Permission to Be Human

I went for a walk with another bereaved mom over the summer. I don’t know her well – our husbands know one another professionally. I do not recall exactly how we found out their eldest son, a young adult, was killed, but it is the grief connection – that gritty, real-life element we have in common – which eventually led to our meeting a couple of years ago. And then this walk together on a Saturday morning.

As with any new acquaintance and those first few encounters between you, you are aware of being on uncertain ground as you ask questions, share stories. The fact that we have both lost children, we like to exercise, we are both reasonably active and engaged people — those give us a bond, and yet: are we otherwise similar enough (or open enough) that we want – or need? – to be closer friends? What is it that she needs from me, from other humans, especially right now? What is it that I need?

And why do you always feel, somewhere deep down inside, like that little 9 (or maybe 13…15…18) year old that was you – brand new to a class, a school, a neighborhood, a situation – and trying to figure out the ropes? 

Middle School Emily

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It (Often) IS More Than You Can Handle

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                 1 Corinthians 10:13(NIV)

I recently heard about this book, “More Than You Can Handle: When Life’s Overwhelming Pain Meets God’s Overwhelming Grace” by Nate Pyle.  The author – a pastor – and his wife struggled with infertility, an ectopic pregnancy that had to be ended, a plunge into mental anguish/anxiety, job loss, a messed-up adoption process…and he has counseled numerous parishioners through their own hells. As I scrolled through the Amazon listing and good reviews, I thought, “Well. That’s a lot of reality. And, I am detecting zero rainbow-hued platitudes, no scriptural syrup! That means: I have to buy it!” Poor Steve. We use his Amazon Prime account for all our ordering, so he gets emails every time I buy something and every time its shipped. Between shoes, books, shoes getting returned, cat-pee treatments, more books, bird seed, cat calming treats, cat pheromone diffusers…and my inability to place orders for MULTIPLE things, vs. one thing each time it occurs to me (!) …I’m amazed he gets any work done.

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Fine Lines



Here’s where a fine line really mattered; I was in that little slice of white, below the dark purple edge of a pretty strong storm. Yikes.

Perhaps that title – Fine Lines – is a great tag line for women “of a certain age” (except mine are approaching “deep, cratered groove” status), but as I sit here in Sanibel*, avoiding the midday sun, what I am intending to tackle is that space between what is very good, and what can be unhelpful or misguided. The line between is, in fact, often quite thin.

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Getting Real(er)

Written in April…I was going to share this to Facebook, but chickened out.

It’s the season of Lent, when churchy people often either take on or give up something in order to draw closer to God. I’ve decided I’m going to give up acting Like I’ve Got My Sh*t Together, and just be real about my life right now.

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Blue Christmases and Improbable Hope


I know, I know. It may be February now, but you are humming right along with me. “Decorations of red, on a green Christmas tree…won’t be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me…”

I’d never heard of a “Blue Christmas” (or “Comfort”) service before the middle of last December: it’s a church service for those experiencing grief, a sense of loss during the holidays. But now I have added it to my list of “New Experiences I Never Wanted to Have, and Yet It Did Something Good.”

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On Being Real, Getting Schooled (Again)…and Cat-Killers


He really is the cutest bio-terrorist you ever met.

One of the the things grievers struggle with is when to reveal the truth – the whole my-life-is-completely-changed-because-of-this-terrible-loss truth (much less “oh, but I think my kid still communicates!”) – about ourselves. Who can handle it? Who cannot?  And is there a broader lesson here, for us all, about the importance of being real? Sometimes, I have found, the truth just sort of takes over…and further: that it’s more than okay. Being truthful can deliver you to a place of Presence.

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Trust The Storm

silhouette photography of boat on water during sunset

Photo by Johannes Plenio on

I wrote this on October 6 – two days before the third anniversary (crapiversary, re-birthday, you pick) of Mark’s death. I’m part of an online book club that is reading Richard Rohr’s “Breathing Underwater” which is about the spirituality of the 12 Step program(s).  The first Step is to admit you have no control over the chaos that is your life, your addiction(s) (and BTW, addictions take MANY forms); and then subsequent Steps take you into surrender, into releasing the illusion of control. It is a powerful book. These are my thoughts, as we moved through the first few chapters.

This is a terrible time of year for us; in spite of all my efforts to stay sane, to reject the “artificiality” of loading one day with more weight than the other 364 days we are forced to live without Mark: I’m very vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to rock my boat. And yet stuff happens and keeps happening. All the way from minor irritations to (what feels like, at least right now) major catastrophes. I still, deep down, want to believe I now hold a “get out of jail free” card. “Man, my kid died and so, God, [since, you know, I get to call the shots!] I’m expecting you to make sure the rest of the road is kind of flat and smooth.”

Except that doesn’t seem to happen.

How do I find my way to solid ground when it feels like I’m drowning in a stormy ocean?

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On Things I Cannot Know, Explain…or Deny

The two months since the Bereaved Parents conference have been very full.

Sarah began her employment in our county school system and her schedule impacts ours – if we want to see her, at least. We love to hear snippets of her days with the small children she is teaching. We are bemused and sometimes frustrated by her lifestyle, like so many parents, because she, like so many millenials, cannot seem to live without spending most of her disposable income on avocado toast and gourmet burgers (this is a joke, and not really one! Heh! Heh. Hmm).

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Ride Restrictions


You probably thought I was kidding about Plastic Cows.

This summer – which is not even close to over, in spite of the fall clothing sprouting on retail racks – has hustled along. I look back nostalgically to slower times, when the kids were little: summer consisted of eating (a lot of corn and tomatoes and grilled things), a few errands, a few chores, and long afternoons at the pool (and once the kids could swim, delicious hours with my head buried in a novel). Or…at least I knew my boundaries then, my priorities – I literally could not over-stuff the days, with my two hangers-on. My own rest and refreshment were guaranteed, at least here and there, because I needed to make sure our kids had plenty of it.

Now: well, there’s work, obviously, and all the stuff minimally required for personal and housing upkeep – that hasn’t changed. Then there’s the newer wrinkles like walking the cat (yes, it’s a thing, and he likes it) and my MIL’s life/care to oversee (she’s doing well-enough in her new digs, thank God). I volunteer a fair amount and will probably continue my one-day-a-week at the preschool. I’m genetically predisposed to DO.

And then there’s trying really really hard to be good, hands-off-but-we’re-right-here-waiting-to-impart-Wisdom-really!-right-over-here-not-too-busy-at-all!-yep-right-over-here! parents to our young adult co-occupant.

Honestly, I feel like one of those people at the circus who keeps innumerable plates spinning on top of bendy poles (most of the women reading this are probably nodding: Yep, that’s what we do). There are a number of plates, most of them of similar size. There isn’t one BIG plate that I get to favor or attend to; I cannot get rid of any of the plates either (or I cannot give myself permission to do so…?).

Behind it all, woven through it all, even invading my dreams – sort of like never-ending background music, except not as lovely – has been My Brain Thinking About Too Many Things, but mostly “can it…shouldn’t my life be different? Oh please: can it please be different?” But I have either NO idea, or too many ideas, as to WHAT, much less HOW.

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Groundhog Days

In late April, we heard from my MIL’s social worker (she lives in a senior center with every level of care – independent living through skilled nursing). Apparently, Steve’s sweet mom had “eloped” – their term for leaving the building, going AWOL – and with a little investigation it turned out that wasn’t the first time she’d wandered (although always inside the building up to now). So the thought was that it was time to move her from her cozy, now-familiar 1 BR unit on the 3rd floor and into the memory care (secure) portion of assisted living in another building. There, the units are all just…bedrooms. Not-even-a-studio, 10×14, only-slightly-well-disguised hospital rooms.

The kicker was there were two rooms in a 10-room unit available and my MIL’s best friend was also being tagged for this change of location. Wouldn’t it be better to have them move together?

(YES. But. What if it’s US that are not ready? It’s May…Sarah is getting her master’s, then there’s Mark’s memorial dedication…then his birthday in June. Our emotions are already in a tangle. Nnnggggh! God! We gotta talk…)

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