DEAR LINDSEY…

I decided on this tenth anniversary that I would write you a letter. Simply said, I miss you. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you first thing in the morning and last thing at night and much of the time in between. The life of a grieving mom is one of wondering, wondering what you would be doing now, wondering how you’d wear your hair, wondering if you would have had more children, just wondering. It’s like being on a very long trip, looking out the car window, but with no destination or time of arrival. You just ride and ride and ride. Everyday is a challenge for me now, trying to make a difference somewhere.

After you died, I got involved in a group called The Compassionate Friends. There I met some of the most courageous people I’ve ever known. They live much like I do on an unending road trip. We are all the same, doesn’t matter the age of your child, the reason they died, the complicated circumstances, it just matters that it was someone you loved with all your heart. The eyes of a grieving parent are very similar, there is a sadness in them, regardless of what is going on in their life.

I’ve learned a lot, from others, from reading, from conference speakers and from endless conversations with grieving parents. I am humbled to be in the company of this inspirational group of people. I have seen people climb to incredible heights after being what I believe to be the lowest point in a parents life. I have seen someone who could hardly form a sentence fighting back the tears to eventually being the “go to” person for newly bereaved. It truly is a miracle to watch this growth and a gift to be a part of it.

I’ve learned so much about grief and grieving. I learned that people will come and go in your life. I have always had a tough time with change, but now I know people are in your life for a reason. There are some that will be there forever maybe only surfacing in difficult times. Some will remain in your everyday life and some will come into your life at just the right time. It may be to help you or it may be for you to help them. I do know that you are much more aware of those around you and I do believe it makes you a more compassionate and caring person.

I’ve learned that so many things we worry about really aren’t worth it. Life is like a fast paced carnival ride. You get on with great anticipation of what’s to come, and you experience the twists and turns and ups and downs and eventually the ride comes to a halt. You enjoyed the ride, but the parts that’s were scary, were really scary. Surviving the twists and turns, not knowing what’s coming next, presents challenges you weren’t prepared for. Sometimes the ride is so frightening, you really don’t want to take the chance again. May you never take that chance again in the hopes of having a good time, being happy, feeling that exuberance of what’s to come. Then you look back and remember how the ride made you feel. You remember the overall joy you felt when the ride began and the laughter and the screaming and the anticipation of what’s in front of you. I realized after you died, that I was afraid of the unknown. This, as you know, is not my norm, but fear of living without you was like not being able to catch your breath. I just didn’t know if I could do it.

At that point, I looked back and remembered how the ride made me feel. I remember everything from the news we were having you, to the day of your birth, to all the milestones that we, as a family, were blessed to enjoy for 29 years. We did it all, my precious girl, making the most of the ride. You taught me that the ride was worth it. Those moments are treasures for me, as they are for your sisters.

You taught me as much in death as you did in life. One of the last times you were in the hospital, you and I discussed writing a book. It was a goal we set. I tried to start many times, but it just didn’t feel right. After dad died, I started this blog to share my journey of grieving with others, hoping to help just one person. Surprisingly, I am close to 10,000 views reaching people all over the world. Who would think anyone would care what I wrote? It isn’t because I’m a great writer, but more because I am writing it with pure love in my heart.

I’ve had many more twists and turns since you left ten years ago with loss after loss. I thought I had seen the worst life had to offer, but the world is a mess right now. The Pandemic has taken over our lives in an unprecedented way. I think of all the families facing the challenges of loss in the weeks to come. My heart breaks for them because I know they are scared. I’m scared too, just like I was when you died, scared of what’s to come. The one thing I know though is life goes on and it is a personal decision as to what you do with it. Not ever taking the chance to feel the joy of the ride doesn’t seem like a good choice.

Loving you and being your mom was one of the great joys of my life. I was blessed to have you as my daughter. I miss your smile, your laugh, the smell of your cologne, the sound of you coming in the front door, you and dad fighting over the remote, your love for your family, your loyalty, your advice, and finally… I just miss you. What started as an incredible adventure seemed like it ended in tragedy, but did it really or was I so lucky to have had you as my spunky, feisty, outspoken, loving, one of a kind daughter? I believe I am the one who is blessed beyond measure. My three daughters are my greatest accomplishment in life and I thank God for them each and every day.

The maze was less dense for awhile, but with the world situation has become difficult to navigate once again. Thing is, I have lots of memories of the ride to keep me going. I believe when this is over, the sun will be brighter than ever. When things are better, I’m going to get back in line for the ride because my family taught me “it’s all worth it”. I love you my sweet girl, every hour, every minute and every second of every day. Give dad a warm hug from me until we all meet again…

Love you with all my heart today and forever, Mom

Easter Sunday 2010. Our last day together.

I CRIED TODAY…

I cried today because I felt alone and I missed Rick. I cried today because I miss Lindsey and she died 10 years ago next Tuesday. I cried today because I needed my mom to talk to. I cried today because there is a monster taking over our world and we feel out of control. I cried today because I miss my family and friends. I cried today for a young mother who lost her husband and the father of her children. I cried today for friends that are facing a similar situation that Rick and I were facing this time last year. I cried today for all the children missing school and missing their teachers and looking at their overwhelmed parents for guidance. I cried today for those on the front lines of this Pandemic. I cried today for those behind the scenes trying to keep the world turning. I cried today for those that have lost hours and jobs and aren’t sure if they will make it. I cried today for the businesses, large and small, that are either closed or struggling trying to deliver to keep from losing everything. I cried today for all our leaders, top to bottom, trying to slay the monster. I cried today because I needed a big fat hug and couldn’t have it. I cried today and then I prayed…

I looked up at the sky and prayed for my world and my leaders and their families. I prayed we could support each other and help each other through this crisis. I prayed for strength as I face this time of year alone. I prayed my family and yours would stay safe and healthy. I prayed the anger and discontent from a few weeks ago would be replaced with grace and compassion for others. I prayed we would be better when this is over. I prayed we would be more appreciative of the little things, like time with family and friends, food in the stores and pantries and simple things like sending our children off to school or having dinner in a restaurant. I prayed we would learn more about ourselves and what’s really important. I prayed we would survive.

I thought life could not get more difficult, but it has and in a way I could have never imagined. We have lost our life as we know it. We have lost our feelings of safety and security. Many have lost loved ones and there are many more to come. Most of these people lost the privilege of being with their loved ones at this crucial time and weren’t able to even say goodbye or hold their hand. Some may lose everything they have worked for, leaving them no choice but to start over. Some may resort to unhealthy ways of dealing with this loss. This, my friends, is what grief is all about. It is the loss of the familiar, the normal, the expected. If you have never had a major loss in your life, you are experiencing one right now. Embrace your feelings and grant yourself grace to feel what you feel. No need to apologize for being overwhelmed, because you are in the company of millions. We are scared and that is the bottom line.

As millions walk the maze in the coming weeks, it will be at a distance, doing the right thing, sending the right message. We are together although we are apart. We can’t leave the maze now anyway, so let’s just try to help each other figure out how we can make the best of a bad situation. Share ideas, check on friends, use it to make connections, old and new, enjoy unhurried time with your kids, look at pictures, change your furniture around, play board games and do it apart together. It is my sincere hope that when all is said and done, we will better understand the importance of connection and truly appreciate our freedom and opportunities. Maybe this is a wake up call.

I cried today…and then I prayed…

UNDER THE CAP…I dedicate this blog to my HCA work family.

I am a Registered Nurse. Throughout my career, I have been asked how I made this decision and why. The answer was simple for me, I wanted to care for people. Sounds cliche I know, but that is the truth, plain and simple. When I was a child, I cared for my dolls and stuffed animals as if they were real. They all had names and birthdays and provided me a little family of my own at a very young age. I would play for hours feeding, bathing, nurturing and of course caring for their illnesses. I had a doll named Marybelle who came complete with crutches, casts, Measles and Chicken Pox stickers and enough gauze to treat any possible injury she may encounter. As I got a little older, I would play outside and drag home any small animal I found in any kind of distress. My mom, who was always there, would help me nurse these little creatures, even though sometimes they were already dead. I know this sounds bizarre, but it is a fact. I think I got this quality from my mom, who until she died seven years ago, was constantly caring for someone else.


Now first I’m sure you are asking “what cap is she referring to?” In the years past, when you went to Nursing School, your rite of passage was earning your cap. Each Nursing School had their own distinct cap design and after you graduated your cap defined you as a graduate of that Nursing program. It was an honor back then to wear the cap and pin of your school, and you wore it with great pride. This, of course, accompanied the white uniforms of that time and again, it was prestigious to don that crisp white uniform, freshly polished white Nursing shoes and the cap and pin of your school. Now I know I’m showing my age, but I am proud to be a descendant of these times, because along with that look came great respect from your patients and their families. When you entered a room, they could not get out of your way fast enough. They knew you were there to care for their loved one and they did not want to be in the way or impede your care. If a doctor or nurse walked in, the visitor would immediately rise to their feet and excuse themselves. Now you may think this is wrong today, but in those days it was a gesture of respect. I believe the way we carried ourselves back then also commanded respect. I remember a patient told me that when I entered his room everyday, he felt I looked like an angel and was there to make him better. I’ll never forget him or how he made me feel. I think I got more from him than he got from me.
Things are very different today. There are no caps, scrubs are the uniform, and freshly polished shoes would be from the dinosaur age.

Today, nurses wear scrubs and the most comfortable shoes they can find. They work long shifts, days, nights, holidays, special events and trudge their way through bad weather. All of this to care for your loved ones, mother, father, grandparents, sibling, or friend, whoever needs them. They leave their family behind to help in crisis situations like the one we are experiencing. They, along with first responders, doctors, pharmacists, lab workers, clerks, nursing assistants, and everyone that makes the Healthcare systems run, heed the call.

To be a nurse is to be everything to everybody. As a nurse you provide comfort, physical, emotional, and sometimes spiritual. You serve as a teacher, preacher, counselor, friend, substitute family member, along with nutritionist, mechanic, secretary, housekeeper, security and on and on. You have the ability to affect this patients entire experience. That is a lot to carry some days.


So you ask, how do they balance this load and how can they be everything to everybody? You must accomplish certain tasks each shift, you must document everything you do, you must be accountable and keep your patients safe and you must be your patients advocate. Wow that is a lot of responsibility. Yes, it is, but you were led to this profession for a reason. I’m sure it wasn’t the great hours, easy money or perfect working conditions. What I am sure of is it was for the patients and the ability to help them when they needed it the most.

In the current climate, healthcare professionals are putting themselves at risk merely by going to work everyday, but they are going. They are wearing masks, face shields, gowns, gloves and yes, even trash bags to give someone else’s family a chance. They are working extra shifts and sleeping onsite. They are leaving their family at home to care for others and some are even giving the ultimate sacrifice, their life.

Everyone is affected by the “monster” and everyone will come out different on the other side. People will need to go out to eat, to a movie, take vacation or travel. Economy will get better because we will be excited again and with that excitement will come relief. I believe we will be better people when this is over, a softer, kinder, more tolerant nation. Sometimes when fire scorches the land and only blackness remains, it seems bleak, then the tiniest sprout emerges and we become hopeful again that beauty will return. I believe we will win this war if we keep these things in the forefront, Faith, Hope, and Love. We have faith that this is bigger than us and if you pray, I suggest you pray a lot. I Hope that we will be stronger when this is over. Love shown to each other, to perfect strangers, to other countries will help us prevail. We are stronger than the “monster”.

Please, as you walk the maze of uncertainty, think of your healthcare team, your military, your patients in nursing homes and hospitals, your neighbors and your friends, Stay at home so someday they will be able to go home too.


If you are a nurse, that is special, and what comes from the heart is what is under the cap.

THE MONSTER…

It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog. I’ve had ideas, but nothing that stood out that I thought might create interest or instill hope. The world is in a bit of a mess right now and that alone is causing our brains to shut down or at least mine.

I am finding this new crisis to be a culmination of every grieving experience I’ve ever had. First of all, we have lost our sense of safety and security. The news changes minute to minute and it leaves us feeling more and more vulnerable. The fear for our lives, our future and the wellbeing of our country is palpable. No matter who you talk with or come into contact with, there is the look of fear in their eyes. Their body language is that of discomfort. The inability to touch and to hug is literally pulling the rug from under us. We, as a nation, are used to comforting gestures on a daily basis. The lack of that comfort is making a bad situation worse by the lack of human contact.

We feel the possibility we may lose our health and even die from this invisible monster. Loss of heath is a grieving experience for many Americans. Some have loss of physical health while others may lose their mental health. It is a treacherous road that many trudge each and every day. Some have good medical care and some do not. Some have multiple resources and some sleep outside, hoping for good weather. Some have families and friends and a good support network. Some have nothing and no one to support them. So at times, such as these, we need to look out for each other, because no matter where you fit, we are all feeling the same fear.

We are grieving life as we knew it. We miss our restaurants and theme parks, our schools and our shopping malls. We miss our festivals and family gatherings and just hanging out with our friends. Gyms and coffee shops are closed and graduations and other milestone events have been cancelled. This is a loss we have never felt before, not as a people and not as a nation. How do we process such a loss?

We are grieving for other countries affected by this vicious monster. Hearing news of thousands dying alone and buried alone, quickly, to make room for more. It is heartbreaking to think how lives have been turned upside down by something we can’t see or feel. It is so far out of our realm of thinking that we just can’t process the enormity of the situation. How do we find hope right now?

I think we have to return to the simple things that we often take for granted. A phone call to check in with someone, maybe someone you’ve been away from, estranged from, or maybe someone who lives alone. Just hearing a voice can make someone’s day. I don’t know if sending a card is ok, but if so, it is another wonderful way to reach out. Checking on neighbors, sending emails, ecards or texts if the recipient has this capability. Sharing your excess with those who need it and can’t get to the store or maybe can’t afford extras.

These are the times that show who we really are inside and outside. Most of us haven’t ever had to go without and this is a test of our ability to be resourceful. We will be stronger than this monster. Yes, we will be hurt and we will lose loved ones and we may even lose our ability to live our current lifestyle, but it cannot take away who we are and how we choose to handle this crisis. People are innately good and when faced with adversity, pull out all the stops to help each other make it to the other side. I admire those people the most, the selfless, kind, giving people, the ones who make a difference.

My maze is filled tonight with people who are afraid, afraid of the future. Let’s take each other’s hand as we wind through and help each other if we stumble. Let’s look out for each other, the old, the young and everyone in between. Let’s help each other by reaching out, by listening, by being by each other’s side even if we are apart, until we get this all figured out. The monster will eventually be gone and in its wake will be those helpers, those wonderful people who fought the war together, standing tall, holding hands, hugging and high fiving and knowing that no matter what, we don’t ever give up on each other. It is much easier to ride out a storm if you have others in your boat.

Love and prayers to all affected. May you be comforted knowing we all care about you.

EMERGING…

The young couple was excited to get their apartment ready, after all, the wedding was six days away. There wasn’t a lot to move in, because honestly they didn’t have much in the way of furniture. It didn’t matter though because material things were just not that important at this stage of their life. He was 19, she was 18, and they had made the biggest decision they would ever make in their lifetime. As they puttered around the apartment, she began to feel uncomfortable. Her stomach was hurting and finally enough to cause her to lie down on the new mattress that was still covered in plastic. As she lay there, it started to get worse and she asked him to take her home. Probably some virus or something she ate they thought. When she arrived home, her mom was waiting. She took her temperature, feeling her forehead like real moms do and settled her in her bed. It wasn’t long before the pain became unbearable. It turned out the frightened young man’s mom had a friend whose husband was a doctor. She called him and he had them come to the ER right away. In her head all she could think was the wedding was just six days away.

Arriving at the ER, she was quickly checked in, quick for those days, and the doctor was waiting. Within minutes it was revealed that she had appendicitis and it was close to rupturing. As he broke the news to the 18 year old bride to be, the tears flowed and her only words were “but the cake is already ordered”. Pretty unimportant in the situation she was in, but it was what came to mind. Within a short time, she was taken to the OR for a good old fashioned appendectomy.

Waking up hours later, trying to focus, she noticed pigs on her wall alongside a picture of a tiger. To add insult to injury, she was in Pediatrics, because as I mentioned, she was 18 years old. The next few hours were rough, but eventually things got better. Now what to do about the wedding. The doctor’s advice was to rest and go forward with the plans, now 5 days away.

The young girl was determined to be discharged that day. It was now Wednesday and the wedding was still on. She took the hospital bed bath and dressed in her own clothes, placed herself strategically in the chair beside her bed and plastered a smile on her face. Free at last, she returned home at a slow pace, but home nonetheless. What now? The wedding was three days away.

First order of business was to get the marriage license at City Hall downtown. Since she couldn’t do steps, this seemed impossible. There were steps in and out and plenty of them. Walking was still painful and she felt defeated. In one of his first tasks as the couple fought to figure this out, the young man went inside, told his story, and the clerk came to the car and filled out the paperwork sitting beside her in the front seat. Many thank you’s later, they headed home.

The next challenge was to get her waist length hair washed and dried so off to the beauty parlor they went. It was now one day away and still so much to do.

Saturday came and after many tears at the rehearsal dinner and many more that night, the couple walked down the aisle of the local church, and it was there they said “I do”.

Today is our 47th anniversary. It is indeed a culmination of an incredible journey. As you can see, the challenges started in the beginning, but the thing that struck me most while writing this is that no matter what cards we were dealt, we never gave up. Most challenges in a new marriage involve getting to know each other, finances, deciding which way to hang the toilet paper roll and how to balance the holidays with family. We had those and many more. I was finishing my second year at Westhampton College and wanted desperately to attend Nursing School. It was a dream I had my entire life. So, with Ricks help, support from my mom and some loans, I started Johnston-Willis School of Nursing in the fall of 1974.

Rick worked at Philip Morris and I went to school. He supported me in every way. Graduating in 1977, I fulfilled that dream and embarked on a career that I dearly loved then and to present day. Rick worked in Sales most of his early days and as most can attest to, “he could sell ice to an Eskimo”, but something was missing. In 1995, with my blessing, and support of both our families, he opened a BarBQue restaurant in Powhatan. The rest is history, but my point in sharing our life is this.

We met when I was 15 years old and over the next 50 years we had good times and we had tough times. We created a family and we lost family. We lost a daughter in the prime of her life, but we were also blessed with grandchildren and wonderful friends, We had successes and we had failures. We had sickness and we had health and we certainly had richer times and poorer times. Through it all, we persevered and grew and supported each other. I have been grieving for a long, long time now and I have accepted that grief is now part of who I am, but that is not a bad thing. I have experienced true love and I use that like a backpack to carry my grief. It’s sort of a Yin Yang thing with the balance of good and bad.

So tomorrow I am thinning the hedge of the maze. I’m letting light shine in and on my life. Yes I have lost, but I have gained too, in immeasurable ways, from the day I met that football player in the number 26 jersey to the day I had to say goodbye. Nothing will ever take away what we built together, nothing will ever take away the love we shared and nothing will ever be the same, but with my loving and supportive family and friends I’ll figure out how to start this new chapter, because my book is yet to be finished.

March 3, 1973
March 3, 2019

THE NEWS…

So today at 4 pm marked one year since I got the devastating news and knew my life as I knew it was over and the life I envisioned was not to be. It was the night I told my precious daughters that once again they would lose a part of who they were and travel again down the loneliest road imaginable. It was the night I would watch my granddaughters cry and at the same time try to comfort not only me, but their mom and their aunt. I could physically see and hear the hearts breaking in that room. It was also the night I would deliver the news to Rick that he had an incurable Cancer. It was a night I will never forget.

The time since that fateful night has been filled with life. Going to work, school, getting groceries, playing with the dogs and grieving. My family is no stranger to grief. We have been migrating this road for almost 10 years now. It has twists and turns and ups and downs and sometimes even spirals. It is like a gymnast doing floor exercise, you never know what is coming next. Time passes, sometimes slowly, sometimes you can’t keep up, but it passes. Days into nights and nights into days, sometimes you don’t even know the difference. Sometimes you are good, sometimes you’re a mess, but always you are still you. The challenge is “who are you now?”

Getting acclimated to life without someone you love is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is a journey like no other. Life can be tough when everyone is ok, but if all are healthy and have what they need, you can work on the rest. When someone dies, you have no second chances at anything. Whatever the circumstances, their physical presence is gone and with it a piece of your heart.

So is there ever a happy ending to a story like this? I think that is an individual choice. For some, things never get better and for others they seem to find a new and different life. It’s as if you are afraid to heal because somehow you will forget them. I am certain of one thing in my life…YOU NEVER FORGET LOVE. I believe that you are who you are because of your experiences. If you are compassionate, then somewhere in your life, someone showed you compassion. If you are a loving and caring person, then along the line you were probably loved and cared for. Now if you are unsure, cautious, afraid and distrustful, then somewhere, someone let you down. It is never too late to find some form of happy. It may not be what you had with your loved one, but a different kind of happy.

I truly thought my life was over when Lindsey died, but with work, determination and a tremendous amount of support, I discovered life could indeed be good again. If you have doubts, take a moment and look into the eyes of a child. The gleam you see is promise of the future. I have always believed things happen for a reason and I believe that more than ever. It is proven to me every single day.

Today while I wore my mask at work, keeping my feelings very private and wondering how I would handle the day, this happened. I was giving a tour in a hospital room to a couple getting ready to have a baby. As I tried hard to concentrate, I looked over the woman’s shoulder and there looking in the window was a big, bright red, beautiful Cardinal looking straight at me. It took my breath away.

Most of my readers know I’m training a therapy dog, something Rick and I had planned to do together. On her first observation, it was snowing mixed with rain, it was cold and dark and it was lonely because he wasn’t here. I was standing inside and as I looked to my right, there was someone I had gone to high school with and Rick and I had double dated with in the 60’s. It made me breathe and realize I wasn’t alone at all. Then to my left I saw one of the first faces that greeted me in my first meeting of Compassionate Friends. She hugged me so tight, I felt all the tension release and for the rest of the visit I felt Rick and Lindsey all around me. It was a comfort I can’t explain and I sobbed all the way home.

On Friday, I decided to tackle the Social Security office and in that visit was able to accomplish what I needed, except after a decent wait, I was missing one document. Dreading the wait again, I waited until Monday and went before work. Waiting outside there was a chill in the air and I started talking to a woman in front of me. As she shared her story, I realized she had been through some devastating health issues. She explained it had affected her sight, her ability to work and earn a living and had left her virtually dependent on someone to help her with daily life. As I shared my story, I realized that I was so blessed to have my health even though I had dealt with so many tough things. We ended up sitting together inside for a short time and the tears flowed as she continued her story. All I could feel was compassion for her and her journey and all I could feel for myself was grateful, grateful for wonderful times and memories made, grateful for good health and grateful for my life then and my life now. As I left, I gave her my phone number and told her if she needed to talk to give me a call. I got a text from her the next day and I think I have found a new friend.

This day, though filled with tough memories, is also filled with gratitude. I am grateful for all of you who take your time to follow my journey. I am grateful for life and health and Cardinals and new friendships. I am even grateful for the maze because a maze always has a way out, a light at the end of a very long and lonely tunnel, but a light nonetheless.

More scrapbooking.
God really knows what he is doing.

BITTERSWEET…

I am now 302 days into living, for the first time in my life, alone. I lived with my mom and then became a wife at the tender age of 18. To say it has been a challenge is an understatement. I have always functioned very independently and took pride is my ability to conquer anything I set my mind to…but this is different. For 302 days I haven’t had my person to come home to, to share with, to confide in.

I believe, with all my heart, it isn’t the initial shock or the funeral or all that goes with these catastrophic events, but the learning to live without the one you love that is the most difficult. It doesn’t matter what the loss is, but your life will forever change without them in it. I do believe the loss of a parent is one of the most difficult because they are the first people you look to for virtually everything. They teach you to use a spoon, read, ride a bike, basic math and every single life skill that becomes your compass. If you grew up with both parents, you probably saw them as a team, running the house, working and providing what the family needed. Many had only one parent at home and that mother or father did the work of both. Some grow up with aunts, uncles, grandparents and they become the parent figures. These are the first people you learn to trust and that filters into the rest of your life. The loss of a mom or dad is like losing your foundation. The challenge is to see if the rest of the structure can stand alone. Tall order I think, but we do because honestly we aren’t given a choice.

Child loss is a loss that destroys something inside of you. It’s a deep, searing pain that you honestly don’t know if you can survive, but you do, because we aren’t given a choice. Your child is a part of you, two people who come together to create something extraordinary, a human being. If you don’t think this is a miracle, you haven’t been fortunate enough to watch a baby enter the world. It is without a doubt, the most miraculous event you can witness. I have seen this thousands of times in 40 years and it is the same feeling every single time. It’s pure unadulterated joy. So when something starts with pure joy and ends with pure devastation, it is a challenge to even get out of bed. The highest level executive, the most famous actor or actress, the highest political offices, the clerk at the local grocery, the truck driver, or the nurse, it doesn’t matter. We are all equal when it comes to grief. I remember when Lindsey died that I felt the same as Carol Burnette, Marie Osmond and even Barbara Bush. We were all moms and that put us on equal ground.

To lose a child is to lose a piece of you. It is part of your identity, it is who you are. You don’t know how to be anyone else, you don’t know how to go on. There is a real thing called “Broken Heart Syndrome” that many believe is a depth of grief that actually causes physical illness leading to weakening of the heart and symptoms of a heart attack. This is actually written in medical journals and is very real. It can be treated and if not can cause damage that can follow that person the rest of their life. Valentines Day made me think of this a lot. When everyone was talking about love and buying heart shaped everything, how many had a broken heart? This, like everything else, has to be a process, one of work and eventually healing. It doesn’t mean you don’t love and miss your child the same as the day they died, it just means you incorporate the loss into your everyday world in a way only you can do. Memories become treasures and you change, because you are not and can’t be the same.

This brings me to my 302 days of being alone. I think I miss not being able to share news, good or bad, more than anything. If something happened, my first thought was to call Rick and that’s exactly what I did. He would listen intently, sometimes having no real idea what I was worked up about, but he was always there and always supportive. He was my person, good or bad, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, we had many challenges, but in the end, we always had each other. That, I think, is the hardest part for me. When you lose your spouse, it feels like half of you is missing. You no longer feel whole. In a marriage, each person takes on different roles and each marriage is different. It becomes like a well choreographed dance as you move through life. When one person doesn’t show up, the dance is not the same and although the show must go on, the dance is not the same and will never be the same.

Yesterday was one of those days. I stopped in the maze to call Rick to share my news that our precious Lucy passed her test for The Alliance of Therapy Dogs. This had been a goal of ours since before we got the dreaded news that changed everything. This was a retirement goal for us, to bring smiles and maybe moments of joy to those in poor health, nursing homes, hospice care etc. We wanted to give back and use retirement not only for us to have fun, but to fill voids for others. I made it my mission to follow through, although many tears were shed along the journey. It’s official now and as exciting as it was, I felt alone. I miss him, but this is the way it is everyday. I miss those I shared so much with, my mentor, a piece of my heart and my other half.

That being said, I’m doing ok. I live life everyday with an appreciation of even the tiniest things. I have my girls, my grandchildren and countless people who check on me, send cards, remember me when the world keeps spinning and a wonderful work family. I am touched when others share their loss with me. I am constantly meeting someone who is struggling, whether it be recent or in the past. I have Facebook friends and readers of this blog that I don’t even know, who send messages of encouragement to me as well as telling me how I helped them. That, my friends, is a gift. Feeling like I have touched someone through my experiences is a blessing and one I do not take lightly. Thank you as always for taking your valuable time to read my thoughts.

Lucy and I strolling through the maze, sometimes slowly, sometimes at a brisk pace, but always, always going forward.

CHUTES AND LADDERS…

The young girls stood excited at the city bus stop, anticipating spending their day downtown. Downtown consisted of Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers, beautiful brick and mortar multi level department stores. They were iconic to Richmond, Virginia, boasting the “Real Santa Claus” at Miller & Rhoads and the most beautifully decorated windows at Christmas. Both had tea rooms and bakeries and were places to gather with friends. There were ladies with hats and women in fur, men in dress shirts and ties and yes, even teenage girls out on a Saturday afternoon. It was the centerpiece of Richmond and “the” place to shop. The girls stepped onto the city bus, dropped their coins in the slot and headed out for the day. This particular route required a bus change and they made that without a hitch. Arriving downtown, they walked to their destination, usually starting with a little shopping, sometimes taking in a movie at the three old movie houses on Broad St., ending up at the tea room for lunch. Usually there was a stop by the bakery for eclairs, cream horns, mints or seven layer chocolate cake. It was a simpler time.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was very different than today. There was limited access to world events, no social media and limited resources for many. Many moms remained at home caring for the family while dads went off to work. Family roles were defined in a different way. In my case, my mom was on her own when I was just shy of 4, so going out into the workplace was not a choice, but a necessity. She worked hard and did whatever she needed to make ends meet. I don’t know how she did it, but my memories of childhood are nothing short of perfect.

We played outside whenever we could, in the yard, in the woods, building forts, collecting treasures. In the evening we returned for dinner, home cooked meals, sitting together at the table, sharing our day. As the light began to fade, we would return to the yard for Hide and Seek or Kick the Can. Catching lightening bugs was a highlight and we would make little lanterns with them. Baths and bedtime were next and as our eyes closed and we drifted into another world, memories of that day became etched in our mind. It was a simpler time.

I remember the excitement of playing board games. That may seem lame today, but there were no electronic games or computers or even access to movies outside the theaters. No cable, no Netflix, no tablets, and the phone was attached to the coiled cord which was attached to the wall. Board games were a staple of family life. Monopoly, Life, Candy Land and of course Chutes and Ladders. Families sat for hours around the table, talking, sharing, laughing and competing for everything from real estate to wealth.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Chutes and Ladders and it kind of imitates the journey of grief. You roll the dice, living each day as it comes and every now and then, you land on a space that either you find yourself sliding rapidly backwards or you find yourself climbing, going forward, embracing the changes. Each space, each day, each moment is filled with uncertainty, much like the roll of the dice. Will you climb today or will you slide back? It’s a minute to minute thing we call life.

You get used to the ups and downs and almost anticipate them. When you are able to land on the ladder, you relish the moment and remember the good times with your loved ones. Problem is, you know the chutes are always coming. It may be a special occasion, vacation, a place you spent together, the smell of a favorite cologne that causes you to land on the chute and rapidly free fall until at some point you grab on and hold tight trying not to go back to the beginning. You right yourself, roll the dice and once again take those steps, hoping in your heart, a ladder awaits. It sounds so simple.

As I continue to find my way through the maze, I find myself wanting to climb the ladder. I find myself wanting to be happy again and contented. I believe, with all my heart that the reason for this is because I have been blessed with a wonderful life. Although life is always a challenge, my life with Rick and my three daughters was so worth it. I sincerely want to find my ladder. I know the chutes are out there and I know there are huge ones in my near future, but I’ll take them as they come. If I slide, I will get up and look for a ladder, because only continuing to try will help you reach new heights. I think I’m up to the challenge.

Live and Love today like tomorrow will never come. Hold tight to your loved ones and the memories you make. You will never regret it.

GLASS HALF FULL…

The young couple carried their baby girl away from the Emergency Room of the local hospital. They were both very familiar with it as she had been working there as a nurse since graduation. It was home to her and she had total confidence in the care given there…until tonight. She looked at her husband and said “I don’t feel better. We’ve done all the right things, but I don’t feel better.” He agreed as he always depended on her for medical decisions, especially in this new father role he was still getting used to.

They arrived home and decided to put their precious little girl in their bed, her breathing was still abnormal, but better than earlier. She still wasn’t talking much and looked so vulnerable with her blond curls hanging loosely around her face. She was disheveled from the fever and from the last few hours of ER. Her eyes were tired, not the spark she always had. Being their first child, she had been very active and an overachiever from the beginning. This was not her, but the ER doctor had sent them home and he knew much more than they did…or did he?

The young mother lay beside her, eyes open, watching her breathe. It was still labored, but color was good and eventually she fell asleep. A few hours later she placed her hand on her forehead, best thermometer in the world, and the fever had returned. She crushed the baby aspirin in a tiny glass dish until it became powder and placed it in her cheek, rubbing it until it was completely dissolved. Minutes later, the three year old jumped out of bed and ran to the nightstand on the other side, picked up some ginger ale, drank it and immediately threw up. It was the first time she would stop breathing that night.

The frightened father grabbed her up and by this time her mother had the Pediatrician on the phone. Phones then were attached to long cords so it was very limiting. By this time they had been instructed to take her outside on a chilly December morning. On the front porch stood a fearful father, wondering what was happening. She immediately rallied and her breathing became less labored, as she lay there, her head on her daddy’s shoulders.

It was then the Pediatrician asked if they could get to the office right away. It was 4 am.

Jumping in the car, only taking time to put her in a car seat, they headed to the office, about 20-25 minutes away at this time of morning. They were both frightened and relieved. Arriving at the office, the doctor was waiting at the door. They placed her delicately on the exam table, trying not to scare her. The doctor looked at her for a matter of seconds and said she needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. He felt it was faster to go by car than to await a squad. He would be in the car behind and off they went.

On arrival, the nurses took her from the car and disappeared behind the double doors. The young parents could hear screaming and wailing and tears fell like a torrential rain. The little blond haired girl, so full of life was now in the hands of strangers and the people she trusted most sat in the plastic chairs in the dusky old waiting room, helpless.

In the next few hours the little girl would be admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of Epiglotitis, an infection of the epiglottis, a small flap that covers the trachea when swallowing so as not to allow food to enter the trachea. It was the #1 emergency in small children and they were told 20% of these children did not survive even with treatment. A tracheotomy would be the next treatment and the tray lay open by the bed.

Now the curls were falling over her daddy’s shoulder, once again, as she lay in his arms,head on his chest. This would be the second time she would stop breathing. IV meds, a call to the Pediatrician and gentle guidance for the parents and the little blond girl with the curls was flying down the road at 95mph to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in a downtown hospital. Her mother at her side, her dad in the car behind, trying to keep up, they arrived once again relinquishing their prize possession to the strangers in the scrubs with the understanding eyes. It was December 6, 1980.

I sit here this morning feeling grateful. Not sure where it came from, but I have this overwhelming attitude of gratitude. The last few weeks have been difficult and I know, without a doubt, that more are around the bend, but with that in mind I still have this peace. It is a peace I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

Maybe it is my intimate relationship with traumatic and indescribable loss, maybe it’s since I’ve been here before, maybe it’s what I’ve learned, maybe it’s me. I don’t really know, but what I do know is this. What a great life I’ve had. How blessed am I to have had the people and experiences I have had. The little girl with the blond curls is now 41. One different event could have changed the course in the story above, but as it played out, it was a happy ending. Not all events have a happy ending, life is not always rainbows and unicorns, but most of the time it is what you make it. I choose to make the rest of my life the best it can be. I know there will be mountains and valleys, but the mountains aren’t near as tall and the valleys aren’t near as deep. We don’t always get to choose our path, sometimes life goes in a different direction than we had wanted. It’s a choice to stay on the path and follow it to see what’s at the end or sit down, give up, and stay right where you are forever. Forever is a very long time.

I was almost finished with this blog when I heard the horrible news of the helicopter crash claiming multiple lives, some children. Today feels like the end of the world to these families. I’m sure the air around the crash site is thick with grief. In this case it is someone famous, but I can assure you there are others right now feeling that same seering pain of loss, those without fame or fortune, no notoriety, but they are feeling the same feelings and shedding the same salty tears. As they enter the maze today, please think of them, their families, their friends and all of those hurt by life’s twists and turns. If you pray, say an extra prayer, if you don’t send them good thoughts for healing.

The maze was very sunny today, bright and hopeful. Tonight it feels dark again as I empathize with all of those hurting. I am slowly but surely finding my way through the darkness and seeing that light of hope. Hug your kids tonight extra tight, tell your family you love them one more time, call your parents, visit your grandparents, forgive those that hurt you, kiss your dog on the nose. End your day on a positive note because tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Love, laugh, have fun, be kind, notice those around you, say hello to strangers and that is what will change your tomorrow.

This week I have been able to refill my glass, not all the way, but it is definitely half full again. I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful week.

THE COLORS OF GRIEF…

She was a little unsure about renting something sight unseen, but everyone was doing it these days. Besides, there were so many people it would be much cheaper. On a whim, she looked up Airbnb and there it was, The Skittle Shack. The pictures were precious, bright and cheery, good location, plenty of room and just a few miles from the grandson she adored. She placed the deposit.

The vacation with the family was good, but harder than she anticipated. The absence of her husband and soulmate was much more painful than she imagined it would be. She thought everyone having fun would help her get through it, but actually that’s not how grief works. Now they headed the van north to spend the last two days with her grandson. The trip was easy and they reached their destination a little early. Everyone piled out and before them sat the most adorable little White House with chairs on the front porch, table in between. The door unlocked just as the directions had said and before her was every color of the rainbow, decor, furniture, and everywhere they looked were Packets of Skittles.

Her daughter was immediately drawn to the coffee table and reached for a book lying there. Her mother noted the quiet and then the tears welling up in her daughter’s eyes. “Read this mom, wow” was all she could say. Her mom took the book and started to read about a beautiful little girl that had died, leaving these thoughts about life. Her mother compiled it and it is the centerpiece of the house. That mother also lost her husband after losing her daughter. Was this a coincidence or was the Skittle Shack exactly where she needed to be?

The Skittle Shack was not only precious, but full of personality. Everything there was done in bright colors of the rainbow just as the candy reflects. I realized they are the “colors of grief”. First you are drawn to the reds and in grief, this reminds me of the realization that someone is gone. Red reminds me of being upset and distraught and it almost screams at you that life is forever different, forever changed and nothing you can do will change that.

The purples reflect the sadness that comes with losing someone you love. It’s a somber feeling that washes over your entire being. Some have feelings of depression and sadness that don’t even allow them to function. Others, the hues are a little kinder and they manage to work through it a little easier.

The greens generally show growth and this is necessary for grievers. We have to start to sprout again, although very slow, the seeds must be planted for that to happen. Planting the seeds means doing the work and the work of grief is difficult. It requires tools, perseverance, patience, and stamina. The Earth is scorched so the seed must be placed delicately in the ground to eventually flourish. It has to have water and nutrients and plenty of sunshine.

Yellow is, to me, the color of hope. It is sunshine against a blue sky. It makes the world brighter in the darkest of days. It brings flowers and rainbows and overall makes everyone feel a little better. To look toward the sun is to look toward the light and following the light is what we want to do. The darkness is frightening and makes us unsure of our next step. When pursuing light, the steps are easier and more confident.

Orange is the color of patience. You must be patient with yourself and with others. The grief journey is long and hard and most of all worth it. Orange is bright and cheerful, but not stark like yellow. It reflects the time it takes to absorb the news, let yourself be sad about the loss, plant the seed and wait for the sun to help the sprout peek out from beneath the dark ground.

The rest of it becomes softer and the colors start to blend, just as the colors of the rainbow that appears after the storm. It’s the promise of tomorrow, of something else waiting to be discovered, adventures yet to be revealed. It is said you must walk through the storm to be able to dance in the rain. I’ve walked through the storm and although I am still playing in the puddles, I haven’t drowned yet.

A twelve year old girl wrote “A Guide to Life” and left behind her wisdom through simple everyday thoughts and behaviors. We could all learn a lesson from this precious life taken too soon. Her mother shares this journey and donates some of the proceeds to the local Children’s Hospital, not too far from The Skittle Shack.

This is the note I left for the owner and note it is written in colors.

Just like The Skittle Shack, I choose color in my life and although it gets dark at times, I will always continue to look toward the light.