesickness, or could it be more serious?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, and winter break shortly thereafter, NOW is an excellent time for parents of college students to check-in and see how your student is coping emotionally. 

If your college student's campus is anything like my daughter's, there has likely been tons of illness and germs going around-- kind of like the preschool petri dish all over again! Talking about staying well on campus could lead easily into asking if your student knows what the campus offers for mental health wellness, and how your student has been feeling about his or her mental health. 

If you're still having trouble broaching mental health with your teen, remember there are great online tools that can spark conversation.

I shared a quick mental health assessment tool with Margaret and her friends before school started, shared it on this blog earlier, and even took it myself several weeks ago when I wanted to know if the MAJOR FUNK I found myself in as I stared down a milestone birthday close on the heels of the most eternally long, infernally hot summer on record was something to worry about. It's great to share with your student as a way to check-in. 

Other online tools such as this excellent College Guide put out by the National Alliance of Mental Illness can spark dialogue between you and your teen. 

The holidays also provide an excellent time to discuss what an "every day problem" is versus a mental health issue. Just the nature of starting something new means there are many problems to navigate! In discussing the problems they've faced first semester, you can help your student label something an everyday problem (such as a roommate struggle) versus a mental health issue. This is not to diminish the problems these kids face, but rather to help give them tools to evaluate them so they will know if they are in a crisis

Statistics tell us that depression and anxiety are rampant on college campuses, and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for this age group. It's disheartening and can be scary. For them. For us. 

The promising news is that I've heard from several friends whose children, in the first month of college, sought guidance and help from their respective college counseling centers! That is a huge WIN because that means that kids really are getting the message that mental health is as important as physical health. They know where the student health centers are, so why not the counseling centers? Many of our kids already see the value of getting a "check-up from the neck up!" Let's not shy away from bringing up the topic of mental health with all college kids this Thanksgiving and winter break. 

Information is power. We know that talking about depression and suicide does not cause depression and suicide. 

Let's not lose heart. Let's stay tuned in. Let's keep learning. Let's keep talking. 

Important:Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes (more like 5!) to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-age child which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Please take the SURVEY HERE.

Once you’ve completed the survey you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 Visa cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bits and Bobs

I'm heading off to Nashville for a conference tomorrow! I hear it is FREEZING down there, so I definitely won't be showing off any cute dresses or cowboy boots.

Please pray this it is a good time for me to catch up on sleep, and that going will help give me direction for my next steps, while not making me feel inadequate/guilty for where I am right now.

I hope this little nugget has fun with his daddy while I'm away. Every night he says to me, "I love you so much and I want to keep you forever!"

The feeling is mutual!

Preschool pics with a raging undiagnosed ear infection:

If you are in the DC/VA/MD area, there is a wonderful event for grieving families I want to tell you about! It is the Hope Family Fun Festival on Nov 24 put on by the non-profit Hope for Grieving Families and will have tons of activities for families to enjoy together such as face painting, moon bounce, scavenger hunt, Build-A-Bear, Pets on Wheels, etc! I'll be there too!

There are volunteer needs as well if you or your teen would like to help out!

Stay warm. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I am GRATEFUL for YOU!

P.S. 800 new copies of A Hug from Heaven just landed in my home office, so let me know if you need one for the grieving child or adult in your life.

Monday, November 4, 2019

My Top Tips to Surviving the Dinner Grind, Plus Home Chef Delivery 4 Meals for $14.80!

The is the slightly-crazed smile of a woman who has HAD IT with the Dinner Grind. If you have followed me for a while, you know I've done it all: bulk freezer cooking, meal prep services at a central kitchen, weekly Asian food delivery, threatening to strike. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Today I'm sharing my top 4 tips for Dinnertime:

1) Meal Delivery Kit 2-3 nights a week. Tim and I have tried many different services and find you can't beat the selection, flexibility, portion size, or price of Home Chef! We are able to get 2-person or family-sized meals, tailor our meals to specific dietary needs, and whip up healthy, delicious dinners several times a week without the hassle of buying a bunch of special ingredients and spices we might use only once or twice. Home Chef gets us out of our eating rut, feels special, and is less expensive than going out to eat.

We saved $35 on our first order with this limited time offer, and so can YOU using this unique affiliate code.

If you want to try it, the absolutely cheapest way (which we did) is to:

Follow my affiliate link
Give any dietary specifications/dislikes
Choose the plan 2 Meals a Week for 2 people,
Head to check out.
Home Chef then takes $35 off and your 4 meals are a total of $14.80!
(Of course, the $35 discount for other size orders if you choose)

For this price, it's a WONDERFUL way to try out a meal prep service, whether for the short-term or as a long-term dinner solution!

2) One Tried and True Crowd Pleaser With Jack and Margaret it was Taco Tuesday. With Andrew it is Spaghetti and Meatballs Tuesdays :) We keep all ingredients on hand in the pantry and freezer so we have one cheap, no-brainer meal every week. I don't eat much pasta, so I eat mine over frozen spriralized squash.

3) Costco Prepared Meals I go every few months, buy a bunch of these meals and freeze them. They bake in the oven for a hands-off meal. Our favorites are Salmon with Herb Butter and Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes.

4) Crock pot or Instant Pot one night per week. I prefer the crock pot, particularly in soup season. Here's my favorite white chicken chili recipe. Lentil soup is also great in the crock-pot-- with no soaking needed. There's nothing like having dinner cooking when you leave the house in the morning.

These tips should get you 5 or 6 dinners a week, leaving room for pizza or Taco Bell one night, of course!

What are your top dinner tips?

Friday, November 1, 2019

Come see me in Warrenton, VA Tomorrow!

Hi Dears!

Halloween is behind us. Andrew had a WONDERFUL time trick or treating with his pirate-clad grandma, grandpa and dad. I doled out candy and cleaned the pantry.

For those of you for whom Halloween is very difficult, either because of the endless gore or because you are missing someone special, I hope today provides needed relief.

I'm sorry for the late notice, but I want to make sure you know that I'll be speaking in Warrenton, VA tomorrow at Cornerstone Baptist Church and I'd LOVE to see you there! I've been posting about it on Facebook, but I realize not all of you connect with me that way.

Be forewarned-- the photo on this flyer is  a few years old, so adjust your expectations about what I look like accordingly! :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fab Fit Fun Box is Coming My Way! Want to try it too for 50% OFF?

As many of you saw on my Facebook Live Video this morning, I am super excited that I finally took the plunge to order a Fab Fit Fun box! I've been wanting to do it for months, but when I saw this month's 50% off deal, with between 250-350 worth of luxury goodies for only $25, I couldn't resist any longer. My BFF just got her box and loves it! If you want to check it out and see all that Fab Fit Fun offers, please use my affiliate link here! The discount code is: OMG50

I'll share pictures when my box arrives!

XO, Anna

Monday, October 14, 2019


Don't for a second think you don't make a difference in the lives of others. 

I just got back from the park with Andrew, where I saw a woman I recognized from my early childhood playing with her grandkids. I introduced myself, and after she got over the shock of seeing me with a 3 year old, she said:

"Your mom saved me."

When she and her husband moved to our town from out of state, she was isolated and alone with a newborn. My mother met her and said, "Come to my house on Tuesday." The woman told of babies lined up in cribs in the dining room, tuna fish sandwiches for mothers and kids, cups of coffee, and surreptitious drags on cigarettes. One Tuesday led to another and another. Later, Mom invited her to a Bible study and eventually, our church. 

I can picture our big old house with toys strewn across the floor, and pots full of inexpensive coffee. The drafty house where something always needed fixing. With 3 kids under 4 years old, Mom offered nothing fancy, just a welcoming spirit, irreverent sense of humor, and radical hospitality. With a husband who worked long hours, and all family support out of state, she may have felt frustrated and house-bound, so she invited people to come to her. 

I doubt my mother knew that what she offered this other woman would have ripples all the way to this park 50 years later. Not to be too dramatic, but I am guessing the love and encouragement that made a young mom feel less isolated and helped plug her into a faith community rippled outward for three generations, all the way to the grandkids I saw today at the park. 

My mom, who never left the country, held a fancy job or went on a real vacation, made a difference in people's lives because she made them feel special and worth it. And you know what? Everyone is worth it. If you help other people know they are worth your time, your friendship, your notice, then you too make a difference. 

This message hit home for me today because I am a frustrated achiever. I couldn't just punch a clock at Blockbuster in grad school for my $3.10 an hour; I had to be employee of the month. I couldn't just teach English; I wanted to be the best. I willingly put achievement on the back burner as a stay-at-home mom, because holy hell if you don't yet know that trying to "achieve" as a parent is an exercise in hubris and futility, you will figure it out at some point. Big-time.

I just held on for the ride and thought my 40's and 50's would be the chance to prove myself as a productive member of society who made a difference. Once I found my passion for writing and speaking, I imagined myself speaking from large stages (you win a car! and you win a car!), writing more books, and contributing to my family financially in significant ways. Instead, I found myself in the park on a gorgeous October day pushing Andrew "higher! higher!" And despite knowing how fleeting his childhood will be, I also know I'm not guaranteed a season of productivity after he's grown. We are not promised tomorrow, only today. 

Nothing I did today felt very epic. I didn't figure out how to promote my books. I failed to make childcare arrangements so I could go to a conference and learn, once again, how much I don't know about social media. I didn't even buy baby carrots.

But I did play in the park with Andrew. I did enjoy a beautiful walk with a newly-bereaved friend. This afternoon I can encourage my friend across the street that she's doing a great job with baby #2 while wrangling baby #1 (BTW, Kelly, you are!). Tonight I can return an email from a precious mama whose teen daughter died unexpectedly in September. I can try not to take out my exhaustion and peri-menopausal period on my husband when he's trying to watch the "baseball playoffs", whatever that means. 

It may not be much.

It doesn't feel like much. 

But you know what? Ripples rarely do. 

We all make ripples, whether positively or negatively. Maybe I'll never make a big splash in this lifetime, but I can try to make my ripples more helpful than hurtful. More generous than stingy. More loving than lacking. 

And even if I think tuna fish is gross, I can open my home and heart just a little bit more. 

Here, have a cheese stick.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Always Andy's Mom Podcast for Bereaved Parents and Those who Support Us

I want to introduce you to a new podcast for bereaved parents. Losing a Child: Always Andy's Mom.

It is the kind of podcast I dreamed of setting up years ago, but never did. Marcy Larson, Andy's mom, is amazing, and the stories and guests on this podcast will help bereaved parents feel less alone!

I was honored to be a guest on the podcast this week. While I am sad that my head cold made my audio less than ideal, I hope you will give it a listen and subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss a single episode.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Turn of a Page: Living in the After

While organizing our basement recently, I came across our family calendar page from September 2011. It hung next to the kitchen door of our old house, and if something wasn't written on the calendar, it wasn't going to happen.

After Jack's sudden death, I couldn't bear to see all of his activities for the entire school year, which I'd dutifully filled out in Sharpie as soon as school, practice and scout schedules came out. Things as mundane as dental appointments screamed LOSS and UNFAIRNESS and DESPAIR. What about the Bible study I was supposed to lead, but I'd cancel, along with any other activities of mine outside of work and caring for my lonely little girl? Did I even believe what I once taught?

What about the day itself, September 8th, mocking me with its normalcy? Nothing unique there: the cleaning lady, packing for a camping trip, a work meeting with a pastor friend, a Walmart run. Nothing notable on a day when my world shifted on its axis. When I stood in the hallway of the church and shared with a friend a strange foreboding I had about Jack and his friendships, then laughed it off, all but forgotten a few hours later when it might have mattered. How do you recognize rumblings of a cosmic shift when you speak the language of Sharpies and calendars and soccer snacks, not souls, heaven, life and death?

I remember saving my mother's check register after her sudden death at age 46. I looked at it to marvel at the stark before/after of a full life and then an absence. Everyone else's life seemed to be going forward as usual, but ours had stopped. I could see that four days ago, one week ago, one month ago, she was paying bills. Bills! For that same reason, I suppose, I saved this one calendar page.

To remember a life before the after.

Our calendar today doesn't look much different. It hangs in the same spot in a different house, that is remarkably similar to the one before. Sure, preschool swim lessons, and Margaret's college breaks take the place of elementary school busy-ness, but there are still grocery runs, vet visits, and hair color appointments.

And life is very, very different.

I have learned to live in this new life, to lean into it, and to embrace it as much as my sleep-deprived self will let me. How did I get here, to this place of being able to live in the mundane again while being keenly aware of the spiritual reality of my loved ones being by my side every step of the way? How do I now experience joy in the land of the living? I have no easy answers how this shift happened. Time. Hugs from Heaven. You. Gratitude. Letting tears flow.

If you are living in the shocking, stark AFTER right now, all of those things sound trite and meaningless. I know. I remember. I honor you and that reality.

But I will just whisper, I'm still here. I may not know exactly how I got here, but I'm here, just a bit farther down the road, and if that helps at all, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I Can Only Imagine

On September 11, 2001 I sat in the parlor of our church with my besties from my moms' group. We were so happy to be together after a summer apart. It was my chance to show off newborn Margaret, while 2 year old Jack played happily in the nursery. In the room that day we had a flight attendant, a woman whose husband worked at the Pentagon, another whose sister worked in the World Trade Center, and another for whom the Oklahoma City terrorist attack was not just an abstraction, but a reality. Her husband was the only one who called and said, "Get home now. This is terrorism."

As the news unfolded, we tried to take in what we were hearing, yet for the most part, we continued in our meeting. It didn't seem real. I looked at our agenda items, and crossed them off one by one. Later, as people fled Washington DC, some on foot, Tim chose to stay at work in his office, 3 blocks from the White House. It didn't cross his mind to come home early.

Our passivity seemed stark to me. As we learned more, I became certain that if told that everything was fine and to return to my desk at the Trade Center, I would have done so. It worried me that I didn't seem to have much of a survival instinct. I remembered back to childhood when my brother and sister would chase me and I would just stop. I knew they'd catch me sooner or later, so why not make it sooner?

When we heard of flight attendants and passengers fighting back, of fire fighters trudging up flight after flight of stairs toward the danger, I tried to picture myself in their position of bravery and self-sacrifice and couldn't.

Of course trying to inject myself into these scenarios was futile. It's similar to when I hear someone say, "Well, I would have gone all Mama Bear on them..." when discussing a scenario related to a child. Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not. How do you know?

I would have liked to have believed I would have plunged into a raging creek after my dying son, not sat quietly in our kitchen waiting for news. I would have imagined Tim would have run to the creek, yet he came quietly to the door, shattered, confused, saying, "What do I do? Should I go down there?"

For all of the heroic acts of that terrible day 18 years ago, surely there were ordinary acts too. People sitting at their desks, trying to make a phone call. Those not processing, wondering if the whole work day would be a waste. Making nervous jokes. Weighing the options of climbing down 60-plus flights of stairs in high heels versus waiting until everything was resolved. It was the final few moments of a world where steel buildings didn't fall. Right before people had to make a terrible choice of staying in a burning skyscraper or leaping out of one.

Or maybe it was really the "during" but not yet the "after."

And when the after came, and we were able to imagine scenarios, so inconceivable a short time before, our country came together in the magnitude and sacredness of the horror and loss of life and promise. We put small differences aside. We talked to strangers. We hung out American flags. We went to church. We honored the pain and grief.

18 years later, domestic terrorists hunt down and murder our children in school. Our children spend time training for and injecting themselves into scenarios such as deciding whether to be brave and try to confront a shooter. How to block a door. Whether to throw their bodies on top of each other. Or whether to crouch and pray for survival.

I try to imagine if we'd been told in September 2001 that our great country would be losing kids this way, not just 2 years post-Columbine, but 20. We would surely have pictured ourselves coming together in love and bravery, putting all differences aside and finding a way to protect our children.

But sometimes what we imagine we would do is not what we do.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ready or Not (Mom), Here She Comes!

We move Margaret into her dorm on Friday.

Today, instead of taking her to lunch and exhorting her to never swim in a quarry, to keep her drink with her at all times, and to attend any and all goofy activities her RA sets up, I am sitting at McDonald's with Andrew enjoying a 59 cent cone. People ask how I'm coping with Margaret, my original "baby", heading off to school. But the truth is, I haven't been able to focus on what I'm feeling, at least not yet, because I'm in the day-to-day of keeping up with an active 3 year old during what surely is the word's longest preschool break.

I am processing neither Margaret's imminent departure nor the fact that the nest I always thought would be empty as of Sept 2019 is full-ish again. Questions like-- "Who am I now? What is it like to parent a young-adult, when I never had the chance to have an adult mother/daughter relationship? Will I be able to do the dorm move-in for Andrew when I'm 65?"-- all remain unexamined. No, I'm just doing the thing. And the thing seems to be snuggling on the couch with too much Netflix, reminding Andrew to un-clench when I wipe his bottom, and an awful lot of playing with the garden hose.

It makes me think of when Jack died, almost 8 years ago. My very first thoughts in those terrifying moments turned to the need to make Margaret feel safe. To showing my sadness but also my strength (what strength?) so she wouldn't think I would disappear too. I didn't check out. I drove to every soccer practice, marveling that the other parents would even let their kids drive with me, when inside I felt so utterly unhinged, each telephone pole taunting me with sweet relief if only I would steer into it. My love for and my responsibility toward Margaret kept me going. And things got better. Much, much better.

I'm NOT comparing college drop-off to the death of a child, but rather pondering whether being busy and focused on other things is healthy, or whether it's just one more way of covering up, rather than exploring one's feelings. I don't know any other way. Just as I was glad when college classes started up soon after my mom died, I was grateful Margaret's needs were too ever-present to ignore. I was grateful to have to go to work to try to stimulate my brain. Keeping busy with Andrew, which can feel both soul-sucking and life-giving, hasn't left much room to consider my girl's latest chapter even though it is right upon us.

But then I remember it didn't all go unexamined, in the face of responsibility, busy-ness, and gaping need. Late nights with you and this laptop were where I did most of my processing those years ago, and I'm grateful you are here with me now.

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?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Helping College-Aged Students Deal with Depression

This is a sponsored post.

People sometimes ask me whether having lost one child, I am extra fearful about the safety of my other children. In general, I’d say no. Jack’s sudden death and the confluence of bizarre circumstances that led to it, convinced me that no amount of worrying can completely protect our kids from harm. Sure it’s scary, but there’s a certain freedom in that. 

My experiences with grief and trauma have, however, connected me to many families who have experienced teen depression and suicide, and with Margaret heading to college in the fall, this topic looms large! With suicide now the second-leading cause of death for college students, I know it must also be on the mind of many, many of you with high school and college-aged kids. I want to be informed for my family’s sake, and I want to share information with you.

I recently teamed up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness about depression among teens, and learn more about how I as a parent can identify risk factors and access resources. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals. Look for several posts from me on this topic as I learn more! 

Maybe your family is good at communicating, but mine isn’t. Sure, I may overshare on the internet, but at home it’s a different story. 

It reminds me of when Margaret was 6 years old. Two girls in her class were fighting over her. There was drama. Both of the other moms knew all about it because their daughters talked about it daily, yet I didn’t hear a peep from mine, who was smack-dab in the center of  it all. It was an early example of how much my family struggles when it comes to talking about uncomfortable issues and emotions. Heap grief and trauma on top of that and we struggle even more. 

Not that emotional well-being should be a hard issue to discuss, but it is still stigmatized, most particularly for boys and students of color. It is so much easier to talk about physical illness than mental illness; colleges want to change this. 

In fact, the doctors at Med-IQ stressed the importance of looking at mental health in the same way we look at the physical health of our teens. One of the psychiatrists from the University of Michigan, who has decades of experience helping college kids with depression put it this way: “Every student should have a check-up from the neck up!”

Don’t you love that? But how does one even start the conversation about depression and mental health in order to get this “check-up”? A College Guidefrom the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave me pointers. I am printing it out for Tim and Margaret to read so we can all have the same info. 

There is also a great online screeningtool that students can access at any time to see if they might need mental health services. It even connects directly to resources at specific colleges, including my daughter’s. I took the screening myself to see what it was like, and I think asking your child to take this quiz every 6 months or so might be a good way to open up conversation and “check in.”

Transitioning to college is going to be an adjustment in every way. New friends. Freedom. Academic stress. Readily available alcohol and drugs. I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about it. I found the following list to be a good starting point of what to look for now and revisit later when school starts:

Signs that your son/daughter might be depressed:

Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
Severe out-of-control risk-taking behaviors
Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight.
Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol
Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits
Extreme difficulty concentrating/staying still
Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so.
I also found this fact-sheet of statistics and risk-factors about college suicideto be very helpful. 
Some of the info really got me down, but everything I read says it’s better to be more informed, than less. If this is starting to sound discouraging, I’ll say I’ve also learned that certain positive or protective factors common on campuses that can mitigate the risk of suicide such as connectedness to the school community, physical activity and exercise, social support such as RA’s, faculty, and friends, plans for the future, and access to services. 
Collegeswant to support students. Parents want the same thing. When we have more knowledge, we are more equipped to help.
I hope you’ll follow along to learn more.

Important:Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-age child which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Please take the SURVEY HERE.

Once you’ve completed the survey you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 Visa cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer Check-in

Well, hello there...

My bright idea of re-joining the gym so Andrew could go to up to THREE hours of childcare a day tanked. It was even a DROP-OFF place so I could run to the grocery store or to Panera to write! Andrew was fine with it until the big kids got out of school and the playroom got crowded. He decided he'd only go if there were just FOUR other kids there. Quite specific. So once again I am paying for the fancy gym, but not going. Enjoy your green smoothies and stair masters those of you who actually go!

Margaret, flush with cash from graduation, has decided that work is over-rated and has been clocking in a massive 6 hours of employment each week. Next summer will be a real wake-up call. I've offered to have her babysit Andrew without even needing to get dressed or leave the house, but those two are like oil and water. You might think sibling rivalry wouldn't exist with a 15 year age difference, but you would be sorely mistaken. He refused to let her take him for ICE CREAM today, for heaven's sake.

Margaret's big issue this summer was getting locked out of Instagram because 1) her phone broke 2) we are doofuses who had a defunct email account and phone number attached to her account. The great news is that thanks to an AWESOME blog reader and her multi-talented cousin, Margaret is back in! She immediately went with a friend to take glamor shots in the parking lot of Taco Bell, which I don't quite understand, but to each her own.

My big news is/was that we almost bought a small vacation home. This is something we've been working on for 3 years, and we were supposed to close on it today and go down there on Sunday. I had bags and boxes and board games ready to go. Alas, a bunch of complications came up and we pulled out. I am feeling down about it, weirdly not because I really enjoy the idea of "vacationing" with a three year old (is there such a thing?) but because I envisioned a) accessorizing it with gusto b) opening it up for small-group getaways and writing and grief retreats. My mind was spinning in an excited way and now it just feels blah.

Speaking of grief retreats, I'm honored to be going to Michigan next week to speak at a retreat for grieving moms through a wonderful organization called Starlight Ministries. My blah self wonders what I have to offer when Andrew and I are still in our pj's at 12:18 pm and I haven't written in eons. Deep down, however, I know that if I show up and open myself up to being used, God will take care of the rest.

Last night our nephew (Jack's BFF) came to spend the night and do some work in the area. The dynamic shifted immediately, as if we all let out a collective deep breath we didn't know we were holding. Although most days feel normal, there is still a palpable feeling that there should be a 20-something young man here. It feels so natural, so right. Our family looks vastly different from how it did with Jack alive. But there is muscle memory of how it once was, and those few times that we get to approximate it again, feel anything but blah.

Love you friends. How is your summer going?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Life is Weird

On Friday nights our town has live music and food on the town green. Last Friday Tim and I took Andrew.

We sat on a blanket next to a couple from our neighborhood with young kids Andrew's age. It was great to know we'd reached the stage where we could take him somewhere a little past bedtime, and we could hang out with adults.

As I looked around, I was struck by how many people I knew. Friends from Andrew's preschool across town. Jen from "Moms' Group" when Jack and Margaret were born, who later worked in Tim's office when we dipped our toes back into the working world. Ann, whom I met at "the park" in between kid 1 and kid 2, when we both wore oversized t-shirts, jean shorts, and weary looks. Parents from Margaret's field hockey team. People from both of the churches we attend.

I spotted a group of adults in camp chairs, and realized it was the parents of Jack's baseball teammates. Some had recent high school graduates, so we talked about the craziness of beach week and how glad we were that the kids all made it home safely. Turning to a baseball dad, I blurted out what popped into my head, "My life is so weird!" I gestured to where Tim and Andrew were waiting to get ice cream. 

They smiled and nodded. They may not know me well, but they do know that my life is weird. One kid in heaven, one heading to college, one in the line for ice cream with his daddy.

Jen's kids are both out of the house now, even though I still remember her son Chris as an infant, dwarfing Jack, who was older. She has gone back to work full-time in her field. Ann's son, Jack's friend from preschool, is studying in North Carolina. I was on that same timetable, until I wasn't.

It reminded me of a blog post, "Why B Normal?" written soon after Jack's accident, about how as a child I'd always imagined my life would be just a little bit different, even though I'm the most steady, predictable person I know. 

And it's true. My life is different. It often feels weird.

Yet thinking about it later, I realized that almost every one of the people on the town green likely had been thrown curveballs: death, divorce, infertility, mental and physical illness, job struggles, discrimination, interpersonal challenges, disappointment, crises of faith, and more. 

Shortly before she died, leaving me motherless at 18, my mom jotted a phrase on a piece of scrap paper and taped it to the fridge. It read, "Life is a very strange time."

I had no idea what it meant, but it didn't take me very long to figure it out.

Life has, indeed, been a very strange time.


We had to duck out of the concert earlier than the empty nesters happily holding their wineglasses, because bedtime awaited; until then, I soaked in the crisp air of a near-perfect June evening. Glad to be out of the house. Grateful to see so many familiar faces and to have friends from the different stages of my life. Open to those I would meet in the next stages as well.

Life is weird, sometimes hard, and often good.