Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'll Try Thanksgiving

I didn't cook my first turkey until I was 35 years old.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

Not if you live in our house.

For 35 years I'd done a pretty good job flying under the radar, bringing the green bean casserole and similar side dishes.

But then I decided to host Thanksgiving and pretend I was all grown up.

This involved getting up at 6 a.m. to prepare the bird (one word: gross).

Since this was such a momentous occasion, I convinced my mom (or maybe it was Scott?) to document it on videotape. I could tell you exactly who was behind the camera if I'd take the time to watch the tape. But, I've been off family videos for about a year now. When you're trying to hold it together for the rest of your family, function at work, and convince yourself you can do this, you do everything you can to keep up the facade. And right now that means not watching family videos. At some point I will. When I can schedule in time to fall into a puddle of tears on the floor and not come out of the house for a few days.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving 2011.

I'm preparing the bird and Addie stumbles out of her room (it's 6 a.m. remember). She takes a look at the turkey, faces the camera and deadpans, "So I guess mom cooks now."

And I guess I don't need a videotape to remember that moment.

That's one memory fixed firmly in my mind.

I relive it often. And it makes me smile.



And double over in pain.

That was the first time I cooked a turkey.

And, the last.

Thanksgiving hasn't been all that great the last two years.

Year one was a complete disaster.

I was one week postpartum and eight months out from losing Addie. I wanted nothing to do with Thanksgiving. My family was fractured.

But my mom showed up with something called a turkey loaf (because that's what moms do). She cooked it up, plus a handful of other Thanksgiving side dishes, all the while taking care of Landry and taking care of me. God. Bless. That. Woman.

The timer went off, dinner was served. I took my spot at the table and tears fell right onto the turkey loaf. This was the first time we'd sat at the table as a family without Addie.

We haven't sat down as a family since.

Year two was a bit softer. We went to my mom and dad's house, a house Addie never set foot into, which somehow makes things easier as there isn't a memory lurking around every corner. We had real turkey. It was nice, uneventful.

Now we're on year three.

And I'm trying. Really, I am.

That's the important thing, right?

I bought a turkey. A teeny-tiny 6 pound bird, but a turkey nonetheless. I bought stuffing. And a box of instant potatoes. Corn. A spice cake mix.

I know, I know. It sounds like Thanksgiving out of a box.

But this is progress.

For me.

And then I got sick. Pre-Thanksgiving diet sick.

Perhaps that was a sign.

Thanksgiving was not to be this year.

But I'd started thawing the turkey two days ago.

Aaaaand, it was still frozen as of 9 p.m. last night.

Perhaps another sign?

The turkey's sitting in cold water now.

Guess I'm still trying.

Because that's what moms do.

They try to give their kids Thanksgiving, this holiday they've been learning about at school all week. Our boys need a frame of reference, they need a story similar to the ones their classmates have at school.

So, I try even though Thanksgiving at our house is nothing like Thanksgiving at theirs.

I'll give them Thanksgiving.

And I'll keep saying it over and over and over again.

So I guess mom cooks now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


If everything was right in my world, there would be 12-year-old girl asleep in my basement.

She'd be impossible to wake up in the morning, what with the activities and homework and hormones and all.

There'd be blinds on the window of her bedroom and various beauty products scattered across the top of her bathroom counter. There'd be uniforms to wash, math homework to struggle over, and friends moving in and out of her circle and back in again.

If everything was right in our world, we'd be prepping for our first junior high dance, laying out potential outfits and experimenting with hairstyles, all the while pretending not to care about impressing anyone.

Instead, Scott and I are desperately trying to find a way to escape this weekend, to wrap ourselves in some sort of soft cocoon that surely will protect us until it's safe to come out.

If everything was right in our world.

I've said it before: our axis shifted the day Addie died. Our world will forever be off. And my visions of a pre-teen girl sacked out in her bed stressing over homework (and, let's be honest here, seriously stressing over whether anyone will actually ask her to dance at the dance) are visions that exist only in my mind. They are what I remember from being a 12-year-old girl.

And what I wanted so much for my girl.

Friday, October 17, 2014

So Here's a Metaphor for Grief (Sorta)

It's no secret I'm a sucker for all things sentimental. You can read more on that here, here, and here.

So when we headed west for Colorado, I just knew I had to pay a visit to the one place that means so much to me and my family. We talk about special places. This place is not just special. It's sacred.

The first time I visited Mirror Lake I couldn't have been more than 10 years old. I suppose if I asked nicely, my mom could probably rustle up a photo or 10 from that vacation. Heck, I wouldn't even have to ask all that nicely. But I really don't think posting a picture of me at 10 years old would be doing anybody any favors (least of all me). Let's just say it was the 80s. There may have been a bad perm, bad glasses, and biker shorts involved. Oh yeah, and an overbite.

Anyway, my dad was always up for an adventure and I guess my little brother and I were too. So, we ended up on a 3.4 mile hike off Wildernest Road.

Technically, it's the Lily Pad Lake Trail and there is a lake covered with lily pads. It's pretty cool and all. But, just a stone's throw on the other side of that lake is a body of water that is absolutely breath-taking.

We call it Mirror Lake.

And here's why:

Now, we've been to Colorado many, many times since that initial hike, and it's safe to say a trip up to Mirror Lake is always on our itinerary. Obviously I'm not the only sentimental person in my family.

But this time it was going to be a little tricky.

I wasn't sure I could handle a trip to Mirror Lake. Not without Addie.

Still, I found myself asking Isaac if he'd like to go on his first trip to Mirror Lake (and hoping that he'd say yes).

He did.

And while we talked about wild animals and forest fires and tree roots and everything else that interests a 7-year-old boy, this hike was also a chance for me to explain to Isaac that it really is possible for mom to be happy and sad at the exact same time. So sad that Addie wasn't there for one more hike, but so happy that Isaac was.

As I've had time to process our trip (especially this hike), I've come to realize this incredibly long and grueling grief journey is kind of like a 3.4 mile hike in the mountains. Only a whole lot longer.

So here we are at the trail head. What you don't see is the ridiculously steep incline that is the first 300 yards of this hike. It is literally an uphill climb.

And that's exactly what grief is like in the early days.

For some, it's a battle to even get out of bed in the morning.

Not for me.

I got out of bed, got the boys dressed, and sent them off to daycare (thank God for daycare).

I could not deal. With anything. With them.

For me it was a battle to get out of the chair. I'd sit there for hours, combing the Internet, looking for answers as the what-if's, the why's, and the what the hell's swirled around in my head.

The only thing that could get me out of the chair was knowing full-well that a little yellow school bus would come tooling down the lane around 3:45 p.m. each day and my daughter would not be getting off. Not that day. Not ever. Knowing this, I would retreat to my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and wait for the sound of the bus shifting gears to fade away. I did this. Every day.

Then, you return to work. You function. Pay bills. Tuck your kids in at night. Cry. Struggle to fall asleep. Or want nothing more than to fall into your bed and never wake up.

Perhaps you even brave a trip to the grocery store where there's a favorite cereal and favorite snack at the end of every aisle. You wander aimlessly, settling on bread, macaroni, and applesauce.

It was an uphill climb and I'd just as soon stay at the bottom most days.

But somehow you make it to the top of that initial climb, and then, and only then you realize just how far you've come.

There are smiles, even laughs.

Silliness. Selfies.

And sadness.


And yet, you continue down the path. There are roots and rocks. You must tread carefully. Sometimes, the path is so treacherous, you must reach out and grasp the hand of another, just to make it across.

At times the path is smooth. We relish these times. Walk a little faster. Perhaps we've found a way to cope. We busy ourselves with projects, get lost in a book, organize our pantries, our storage rooms, our garages. Perhaps we've found a way around it all.

And then,we stumble upon rocks and roots and yes, even the occasional uphill climb.

I'm not going to lie. The past six months have been one, gigantic uphill climb.

We must slow down, rest even. Golden Oreos are completely optional (but highly recommended).

And so we continue on this path, with its rocks and its roots. We rest when we must. Reach out for help when we need it.

And when we get a brief reprieve, we must slow down and enjoy the view.

And the people we get to share it with.

All the while remembering those who gave us so much to miss.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rosie, Get on Board

This is the story of a dog, and a special one at that.

A rescue dog, sent to rescue a family who, in the past two years, has lost a dog, two cats, a frog, and, a little girl.


Addie, the animal lover. Addie, the little girl with big plans. To be a vet (with summers off, of course). To rescue animals both tame and wild. To foster dogs like the ones she read about in Ellen Miles' Puppy Place books. To work tirelessly for animal rights, much like the officers she saw on the TV show Animal Cops Houston, which, by the way, she watched religiously.

Addie, the advocate, who convinced her friend to mix up some sweet lemonade with her one summer day and sell it and send all the profits to the Humane Society.

Who prompted an entire community to get out and give big to the Humane Society in the days following her death.

So, when it came time to get another dog - and, let's be honest, that time came a little bit sooner for the boys than it did for mom and dad, we knew we wanted to adopt one from the Humane Society.

We just didn't know Addie would have a hand in picking her out.

Here's the story:

As we were getting ready to go on a hike in Colorado, I dug deep into the pockets of the diaper bag, searching for the bottle of sunscreen. What I found was this:

A little in-church illustration Addie had made to pass the time. I'm sure it got shoved in the bottom of the bag, along with the church bulletin, half a dozen Matchbox cars, and Tripp's supply of Cheerios. And it chose to surface on that particular day, which, I know, doesn't seem like a big deal. But it is. Because just that week I'd run across a dog - named Rosie BTW - on the Humane Society's website.

Cut to July 31 and Isaac, Tripp, Landry, my mom and I walking out of the Humane Society with this little gal (not before sending a quick text to Scott that said something like "oh yes we did").

So, like I said: this is a story of a rescue dog sent to rescue us. And I'd like to wrap up the story all nice and tidy and end it right here.

But I can't.

Because there have been days when I've wondered if Addie was playing a big, fat joke on us.

Days like these:

Landry's learned how to string two sentences together since
Rosie's arrival. "Ro-Ro, no. Cage."

Not to mention escape attempts 1, 2, and 3.

Imagine my surprise when I locked Rosie in her cage, took Isaac, Tripp, and Landry into town for all of 30 minutes only to return to a Beagle's nose pressed up against our living room window. A good blogger would have taken pictures of this as well as the mangled cage, but I was too busy cleaning up No. 1 and No. 2 in my bedroom.

I guess that's not really an escape attempt, huh?

Then there was the string of counter-jumping incidents, complete with broken dishes and a shredded Pringles can.

Here's the loaf of bread she retrieved from our pantry. And sampled.

And then there's the fact she hasn't exactly been Scott's biggest fan - even though he's the one who feeds her and walks her every morning. She howls and growls just about every time he walks through the door. And Scott's resorted to howling and growling back.

But I think she's coming around.

In all seriousness, Rosie is a great dog, and I do believe she was meant to be our dog.

Thanks, Addie, for giving us the nudge and always reminding us that "animals are people too."

Friday, August 29, 2014

(Almost) Home

You might say I'm a sucker for signs. Especially those that are painted and a little bit primitive. I have them all around my house.


And, at various points in my life, each sign - with its simple message - has served as a mantra of sorts.

So when it came time to finally cover up an enormous nail hole select the perfect piece to go above our fireplace, I just knew a sign was the way to go.

But, considering all that's happened, what's my mantra now?

Life was good. And then it wasn't.

Don't worry. It'll all be over soon.

I'm kidding. Sort of.

Obviously, I needed something a bit more, um, inspirational, something that wouldn't make guests do a double-take when they entered our home. And, I needed something that said this is our family.

And what worked for us before just doesn't cut it anymore.


So, I spent a weekend tossing around a few ideas (nothing really worth mentioning here) and one in particular just stuck. It was this idea of home and what home should be.

Before all of this, home wasn't half-bad. Sure it was loud and it was messy. You can read more about that here and here. But it was also beautiful because everybody that I loved was right here, within arm's reach.

Without Addie, I'm not sure it'll ever quite get back to the way that it was.

It's home, but it's not.

The noise has resumed. The messes too. In fact, I'm not sure either ever really went away. But, there is a voice missing. There's one less baby to tuck in and kiss goodnight, one less plate at the dinner table. We smile for the camera, but it'll never be quite right.

It'll never be home.

So, we settle for what we have in our almost home. And we realize this place where we live and work and love really isn't our home at all. Never has that been more apparent to me than it is right now.

I could try to put into words exactly what it is I'm talking about, but I'm not going to do that. What I've realized (and I'm really trying to avoid going all Mary Katherine Gallagher on you now) can best be summed up in the song Blessings by Laura Story.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is
the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?

I have a deep-seated need to have my family all good and whole again. And, there is no substitute for that. I do believe things will be good again (they are at times), but I know our lives will never be right until we're Home.

So, until then, we're almost Home.

Plus, that sounds so much better than that it'll all be over soon stuff.

So, about the actual sign.

I contacted Deb from Deb Hrabik Designs and gave her the scoop on what I wanted.. We tossed around a few ideas, traded a few emails. She painted. I waited. And within a couple weeks time it was here. 

What can I say? I. Love. It.

And here's why:

It's beautiful (obviously). It's big. And it's bold.

It says and does everything I wanted it to. It even hides the incredibly large nail hole, so that's a bonus.

But here's the best part: there's a piece of Addie in that sign. 

That, my friends, is Addie's handwriting (and all Deb's idea) taken from a story she had written in fourth grade.

We are well-aware of the huge, gaping hole that's been left in our hearts and our lives, but seeing that little piece of Addie on my wall every day makes me feel like she's saying, "It's OK, mom. You're doing alright. You're almost there."


Back to School

Note: This post was actually written a year ago when I first began teaching at Addie's school. But, I sat on it, fretted about it, and finally decided to roll with it. Especially since these days I've been feeling like I'm right back where I was. Sigh.

It’s no secret that the first week of school can be a bit of a shock to the system.

Gone are the days of spending half the day in your jammies, pinching snacks from the fridge at 10 in the morning, and lounging around the pool, or in my case, lounging on the couch with Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil.

Nope, come 8 a.m., it’s go time.

Go time for me came and went a little over a week ago.

I’m not going to lie, I had a hard time getting out of the gate.

And this had nothing to do with school itself.

It was everything else.

That’s the funny thing about grief (and I hate using that word – funny – because, really, there’s nothing funny about it). People tell you you’re strong and there are times you start to believe it a little bit and then you find yourself pinning all these inspirational messages on Pinterest and really believing it.

And then you crumble.

For me that happened two days before school was supposed to start.

At open house.

Well, after open house, technically.

During open house I stood there smiling, my throat in a vise, as I watched seventh-graders and their parents struggle with locker combinations, empty backpacks filled with school supplies, and move from classroom to classroom meeting this year’s teachers, all the while thinking about the little girl who won’t ever set foot in the seventh-grade hallway.

Let’s face it, two days before school starts isn’t exactly an opportune time to start doubting whether you can do this. Especially since Pinterest had been telling me I could do this all summer long.

Stupid Pinterest.

Stupid me.

Stupid cancer.

And then, school started.

My first go with a group of Addie’s classmates was a little awkward.

It was a five-minute exchange before they checked out books.

I was nervous. So I snapped into teacher mode. I may have even avoided eye contact.

And that felt awful.

Who was this person standing in front of them?

It wasn’t me.

And who were these kids staring back at me?

Her friends. The girls who suckered me into filming a staged video that they were certain would win them $10,000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos (it didn’t). The girls who convinced me kittens were trapped inside our walls (they weren’t). The girls who swore they beat Scott and me in a dance-off on Just Dance 2 (they most certainly did not). 

Their Mii’s are still on our Wii console, their notes and phone numbers and proclamations of being BFF’s are secured safely among Addie’s keepsakes, and their acts of friendship - in the face of the absolute worst - will forever be written on my heart.  

These are her friends.

Luckily, the next go-around was markedly better. I kicked the teacher to the curb and decided to just go with me.

I asked for a show of hands to see who already knew who I was.

Silly question.

I’m Addie’s Mom.

And I can do this.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'The Best Vacation Ever'

According to 5-year-old Tripp, last week's little jaunt to Colorado was, in fact, the best vacation ever.

He proclaimed this from a mountain top.

After bouncing up and down on a bungee trampoline at Peak 8.

The best vacation ever, huh.

Compared to what?

You see, this poor guy has spent half his life on the after side of death. Gosh that sounds awful, doesn't it? But, anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a child knows time is divided in two parts: before and after. And these parts are not equal. Not at all.

The last great vacation took place in June 2011. And it was just that: great.

But little man was only 2 years old.

So we started planning this vacation a couple of months ago. There was no intention of making it the best vacation ever. That was an added bonus, I guess. We simply wanted the boys to know that mountains exist. Seriously.

And so, we headed to our old familiar Summit County, knowing full-well the trip would pretty much plan itself.

It did.

There was swimming.

A little hiking.

Chipmunk feeding.

Sliding and jumping.

As well as general lounging around, shopping, playing air hockey, and introducing the boys to the classic film The Sandlot.

And Isaac, of course, asking, "Why do those boys say so many mean words?"

Stay innocent, Isaac. And don't you ever call your brother crapface (or any other name you picked up while watching that DVD not once, not twice, but three times in three days).

So, was it the best vacation ever?

There was more good than bad.

And that's something.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Melodies and Memories

It's no secret music can evoke all sorts of memories.

Country music star Eric Church sings about it in his song Springsteen, which, while released in 2011, didn't see much air play until Summer 2012 - after Addie was gone. If you don't believe me on my dates, look it up. After months of not listening to anything but the sound of my own voice asking why, why, why, I found myself driving down the road one day and flipping on the radio and hearing Church sing about the power and pull one song can have.

Funny how a melody sounds like a memory, like a soundtrack to a 
July Saturday Night.

It's true, you know.

Whether it's an opening riff or a refrain we just can't get out of our heads, songs can take us back to another time and another place where, maybe, we were entirely different people.

I know if I hear Juice Newton's Queen of Hearts I'm instantly transported back to 1983. There I sit, wedged between mom and dad in the front seat of our old Pontiac as we wind our way down a mountain road. There's me hitting the rewind button over and over again, listening to the sound of the tape literally spinning and shredding out of control, before giving way to the sweet strums of a guitar.

Anything by the Steve Miller Band and I'm sitting in the back of a bus riding home from a high school track meet. Our faces are sweat-streaked. And wind whips through the windows, stirring up dust and stories that probably shouldn't be repeated.

College brought an eclectic mix of Ace of Base, Offspring, George Strait, and just about any song that was released on a Jock Jams CD. I can call that eclectic, right?

And motherhood? That was marked by Elmo's Favorite Songs I and II, Sheryl Crow, and me and Addie belting out Jackson along with Johnny and June as we drove down Highway 6.

Picture this girl singing I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today
by Gretchen Wilson.

These days my iPhone serves as a time capsule of sorts. I haven't added a whole lot of music since Addie died, partly because, well, how dare the music industry keep cranking out hits when my daughter is gone? And partly because the only reason I even had money in my iTunes account was because Addie didn't have a chance to spend all of the $15 on the iTunes gift card I'd given her for Valentine's Day.

So, as I plug in my ear buds and head off for a run, it's either a pleasant stroll down memory lane or a harrowing walk through a minefield, depending on which songs come up on my playlist.

If I hear the boom, boom, clap, boom de-clap, de-clap of Hannah Montana's Hoedown Throwdown, I'm reminded of a much, much simpler time when Addie and her friends Adiah and Olivia worked through their school talent show routine (and also of a young lady who was known more for her best of both worlds TV show than what she can do with a foam finger).

This is the girl I picture when I hear
anything from High School Musical
or Hannah Montana.

Anything by Adele and I'm running, running, running down the road or on a treadmill when my only reason for running was to shave off a few pounds and stay in shape. And that's what I opted to do on March 19, 2012, the day before Addie's cancer diagnosis. She was getting better. Her fever had gone down. She was going to go back to school the next day, certainly it was OK to steal away for 30 minutes at the fitness center.

So I did.

With ear buds in, I revved up the treadmill. One of Addie's friends came in and joined me. We talked about how Addie was coming back to school tomorrow, how her reading group had made it through the fourth grade book and were ready to move up to the fifth grade one. One of Scott's friends stopped by. We talked about how we really need to get together.

The next time I saw him was in the hospital. He and his wife were one of the many people who came up to offer support, prayers, and whatever it is you offer in times like these. And then, he's in my kitchen, the morning Addie died. He's carrying two sackfuls of bread and everything you would possibly need to make a sandwich and doing whatever it is you do when you don't know what to do.

Music triggers something in each of us. Suddenly everything's crystal clear.

We really need to get together.

We're moving up to the fifth grade book.

She's going back to school tomorrow.

I'm on a treadmill, my daughter - my girl -  is dying. Only I don't know it yet.

Will we ever truly know the impact
of this loss?

My God, skip to the next song.


Music, melodies, memories. What song does it for you? And where does it take you?