Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Through Line

A few years ago, I bought a medium pre-lit artificial tree as our sole Christmas tree, with the main purpose of cutting down on marital arguments about light stringing. No longer was there a big fresh tree for sparkly bows, birds and baubles and a kids' tree laden with macaroni ornaments, clothes pin reindeer, and construction paper chains. It became both-- a delightful mish-mash. In fact, many of my "fancier" ornaments remained tucked in plastic tubs because this tree simply isn't big enough for all of it. 

And the ornaments keep coming! 

At an advent event last night, Andrew made 6 new ornaments out of popsicle sticks, paper and felt.

With Margaret home for Thanksgiving, we were all able to decorate together. This meant so much to me, as I was able to remember how the first few years after Jack died, decorating was excruciating. I did it for Margaret, but oh how it hurt. Now, I am able to hold Jack's Baby's First Christmas Ornaments and smile. I am able to remember how I bravely put up Christmas trees during college after my mom's death, even though no one expected it of me.

This year Andrew pulled a ziploc baggie out of one of the tubs and asked me about the ornament inside. I told him that when my brother, sister, and I were kids, we each had a glass ball with our name on it in glitter. Mine shattered one year and I was distraught. My mother quickly selected another ball, wrote my name on it with Elmer's glue, and dipped it in colored sand that we somehow had in our cluttered, happy home. 

That blue ball with red sand followed me the rest of my childhood and far into adulthood. A few years ago it shattered, but instead of tossing it out, I put it in a plastic bag so each year as we decorated, I could remember the loving care of a mom who always provided me a soft place to land.

After we finished the tree this year, 6 year old Andrew called me back down to the family room. He had dug through the tubs of ornaments we weren't using, rigged an ornament hanger into the plastic bag, and hung the remains of my ornament on the tree for me. 

His loving gesture reconnected me to my mother's loving gesture over 45 years ago. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

It's the Little Things

I am a white lights on the Christmas tree kind of girl. The artificial tree I bought 2 years ago has about 7 options, including blinking (ugh!), and cycling through from white to colored and back again.

My buddy Andrew loves the colored lights, and we are in a sneaky battle with each other, changing it back and forth when we walk past to go to the bathroom, multiple times a day. We haven't spoken a word about it, and I love it so much!
It reminds me of when my teen brother used to do something similar to my mom. She was a fantastic florist, and when she would go on deliveries, she had large "Flowers by Margaret" magnetic signs on her car doors. Sometimes she'd drive around all day before realizing her signs were upside down, thanks to her firstborn pranking her.
Sometimes connection and I love you's come in funny forms.
Now when my high school boyfriend did deliveries for her and changed every single one of her radio presets from country and classical to whatever the hell he listened to, that was just plain rude.
Like, read the room, Dude.

Monday, October 31, 2022


I just spent 45 minutes in the toy section of Target looking at Legos with Andrew. It wasn't what I would have chosen for a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, but he had money burning a hole in his pocket and was excited buy something new. We compared prices, and talked pro's and cons of each Minecraft set. It was no surprise that after reading Minecraft books, hearing Andrew's running commentary about all of the characters, and watching him play for months, I was able to hold my own in the conversation.

After we checked out, I let him try some parkour moves on the giant red concrete balls out front. We've been watching American Ninja-type shows and he's developing an interest in climbing. As I watched, an old friend from the "before times" crossed the lot. We hadn't seen each other in years. We were young parents together in the same mothers' group at church. I remember when she had her third, thinking "Oh boy, Laura just set her ticket to freedom back about three years." I was so tired and so busy with two little ones, that I kept my eyes on what I thought was the prize, getting them launched someday.

As we know, I didn't get to launch Jack in the way I thought I would, my "baby" Margaret is now 21, and  launching Andrew feels like a lifetime away. 

After my friend and I chatted, Andrew and I headed to the car. He was proud of the money he'd earned selling original comic books to our friends and neighbors. He showed no regret about reducing his nest egg down to one 2 dollar bill and a Sacajawea coin. I knew the coffee table would, once again, be taken over by colorful bricks for the next days or weeks.

I gave myself a minute on the way home in the car to be proud of myself. Proud for persevering after devastating loss. Proud for embracing my 50's and 60's and beyond that will look a lot different than I thought they would, even as I acknowledge the twinge I still feel when I see my peers at different stages. Proud for being in the moment with Andrew, and fully invested in what makes him tick.

Can you think of something today that makes you proud? 

Life is not made up of grand accomplishments. Sometimes it's just waking up, showing up, and taking baby-steps, even if the baby is 35, 45, or 60.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Walk in the Woods

A good friend and I were taking a walk when she asked if I'd like to explore a path near her house. It wasn't until about 10 minutes in that I realized we were headed right into the woods behind my old neighborhood, the woods where Jack died. 

I hadn't been back there in many years. I didn't want to make my friend feel bad for not connecting the dots that her neighborhood eventually ran into my former one. She's been going through a rough time, and I'd wanted the focus of our time to be on her, not on me.

As we walked beside the empty creek bed, noticeably dry even after 5 straight days of storms, I was transported back to the terrifying afternoon and evening 11 years ago when Jack fell in the creek and drowned. 

As my friend and I spoke of other things, I silently checked in with my feelings, letting thoughts pass in and out of my head: 

"There's the house where it happened." 

"I wish no one had let them to play back there."

Then, as we followed the long path parallel to the creek, traversing the distance between where Jack fell in and where he was found, I thought of his small body hurtling through the churning water.

"This is really far. Wow. This is even farther than I remembered." 

In checking in with myself, I found that I was okay. I wasn't stuffing my grief down. I was acknowledging the significance of the location, while still able to stay present with my friend with genuine interest and concern. I then shared some personal difficulties I'm having and got wise counsel from her. 

Both of these things felt significant. 

First, it was a gift that I was able to truly care about another's situation, because in the early days of grief, that seemed impossible. Back then, I couldn't imagine the ticker tape in my mind or heart saying anything other than "Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack" for the rest of my days. 

Second, I was able to talk about problems I'm currently facing in the life I have, not just the pain of Jack's death and the life I thought I would have.

We made it to the end of the path, retraced our steps, and ended up back at her house. 

I don't know whether this experience is helpful to anyone in early grief because frankly, thinking about years and years down the road was distasteful and scary to me at that time. It was torture to consider living so long without Jack's physical presence, and the impossible concept of healing or "getting better" provided no comfort whatsoever.

Eleven years??? 

I was worried about 11 seconds! 

Surviving grief is not about years, months, weeks, or even days. Sometimes it is a moment by moment slog in which your brain tries to process your new, unwanted reality, while also being forced to remain tethered to the rest of the world. 

This walk made me think about how amazing it is that pain can lessen and soften-- although not through sheer will, or the desire of others for us to "get better." 

In my case, it lessened through being acknowledged. Through glimmers of hope. Through my understanding that love never dies. And yes, through time. Lots of time

I am no longer a raw, exposed nerve-ending. I am a person who can take a walk in the woods with a friend on a gorgeous fall day, appreciating the crunch of leaves under my feet, while living in this moment, being supportive, and being supported as well. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

11 Years

 11 years ago today my 12 year old son died.

Depending on the year, the "crapiversary" is about reflection, memorializing Jack, muddling through, being grateful, or sitting in anger and jealousy. It all depends. Lately it's been about shuttling Andrew here or there, trying to keep him entertained, and whispering a "Thank you, I love you," to my Jack.
Today is different. Coming off a difficult summer, I'm home with my first case of COVID. Andrew is sick too, although testing negative, and our lives have been reduced to one bed, like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but with screens. A lot of screens. This limited sphere, as well as the misery in my body, made Sept 8 sneak up on me, sidling up to my sick bed in the night. I knew it was coming. It loomed. I felt it in my soul for weeks, but it whispered, "Trudge, Anna, trudge. This is your life now. Just deal."
In a way, the sick bed represents how I've been feeling for a long while: depleted, limited, trapped. "Trudge, Anna, trudge. This is your life now. Just deal."
If you are looking for a tribute to my amazing Jack today, I can't even muster it. My heart, my soul, my person, how could this be? Yet his memory flits away from me as the demands of the here and now keep me rooted as if my legs are half-sunk in concrete.
I have no guilt over this, for I know I can't disappoint my boy. I know that he sees me struggle and cheers me on, just as I supported him through every struggle he faced on earth.
While certain memories fail, I'll never forget how he made me feel-- like the best mother in the world. In the 34 years since my own mother went to heaven, what remains is how she made me feel: SAFE and BELOVED.
I know I'll feel better soon. I know Andrew will go to school and I can reclaim some autonomy and find my spark again.
Maybe then I will write a beautiful tribute post to a 12 year old who changed so many lives.
But today I will whisper, "Thank you Jack. I love you" and I will think about how even in my weakness, when I can't control ANYTHING, I can consider how I make people feel, and put that into the world.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Von Trapp Family Swimmers?

Menopause slapped me with a 20 lb weight gain, and I had to update my swimming wardrobe. So in April, before a trip to Tim's parents' house in Florida, I bought a Lands End tummy control swim dress. It covered everything I wanted to cover and squeezed in everything I wanted to be squeezed. Getting that thing on and off was like wrestling a walrus, and I had to resort to the pull-over method in order to pee in the pool bathroom, but I was pleased with my purchase.

With whatever breath I could manage to exhale while squeezed in my suit, I breathed a sigh of relief that Andrew is a boy and he likely won't give me as much of a hard time about my wardrobe choices as a little girl would. I've been down that road and it was brutal. So far, he hasn't seemed to notice that I'm older than his friends' parents, that I don't rock a bikini, or that I put my bathrobe on around 5 pm each day (ok, 4 in winter).

Tim, however, may have pushed things a little too far. After wearing thrifted brown and orange swim trunks for over 15 years, he decided this summer was the time to go wild with a new bathing suit before dry rot set in. I told him Lands End was having a sale, and he could likely find something for less than 20 bucks.

Imagine my surprise when, utterly clueless, he pulled out swim trunks that match the suit I've been wearing for 4 straight months. I've often said he would not notice my being injured if I weren't bleeding from the head, but now I wonder about even that. 

And poor Andrew. 

Do we wear these to the pool together? 

Do we see if they come in kids' sizes and just embrace the WEIRD? 

It's one thing when your mom listens to 80's music that makes your friends groan in the camp carpool. Or when she consistently has 2-3 inches of gray roots. But your mom and Dad wearing matching bathing suits? 

What do YOU think? 

(Photo credit to the 6 year old who could use his nails clipped)

P.S. do you think Tim will notice my new pajamas?

Monday, July 11, 2022

Liz's Eulogy for Jack

Do you follow writer/podcaster/thinker Kelly Corrigan? She has an amazing podcast, a PBS show, and several wonderful books. 

On Sundays she has been reading eulogies aloud, and yesterday she read the eulogy my sister Liz wrote for Jack 10 years ago. I can't believe my precious sister had the presence of mind to write something so beautiful and eloquent just a day or so after Jack's shocking death. 

Hearing it again reminded me there is still much to learn from my boy. I'd love for you to take a listen!

Friday, May 6, 2022

Living Your Dash

 What an honor it was to speak at Full Circle Grief Center's Live Your Dash Luncheon! 

This fundraiser helps Full Circle provide comprehensive grief support for those in the Richmond, VA area. When Jack died, I was in too much shock to even look for or access this kind of grief support. If you are grieving, or know someone who is grieving, I'd encourage you to see whether there is a grief center in your area. They often offer individual counseling and family groups and activities. 

By just EXISTING, grief centers help acknowledge to our world that grief is a real issue that lasts well beyond the few days between a death and a funeral. 

Something really special happened after my speech last Friday. The setting was a super fancy country club, and many of the servers were young adults. After the luncheon, 5 of the servers came up to me to share how my speech impacted them. We often wonder about this next generation, but let me say, they are all right! They were on the clock, working, but they let themselves open up and be touched by my words and then took the time to share with me their impact. Wow! I am so grateful.

The theme of the luncheon was Living your Dash, and it refers to the dash on a gravestone between the birth date and the death date. 

I'be been putting too much pressure on myself lately about what I'm going to do with my dash during this  short and precious life. It's overwhelming and I feel burnt out and ineffective. 

Maybe you do too.

So today I will just try to do one small thing: be kind.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Monday, March 28, 2022

It Ain't Easy Being Green

This is the face of a kid who did not enjoy soccer. But this post isn’t about soccer.

As we walked into the gym, he saw other kids coming out of the building wearing medals. His ass-dragging mopey-ness transformed into a spring in his step as he contemplated getting a medal of his own.
Mom was a bit worried because say all you will about the worth of participant medals, this guy barely participated, yet she hoped he’d get a 🏅 too.
He participated slightly more than usual on this day, and his mom breathed a sigh of relief that the season was over as they gathered for the bestowing of the medals.
Except there was another team on the other side of the gym receiving trophies rather than medals, and the medals immediately lost any appeal they had once had. This guy, and the one next to him, we’re not pleased.
Have you ever been satisfied, even excited by something in your life, only to be immediately brought low when you see someone who has more?
This mom sure has. Many, many times.
I don't love this about myself, but I try to show myself the same grace I showed this little guy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Showing up for Someone

I thought I'd share one of the most beautiful examples of holding space for someone that I've come across in my grief work. I hope it will inspire you today the way it did me.

Yesterday I posted about the difficulty of grievers to identify and express specific needs they have, and how sometimes that makes people (me!) make vague offers to help that end up sounding empty and not actually supporting anyone.
These vague offers often feel too risky, because they lack specifics ("Let me know if you need anything"), and the griever doesn't know whether their request will be accepted or rejected, if they ever muster up the energy to put a request out there at all. Grievers already feel incredibly vulnerable, and this can make it worse.
Years ago, right after Rare Bird came out, I met with a newly bereaved mom and dad in their home. Their 15 year old daughter died by suicide, and they wanted to talk to someone a little farther down the road of grief.
The mom told me that 2 friends from church, in those early days of shock and despair, told her they would be available to take a walk with her two days a week.
They said they would show up at the end of her driveway every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 am. If the mom felt up to it, she could come out and walk with them. They could talk about her daughter, talk about insignificant things, or not talk at all. If she didn't feel like walking that day, no hard feelings, but they would keep showing up.
Then, they went to the family calendar hanging on the kitchen wall and wrote "Walk 9am" on all the Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next several months.
When we feel supported, we can use our depleted energy to grieve, process, remember, and ultimately find a path forward. When we don't feel supported, we can expend our precious energy being angry at the people who let us down. Believe me, I've been there! This is why support is crucial.
This mom felt seen and supported. She got out of the house into the sunshine and the rain at time when walking on her own may have made her feel too exposed and vulnerable. Her friends' commitment to showing up and spending this time with her week after week, month after month, was an important acknowledgment that something significant and earth shattering had taken place. Not just in her family, but in the world, because we are all connected.
They bore witness to her pain.
Doing so is not easy, by any means, but it is loving and often remarkable.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Board Games for Days!

Most days are Monopoly Days around here, and Monopoly Empire is our favorite. Yesterday, we tried Sorry. I'm glad the thrift shop has a constant supply of games. 

Anyone Want to Help Me Move a Couch?

 I’ve mentioned before that I have decided quit waiting for enthusiastic buy-in from my husband. 


It's frustrating to think it took me almost 30 years to figure this out. I had hints when it was time to get our first dog. The months dragged on as I waited for Tim to show a modicum of enthusiasm. Finally, a one year old chocolate lab fell in our laps, I arranged it, and Shadow joined the family. Guess who was Shadow's number one person? Tim. Years later, we went through the same thing with Charlie. What a love affair! If Tim talked to me and cuddled with me the way he does with Charlie, it would be Valentine's Day every day over here. I’m not saying I did these things behind Tim’s back. I got his less than enthusiastic, barely perceptible buy-in and then ran with it.


What made me think of this today? Well, despite my bad back, I swapped our kitchen and dining room tables by myself. It doesn't look great, and will probably only stay this way a week, but I don't care. I was feeling itchy in these four walls, and sometimes you just want to move shit around. When it comes to house stuff, if I didn’t get the ball rolling, we’d be in a state of stasis forever. Men, don't often wake up and say, "I wonder if that couch would look better by the window." My latest project is getting a tree cut down, and I've set a goal for myself to on figure that out this week. Tim will know, but I won’t wait for him to high-five me on it. Few things turn a man into an ardent conservationist or decorating purist than saying you want to cut down a tree, or, God forbid, paint wood paneling. 


I'm not saying men shouldn't have a say in anything. I'm just preaching to myself here, REMINDING MYSELF not to use Tim's general lack of enthusiasm as an excuse, when I really could pick up that paintbrush, move that table, plan that trip, or do that next thing. 


99.9% of the time, he likes what I've done. He becomes the dog's best friend. He appreciates having appliances that aren't broken. He thinks white paint really brightens the space. He’s glad we went on those trips. Now I know I’m probably mashing everything up because it’s Monday morning and I haven’t had my third cup of tea yet, but it kind of reminds me of fooling around. I may be less than thrilled about the prospect, but afterward I’m always glad to have participated. Sure, there’s buy-in from me, but sometimes the enthusiasm comes later. 


Let’s hope Tim feels the same way about the tree.