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June 2010

June 17

Today is Gram's birthday, and Ruthie's, and we are so lucky to have them both.

Twelve years ago on June 17th, we woke up in the Omni Hotel in Chicago.  Room service delivered waffles with fresh strawberries and hot coffee.  We were to be in the lobby at seven a.m. and we dressed quickly. I had been told to wear any color except white.

In the elevator we met a Mom and her teenage daughter.  We made small talk and then stepped tentatively into the lobby where a limousine driver was waiting.  We climbed into the long black car.  Driving down the streets of Chicago, our youngest passenger asked if we could ride past Oprah's house, he said "No". 

When we arrived at Harpo Studios we were taken to the "Green Room"... although as I recall it wasn't green at all.  Couches and chairs and a table with finger foods.  Everyone was very nice but very busy and very matter of fact.  It is all sort of a blur but I remember several things clearly... Oprah came into the building wearing a hunter green sweat suit and matching baseball cap.  We saw her in the hallway. If I had seen her on the street I would never have recognized her. 

The make up woman was polite and insistent as she added eye liner and mascara and powder and blush and lipstick and redid my hair.  I looked in the mirror and felt a wave of nausea wash over me.  I told her that I couldn't go on television looking that way.  She assured me that the lights would wash me out and I would look completely natural.  I didn't believe a word of it.

I looked around the room at the larger than life photos of Oprah with a variety of celebrities... past guests.  I looked at those of us being made up and given instructions.  We weren't celebrities.  We weren't famous.  Mostly we were a little pitiful.  The young girl who had shared the limousine ride had cancer.  She and her Mom had come to talk about the impact Robert Urich had made on their lives.  A young mother with breast cancer, and her family.  Jules and me.  There was a soft buzz of private conversations, but mostly we sat quietly, waiting. 

A number of individuals with clipboards and headphones came in and hustled about.  I kept seeing myself in the glass over the large photos and asked for the bathroom.  I wet some of those hard brown paper towels and tried to wash enough of the make up off to look more like me but not enough to be chastised.  I cried and tried not to be sick.  I wondered what on earth I was thinking to agree to this.  Then I thought about what an amazing Angel Shannon must be, to have arranged for me to meet Oprah only two weeks after arriving in Heaven.  I thought about how my email had actually been read.... when all I wanted to do was thank Oprah for her part in making Shannon happy.  I wanted her to know that Shannon took the Gratitude Journal seriously and that she had appeared in the five daily thank yous on more than one occasion.  I remembered how kind and gentle the producer had been on the phone and how amazing a coincidence it was that they had planned a show on Gratitude right before they received my e mail.

I remember being "Mic'ed", little wires tucked inside my slip and down my back.  I remember being led to our seats and being handed a blue four by six card with suggested text.  I remember that my tiny microphone didn't work and they had to do it a second time and I was tickled because I knew it was Shannon letting me know she was there.  I also thought that maybe Shannon's recipients had been flown in and were going to be introduced to us...that while they were leading me back behind the set, rewiring me, they were secretly placing the anonymous recipient in the seat beside mine and they were going to surprise me.  I know, it was a foolish thought considering that those dear people had had major surgery only weeks before but the thought played in my head, none the less. Oprahtv

Then Oprah came onto the stage.  She announced that the show was "Letters to Oprah".  Jules and I looked at each other and that all too familiar wave of nausea flooded me once again.  A Basketball player's wife whined about how Oprah had lumped her husband in with other professional "dead beat Dad" athletes.  Jules was furious.  I was simply in shock.  After the commercial break, a slide show of Shannon's photos filled the screen and Oprah read my e mail to her about Shannon.  I remember thinking that I had to make Shannon proud of me.  I had to be articulate and calm. I must not cry.  I looked at her precious smile and the reality of our life smacked me square between my black lined eyes.  Only forty eight days earlier I had been another person.  I had laughed and loved and trusted and hoped and ... now I was sitting in the audience of the Oprah Winfrey Show holding Shannon's journal in my lap.  I was telling Oprah how we had purchased every Gratitude Journal in Waldenbooks for friends and how Shannon was grateful for Chapstick and Good Egg Salad.  Oprah was wearing her hair in corn rows.  She looked lovely.  She was very gracious as she handed us the soft green eight by eleven journals so that we could continue expressing our gratitude.  We were pitiful.

She also gave the mother with breast cancer a video camera so that she could record messages for the children she was going to leave behind, and a video message from Robert Urich, who was battling the same rare cancer as the sweet optimistic young girl who had wanted to see where Oprah lived.

When the taping was over Jules and I packed our overnight bag and the limousine took us back to the airport.  We didn't say very much.  What was there to say?  It was all a blur, like a dream that just won't end.  When we arrived in Richmond we were mentally and emotionally exhausted and no matter how many times we went over the experience we couldn't understand why Shannon had wanted us there.  It would become clear two years later when we were once again visited by Oprah.  The second visit resulted in friendships that would last forever...and thousands of people around the globe would meet and love Shannon for her open heart and innocent appreciation for life's simplest gifts.

All of the events of June 17, 1998 were playing in my head as I drove to meet my family to celebrate my Mom's birthday.  I was driving the Jeep with the top back.  The sun was warm and the breeze wonderful.  I thought I knew exactly how to get to the Outback in Warrenton but I was wrong.  Fortunately a kind gentleman walking his small terriers down a one way street, was able to point me in the right direction after he laughed a little at how lost I was.  If he only knew.

It was nice for us all to be together.  Almost.  Jules was in Atlanta in school and Shannon was in Heaven and I tried not to notice that "my people" were missing.  I had a delicious sweet potato and a blue cheese wedge salad.  I smooched on Gavin and had cake.  Thank goodness for cake !  We took a family photo on the porch of the Warrenton Outback and I felt "sappy"(... sad/happy).  It's okay to feel sappy.  I know what a blessing my family is, but there is someone absent that I will always and forever miss when we are all together and it's okay.  It's okay for me to miss her.  It doesn't take away from the joyous moments....the birthday celebrations, the weddings, the new babies... I feel the wonder of all of those... but I miss having Shannon to share them with.  I don't want anyone else to be sad for me. Sometimes trying to keep the "happy face" in place is exhausting but I climbed into my Eeyore blue Jeep, felt the setting sun on my arms as the wind whipped my hair all about my face and once alone, I cried all the way back to Fredericksburg.  And even that was okay. Grams birthday

I thought about Ruthie and her new babies.  I remembered holding her under the big umbrella on the beach at Ft. Morgan, Alabama when she was only a month old.  I marveled at how life just continues to unfold and bless us.  The day lilies seemed a more brilliant orange as I pulled into the driveway.  I think sometimes we need a really good cry to clear away the debris.  I'm not who I was twelve years and six months ago, I'm not who I was twelve years and one month ago, I'm not who I was five years ago and I probably won't be tomorrow, who I was yesterday.  Sometimes I fight with that inevitability...I resist the necessity of change, but resisting is a waste of energy... like trying to swim upstream, against the flow.  You will end up in the same space regardless, only you can decide whether to arrive rested and hopeful or exhausted and hopeless.  Perhaps tomorrow... I'll give simply floating another try !

"Thank you for Gram and Ruthie.  Thank you for summer road trips and time to be alone.  Thank you for knowing there is a big picture whether I can see it or not.  Thank you for the friends that came into our lives as strangers.  Thank you for Oprah showing them the way."

June 16

I spent the day with my Mom.  We came to Fredericksburg, went to all of the craft stores and had lunch.  It was a nice day, but by the time I got back from taking her home, I was feeling a wee bit tired.  I had to stop at the grocery store for something for dinner and as I was leaving, pushing the basket with one bum wheel that had "clickety thunk, clickety thunk, clickety thunk -ed" down every isle, even though I only went for five items, ( do you ever wonder how you always pick the basket with the bad wheel, or is that just me?) I realized how lucky I am.  I mean, really really blessed.

I passed a woman in a motorized cart with an oxygen tank in her basket.  I thought about Laura and Alex and Jake ... having to use their hands and legs in new and difficult and creative ways just to cross the kitchen floor.  I thought about Michael in Afghanistan and Garrett and Edmay in Iraq.  I thought about the three military helicopters crossing the afternoon sky and how I could watch without fear.  I thought about the raggedy man traveling down Route 3 with all of his worldly possessions strapped to the back of his well worn bicycle.  I thought about the frog I almost ran over mowing Jane's grass.  I thought about having a twenty dollar bill in my pocket...and my Mom turning 79.  I thought about the new friends who have touched and blessed my life in the last few weeks and how a can of 9-Lives a day can ease at least one worry. 

I'm sure I kept walking, but I can't remember getting to the car.  The basket that had fought me past watermelons, Bounty paper towels, assorted beach paraphernalia, Newman's gourmet frozen pizza and potted hydrangeas had suddenly hushed and was moving submissively toward the basket corral. 

When I got home, I sat in the car for a while looking around me.  For once, I didn't see everything that needed to be done.  I didn't lament the fact that I still haven't redone the bricks in the sidewalk...the bricks the moles have tunneled under and upset.  I didn't think about the thicket of day lilies and yucca that need to be thinned or the plum and crabapple that should have been trimmed.  All of those things are true, but they didn't really matter... I was home.  I was safe.  I was able to lift my package from the back of the car and carry it in.  I was able to walk unassisted, breathe unassisted.  I turned the key in the lock and opened the door to a big hairy Sam waiting to greet me.  I thought about Lori and her Sam and hoped they were getting settled in their new space. 

I put my frozen pizza in the oven, fed my feline family and walked across the street to check on Norton. 

So many things we take for granted, lost in the insignificant ramblings of our mental clutter.  When I walked back into the house, the phone was ringing.  My Mom calling to be sure I had gotten home safely.  Her minister's son had been killed in an automobile accident.  At the exact moment that I was ordering a large diet Coke at McDonald's, planning our pre birthday outing, less than 1000 yards from where Shannon had collided with an enormous oak beside a wet highway, twelve years earlier... another Mother's son was returning to Heaven.

I can't undo the sad things that we are all asked to face.  There is no magic wand.  I'm not sure I would if I could.  Somehow, I just know that it is all part of a larger plan, and I have to trust that one day we'll understand.  Until then, I look to the people around me who are being asked on this day to find a way to be courageous, to be Daisy in water
resilient, to be more than they think they are capable of, and send a whisper to Heaven on their behalf.  I decide once again that the least I can do, on this day, is make every effort to appreciate ... really appreciate just how lucky I am.

June 15

I never wanted to be "religious".  "Spiritual" seemed a far better fit for God and me.  From my earliest memory, and probably stemming from my germinating OCD, my nightly prayers always started in the same way.  I would envision a cord, sort of like an extension cord, I suppose, rising from the center of my chest until it reached God and made the connection. The feeling was palpable, not like the figment of a small child's imagination.  Some nights it took several tries to get "plugged in", but when I was, I knew it and I could ask that everyone be blessed, and go to sleep, knowing that I didn't have to worry.

"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Old habits.  That prayer still plays through my head each night as soon as my head hits the pillow, but somewhere along the way I lost my cord.  Ever since the second anniversary of Shannon's return to Heaven,  it has felt more difficult to connect.  I think it was the loss of innocence and the redefining of my understanding of "free will and choice".

For the last several years my prayers seem to have revolved around receiving help in accepting... and respecting the journeys of the people I love.  Knowing that if they get to "go Home" first, it's not the result of prayers unanswered, but choices made and honored.  I realized last night that my prayers far too often begin..." Our Father who art in Heaven... and in me, Help.  I'm floundering here.  I'm lost.  Do something!"

This morning before I opened my eyes... I said another prayer.  "Dear Father, please fill me with your light and your love so that every one I touch, every step I take, is a reflection of your presence on this Earth.  Guide me.  Please."

And I declare, I think I heard a soft chuckle.  It was as if God was affectionately shaking His (or Her) head at what I was about to realize...that the Guidance I was begging for is the very Guidance that has always been there, the very Guidance that has allowed me to keep breathing each and every day since Shannon's accident.  I just hadn't seen it, not clearly anyway.  Yes I feel like I'm floundering, off course, unsure of the destination, but it's a little more okay tonight then it was last night. 

I think tonight, when I imagine my extension cord, floating into Heaven, I won't whine about being lost or sad or without purpose... I'll just say "Thank you.  Thank you for never dropping the oars."


June 14

I had planned to write last night... but I was feeling blue and wanted it to pass before sharing.  My life has taken turns that I couldn't have imagined.  I have been blessed with a daughter who filled my heart with more love, my life with more laughter... and more tears than I would have thought humanly possible, a husband who has allowed me to be me, when he might have secretly wanted me to be someone sexier or more fun, parents who taught me about courage and stamina, a sister and brother, who even though we don't talk every day, are always there and I know that, friends who wrap their arms around my spirit and hold me still when I'm spiraling out of control, strangers who continually reach through the shadows of their own despair to touch that tender spot inside that needs reminding that we're all in this together...through the joys and the sorrows.

IMG_0151 My neighbor is moving today.  We didn't realize until recently how much we have in common.  How many critters we have rescued and cared for through time.  How many moments nature has reminded us both of the mystery and magic.  There was such ease sitting on the porch laughing about the silly things we have done, the jobs we have had, the dreams we still nurture.  Because life is so demanding, we never made time to visit... never felt comfortable imposing... until something small and helpless needed both of us.  It's been that way so often.  Sitting with Linda trying to entice Helen to bring her kittens into the sunlight.  Making plans with Shelby to find homes for those same kittens, and now trying to reassure Lori that Norton and Wally will be the number one priority of our "critterhood watch".  But as I watched the moving van pull away, I was overwhelmed.  I hate change.  I loved knowing that they were across the street even though long hours and horrendous commutes allowed only enough time for smiles and waves.  She's not moving far and we've promised to visit again.

I received an email from my cousin today.  Her son is in Afghanistan.  I wish that my worrying with her, could ease her fears even a little, but that's not how it works with your children.  I thought last night as I was sitting on the porch at midnight, waiting for Sam to decide it was time to come in and settle down, that it would be amazing if everyone, in the same instant decided to just put their weapons down.  Just lay them down and walk away....and I wasn't just thinking about Iraq or Afghanistan... but anywhere and everywhere there is conflict that has resulted in force or anger or fear. 

Conservative, realistic, occasionally logical... I know the realities but how I wish we could for that one magical moment, recognize that we are all part of the same whole... like the millions of cells that make one giant redwood, or the Indian ocean or a soft peach rose petal.  I know that we are here, human, on the planet, to learn and grow and rediscover what we forgot so long ago.  I know that if we could believe that there will always be enough to go around, believe that love is so much easier than hate, anger a direct result of fear and that as long as we have enough love there is nothing to fear ... we'd know that this too shall pass.  BUT... in the meantime, we have work to do.

I worry about the world, environmentally, politically, economically and any other ~ly that you can think of.  But beneath the worry there is a calm.  I think it's like that analogy of the surface of the ocean.  We can see all of the stuff being tossed around on the surface, but there is calm in the depths...and we will once again choose the calm.  We have to, because at our very center... we are the same. 

There is such comfort in picking up a book or magazine and having proof that there is someone else as flawed as I am.  Someone else who wants proof of God.  Someone else who eats an entire bag of Salt and Vinegar chips and someone else who flashes and thrashes at 3 a.m.  I love that all writers know the uneasiness of creative constipation and the fear that the last good idea has already been pulled from that great well of amazing prompts and it is now dry and devoid of anything unique or inspirational. 

We are so silly.  If we weren't so much alike, McDonald's wouldn't be sixty years old and still offer hamburgers with mustard, ketchup, onion bits and pickle with french fries and a Coke, to 1.5 million people in 31, 000 restaurants, in 119 countries daily.  I know, it seems like a very superficial way to make a point... but almost everyone knows the Golden Arches.  We are family... with all of our differences and our similarities, squabbles and reconciliations, we are never really alone.

IMG_0188 Lori said yesterday that she used to think my life was sad...but she didn't feel that way anymore.  I'm not sure she knows just how much that means to me.  It isn't easy some days.  I still miss Shannon, I miss me and that other life... but who doesn't?  Who doesn't miss an easier or gentler time?  Who doesn't miss their health when it declines or their income when they are "let go"?  Why do we still watch reruns or "I Dream of Jeannie" or " Bewitched"... oh, you don't... well that's okay, pick your own old t.v. show... the one that reminds you of how far you've come and hopefully how much you've grown.  We all move toward something... and that requires moving away from others, but that's the way of life. 

There are people in my life, those of you who are reading, who keep me grounded, make me smile, give me a sense of purpose.  You matter to me more than I can say.  I smile just thinking about how often you cross my mind, even though we may have never met.  I value your thoughts and your comments and your encouragement.

Is it narcissistic to talk about my life, my ordinary life, and think that it might be of interest to someone else?  Maybe, but what I hope, each and every time I put my fingers on the glow in the dark dabs of paint, on the g and h of my keyboard, is that somewhere out there, we are connecting.  We are saying, "Thank goodness, I'm not the only one!"  I find another hand reaching out and I grab hold...and there's something just immensely comforting about a conversation that is never forced or imposed, received only if wanted, that I can have in bib overalls and bare feet with Sophie curled up in my lap and I'm not the least bit distracted by the incessant chatter of my ego, reminding me that I have on no makeup, one front tooth sticks out further than the other, I bit my nails off to make them even this morning or that my hair is at that stage in the growing out process that makes me look like I got my head caught in a fan !

And you know what?  I feel so much better, the blues have passed. Thanks for once again, reminding me of what really matters. IMG_0154

"Thank you for blessings too many to count.  Thank you for Angels who come disguised as kittens or deer or groundhogs.  Thank you for dragonflies.  Thank you for thunderstorms.  Thank you for new friends and their shared wisdom."


June 12

"How are you similar to, or different from the person you were twelve years ago?"

Yep, I had to resort to another web site devoted to the prevention of the mental melt down, precipitated by the blank page, blank screen, blank ...  anything.  I found a wonderful site that is called, Journal Sparks ( .  There are numerous little multi colored "sparks" that when clicked, give you a diving in point.

Twelve years, two months and two days ago, I had a conversation with Shannon.  She had been struggling with Denise and Todd's wedding invitation design and layout.  She was frustrated because they had a lot of ideas and there were many many fonts and colors and photos and graphics and choices and she had been sitting in front of the computer for so many hours that her shoulders were in knots and her patience was wearing thin.  She wanted to give up, and have them order the invitations already done.  She fussed and fumed and stomped around a bit and I laughed and that did not help!

After venting she realized that she did, in fact, want the invitations to be something they had created together, something they would always remember, something she could do for her best friend ... but she wanted them to be perfect ... and she wanted Denise to know how hard she was working on them, but she didn't want to tell her how hard she was working because she didn't want her to feel like it was an imposition! 

They did get the invitations designed, they were beautiful and Shannon returned to Heaven on the Saturday that they were suppose to print them. 

I've thought so much about that day, that conversation ... because for the last several weeks, I have been working on my niece's wedding invitations.  When we started talking about them... in February... she was trying to be practical and economical.  She rationalized that the wedding invitation is read and tossed in the trash.  It seemed practical to spend money on more important things, like the home she and her fiance are buying... and the wedding festivities that they plan to share with their guests.  Makes perfect sense in theory.  But then, when the invitations have to be picked and there are two million fonts, four thousand colors and textures of paper, as many designs as there are imaginations, and every idea is a good one.... it's just plain overwhelming.

And like my daughter... I want these blooming invitations to be perfect.  I want our bride and groom to love them and for them to mean even more because we worked on them together.  BUT... this morning I printed the first five invitations... just to make sure they were aligned properly and the color ink was right and the paper was feeding without jamming... before I loaded 100 invitations into the printer... something... or someone, told me to proof them one more time.... Now, you may not believe me, but I know without doubt that Shannon was screaming through the veil trying to get my attention ... because on these invitations that I had been working on for months... finalized 42 times... and was preparing to print... the wedding was to take place at " five o'clock in the AFTEROON."   

So now, I'm afraid to print them.  I'm afraid that I've looked so many times that I'm not seeing what's on the paper.  Is this ridiculous or what ?   You know, my sweet Shannon is getting quite the chuckle out of this. It is her turn to laugh.

Twelve years, two months and two days ago... a lifetime.  I was thinking this morning how long twelve years really is.  I realized that twelve years takes you from first grade to graduation.  In twelve years you outgrow your clothes twelve times and your shoes more than that.  Girls "become women", and boys become men.  Voices change and hair grows and the world expands.  But when you love someone and they finish, and get to go Home first... twelve years is a moment... and a forever... and unimaginable.

"How are you similar to, or different from, the person you were twelve years ago?"

How am I the same?  Basic things... I weigh the same.  My eyes are still blue.  My address is the same.  I believe in God and angels.  I love my family.  I buy too many books and read too few.  I consider Oprah to be one of my best friends, even though we may not always agree on politics or politicians.  My patience wears thin and I never seem to have enough time.

Less basic... I've redefined the parameters of prayer.  I question with more fervor the purpose of my life. I could never have imagined that I could survive Shannon's death.  Optimism takes more effort, love takes less.  Sad bones but they're strong.  Four new cats.  Hate to talk on the telephone.  Comfortable being alone.  Sleep less, not by choice and  the "Curse", actually starts when it ends.

Truth is... I wanted to write, but I'm tired and Sammy is sitting on the keyboard again because we are having thunder storms and he really hates storms.  I think, even though it's been a really nice day, spent with people I love, doing things that allow me to feel comfortable with life... I'm probably not going to have any great creative epiphanies today... so Sammy and I are going to indulge in some mindless T.V.

"Thank you for lunch with Jane.  Thank you for Justin and Bee and invitations being ready to print.  Thank  you for Angels who proof.  Thank you for blueberries.  Thank you for Lori and Eddie."

June 9 ~ "In this life I was loved by you"

Today is Lizza's birthday.  I've tried to imagine how moments are celebrated in Heaven.  Is there a party when we return, when we leave?  Is every day a celebration?  Is there cake?  Balloons?  I suppose I'll have to wait and see, but I imagine every moment is full of happiness and every happiness springs from love that is freely given and without condition.


When I took my Mom to the hospital for her heart cathaterization, someone hit our new car.  It was a small scrape across the bumper but it had to be repaired.  They didn't leave a note, but someone who saw what happened did.  It would have been easy enough to report to the police and have the insurance company pursue it, but fortunately fixing the paint was relatively inexpensive and we can live with the dent.  I was so relieved that Mom was okay... so relieved that my friend was recovering... so relieved that our new babies are here all safe and sound... it was hard to get distraught over some missing paint.  All I could think was that someone might have lost someone they loved, and our bumper was a small matter in comparison.

There are days when I forget.  I forget that we are all trying to make our way through.  I forget that the clerk at Michael's isn't mad at me, she's upset because her job has been eliminated and she doesn't know how she'll pay next month's rent.  I forget that the receptionist at the hospital wasn't trying to make me feel bad when she wouldn't look up from her desk to answer my question, she was struggling to stay composed, knowing that her sister was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  She wanted to be anywhere, but answering simple questions at work.  I forget how distracted we are when someone we love is in pain, or in trouble, or in Heaven.  I forget that the universe really doesn't revolve around me and every sadness isn't because I've somehow messed up.

My intent is to remember.  Remember how sorrow has a way of sucking us into ourselves and keeps us from being open to the pain that someone else is feeling.  Remember how frightening it is to be short on funds, and long on debt.  Remember how easy it would have been to become bitter and angry. 

Today, I want to remember my brother's wife the way she wanted to be... the way she now is.  Her heart was open and full and her days were made of moments given to those she loved.  Somewhere along the way, illness stole her joy, and we didn't understand.  She didn't understand. 

But before those last moments... she loved large.  A mother, a daughter, a teacher, a wife... energetic and creative, beautiful and full of hope and joy.  We miss her.  Lizza never met Shannon... now she has. 

There are going to be times when life is sad.  Sadness asks us to be vulnerable, to be strong, to be wise and to be open.  Sadness is the inevitable result of loving someone who is out of reach.  But joy is also the result of loving...and both emotions, give depth and richness to ordinary days.  We can't shy away from fully experiencing either.  Sometimes I imagine that sad is all I can feel, but the sad seems so big because it's all we can see, floating on the surface.  The truth is, that life's joy and happiness and wonder are what fill that emotional ocean, what drive the waves to the shore, what supports what floats, visible on the surface.

Yesterday my friend made cookies in occupational therapy.  As she brought them to the table in her turtle shell back brace wheel chair ... her little face drew up in a very tight ugly cry.  So we all joined her.  I'm not sure any of us knew exactly why we were crying but we did, because she did... and it didn't really matter why.  As it turned out... her tears came from the happy place.  The exhausted, accomplished, relieved, overwhelmed happy place.  Our tears just came from loving her and that need we have as human beings to somehow reassure those around us that we are right there with them.

This afternoon, Lizza is being remembered by her friends, in a memorial gathering to celebrate her life.  I'm sure we will all cry.  We will cry because we miss her, because we love her, because we all feel the sadness that will be floating on the surface. 

Once again, I'm not really sure that I even came close to saying what I wanted to say... it's gray outside... it's gray inside.  I guess I just needed to remind myself that we don't know what tomorrow will bring.  We have to do the best we can with today... do the best we can with one another ... and try not to let the little annoyances obscure the view of what really matters.

"Thank you for my sisters... the ones God gave me, the ones Jules gave me, the ones my brother gave me, and the ones I've chosen for myself along the way.  Thank you for deep blue oceans.  Thank you for gentle rains and gray skys.... they give us permission not to try so hard.  Thank you for healing... one step at a time.  Thank you for the lovely little man in Richmond, who painted a small wooden picture frame bright yellow, with only one hand."

June 8 ~ Thirty six years

Today is our anniversary.  Jules is in Atlanta but he sent me an e mail ... it said "I miss you".  It made me a little teary.  I miss him too...but if he were here, he'd be in the garage or watching Glen Beck or O'Reilly or on Facebook.  I'd be blogging or reading or upstairs watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy.  I know... it sounds really boring but just knowing he's close is usually enough.

I went to see Laura today.  She is remarkable....and I am so proud of her.  I found her in the Therapy Gym.  The Occupational Therapist was having her make cookies, chocolate chip.  She was wearing a pink T shirt beneath her "turtle shell" back brace and although she puts on a brave face, behind her eyes I saw how tired she was.  Now I'm teary again.  Maybe I'm just having a teary day !

All the way to Richmond I thought about the people who inspire me.  Several years ago I met Jake.  His wheel chair is there but it's not what you see.  You see bright eyes and a sassy smile and at the time, a sparse but incredibly enthusiastic beard.  When we met he was 23.  The last time I saw my Shannon, she was 23.  Jake was enjoying his young life, a beautiful day, riding his motorcycle when the car in front of him stopped and he didn't.  Life would never be the same...Jake would never be the same, but he will never be diminished by his accident.  There is no self pity, no anger, no giving up.  There is that spark, that glows despite it all.  I see it in the eyes of Angel's Moms.  I saw it today in that hospital therapy room.  I saw it in Laura, behind the exhaustion.

As I drove along, feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I was extremely grateful to my husband for the Jeep.  It was his idea.  It is the color of Eeyore and even though it is loud and bumpy and starting to show its age... I love my Jeep.  I tried to think of one moment that might express how I feel about my husband....on our anniversary.  He is all good things.  He's kind and strong and honest.  He can fix almost anything.  He hates cats but he allows me to have four. 

I met him in March and married him in June of 1974.  The following April we had Shannon.  I wanted Jules to think that the sun rose and set in me... it didn't.  I wanted him to want to spend all of his time with me... he didn't.  I wanted him to do housework, without being asked.  I wanted him to read minds... especially mine.  I wasn't easy and I came with lots of baggage.  I've matured... really !


  Seventy five per cent of all couples who lose children end up divorced.  It's just too hard to find their way through the grief.  I felt some of that.  The pain is so intense that you just want to lash out ... find some way to change it or make someone else take it.... get lost, alone, give in and give up.  I thought I wanted to follow Shannon.  I thought about giving up on life, we held on to each other.

Then one night, I guess it was about 18 months after Shannon returned to Heaven, we were having dinner with friends. Fancy restaurant, celebrating a birthday.  I had been having a problem with hives, apparently developing allergies to almost everything overnight and something in the chowder caused an immediate and frighteningly intense reaction.  Jules and I headed for home and I took a Benadryl on the way, hoping to avoid another trip to the Emergency Room.  By the time we got home I was breathing easier but the hives were popping out everywhere.  I took another Benadryl and laid down on the sofa.

I'm not sure whether I was dreaming, experiencing a journey out of body, or simply hallucinating but as I laid there, wrapped in a blanket a man walked up to me.  He introduced himself as Dr. Green and said that he was there to "escort" me.  He explained that he was aware of how difficult life had been without Shannon and that it had been agreed upon that I could join her.  For over a year, I had dreamed of joining Shannon.  I longed to see her face and hear her voice but in that moment...when that was being offered to me, all I could think of was Jules.  I knew that Shannon was okay.  I knew that she was whole and happy and that I would see her again, but the thought of leaving Jules alone, leaving him to face his grief all alone... was unimaginable, so I declined.  I explained to Dr. Green, that I had to stay, for Shannon's Dad.  I knew she would understand.

By morning I was fine but the memory of my conversation with Dr. Green was as clear as any other event of the previous day.  I decided that he was my Guardian Angel.  I wish I could remember his face.

I go to bed early and get up early.  Jules goes to bed late and likes to sleep in.  He is a carnivore and I am for all intent and purpose an herbivore.  He likes dark beer and I prefer iced tea.  He's gray and I'm pink.  He likes his cars loud and fast and I'm happy just to get where I'm going in one piece.  We both love Shannon more than life itself. 

I don't tell him enough, but I love my husband.  There are lots of things I wish I had done better or more often in our life together, mistakes I wish I hadn't made.  He put up with a lot of craziness over the years... I put up with a lot of cars !!  I guess that's what it's all about.  Loving another human being simply because you wouldn't know how to do it any other way.

Let the little things go.  Agree to disagree when necessary and feel free to utilize Shannon's "nod tactic" when the discussion dead ends. 

My heart aches for my friends who have lost their husbands in recent years.  They continually inspire me to pay attention to what really matters.  They have the spark.  My father in law has the spark, I saw it in his eyes every time he looked at Jules' Mom. 

Thank you for thirty six years .... thank you for Jules.  Thank you for extended families.  Thank you for every new day.  Thank you for the sparks.

June 7 ~ Celebrations

Shannon not only left her best friend for me, but sent us Jill to fill the empty spaces, and for such a small human being, she does an excellent job. 


We did the banking and mailed bookmarks to a new friend.  We picked up "Dunks" at Lowe's, lingering for a while at the white gardenias and then found our purple fine line markers at Michael's... you have no idea what a blessing it is to have a "seeing eye child",  then made a visit to the newest bookstore in Fredericksburg, Joseph - Beth Booksellers.  I purchased a book on women and God by Julia Cameron, "Faith and Will ... Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives", and two art magazines.

Then we started seeing "signs" that our favorite Angel was enjoying the day with us.  In order to keep our young person happy, we stopped at Toys R Us.  I waited in the car to look through our magazines for inspiration.  I happened on an article about a young woman who has found her place in the art world, staying true to herself, doing what she loves, and supporting herself and two little girls.  Her style is fanciful and her use of color and shape, uplifting.  She just turned 35 ...  Denise and Shannon are 35.  Then I read the quote that opened the article about her work... it was by Julia Cameron.  When I showed it to Denise, we both smiled. 

We decided to go to Sammy T's for lunch and when we walked through the door, the specials board announced that the "Camper's Special" was the chef's recommendation for the day... that was Shannon's favorite and she ordered it almost every time we went there.

After lunch we visited Art First and Brush Strokes.  We had Blizzards for Dee's birthday and then went home to watch Twilight. We had left over Greek pizza for supper and it was delicious. (No dieting on birthdays !)

The weather was incredible, the sky so blue that it made the clouds glow.  A breeze blew all day.  Every now and then Jill will say something about Shannon.  She told me that her Mom says she plays cards like Shannon... game can never end until she wins !  She tells me about how often her Mom embarrasses her and I tell her about how often I embarrassed Shannon.  Denise tells me about art projects they worked on in college and about the professors that helped and hindered.  It's comfortable and easy, talking about Shannon, and I know what a blessing it is that I have these girls in my life.


In the last three days, I have been introduced to three new Angels... Shannon's newest friends.  A Dad, who was a Marine... a son who made everyone laugh ... and a daughter whose heart was enormous.  I always feel, when someone finds their way to me, through Shannon, that she is with their loved one, and they are making sure that we never feel alone on this journey.

It has been a wonderful ordinary gift of a day.   Thank you, thank you, thank you for ordinary days.

June 6

One year for my birthday, when I was maybe thirteen, I got new bedspreads and dust ruffles.  The bedspreads were floral, lots of shades of lavender and aqua, the dust ruffles a softer shade of the same aqua color.  They were inexpensive, probably on sale at G. C. Murphey's, but I thought they were beautiful.


Now I was never very neat.  The closet would overflow.  The dresser would drown.  The dust ruffles concealed enormous amounts of quickly stashed clutter, but every once in while, when I couldn't stand it any longer, I would clean my bedroom from the outside in.  Linens, curtains, vanity skirt, dresser scarves... all went into the wash.  There was no drier so I had to wait for a bright sunny day when everything could be put on the clothes line.

All of the clutter was piled into the middle of the floor and sorted.  Now that I think about it, I could have my own reality show... "Clean House", "Clean Sweep"... they have nothing on me !  It's amazing how much lined notebook paper can accumulate, along with composition books, album jackets, dirty clothes, photos, letters, hair rollers, bobby pins and pet hair. 

BUT... once it was all done...hardwood floors washed and waxed, furniture polished, windows washed, woodwork cleaned, curtains, dust ruffles and vanity skirt ironed, beds made and a sparkling mayonnaise jar full of lilacs adorning the dresser... it felt wonderful.  Didn't stay that way forever but for a while, especially on Sunday afternoons, with a fan in the window, pulling in the fragrance of newly mown hay and locust blossoms... the chaos mattered less.

The boys I liked who called to talk about the girls they liked.  My Dad's drinking.  My annoying siblings.  Grades and clothes and hair and thighs and blemishes and fights with my Mom... it all mattered less when my room was clean.  It was as if sunlight soaked into the linens and imbued my space with a freshness that was missing in so many other areas of my teenage existence.

Maybe that's why, on this Sunday afternoon... with the house in order and the clutter stowed... I can breathe a little easier.  I can allow the chaos, the coyotes, the obligations, the financial crisis, the oil in the Gulf, the war on terror, the attic fan and the dripping faucet to matter less...just a little less and just for a moment. 

June 5

Going through more old journals, instead of cleaning the house... which was my plan.  I stumbled on one that I wrote in November of 2003 from the Gallery of National Museum of Women in the Arts.  I had forgotten completely about that adventure.

Never being much on going places alone, and when Shannon was here I never had to because even though she may not have enjoyed the same things as Mom, she never said. She was easy comfortable company, and I loved being with her.  So, after she returned to Heaven I had to find the courage to venture out on my own and that trip into Washington, in November of 2003 was one such trip.

" November 23, 2003

Friday was the Tree Trimming.  There were so many families.  So many hearts open and bleeding, so much hope, so much love.   Yesterday, I lost my footing.  My Self pummeled my fragile ego and I was flung into a tenuous sadness.  Once again I moved, perhaps flowed like cold syrup, from one place to another...landing for a moment only to feel the restless ceaseless urging of my spirit to find some peace.

Unwilling to forfeit one more day to a bleakness that won't be ignored, I started research on Mary Cassatt for my Art History paper, only to discover that she has works on display at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.  Candy suggested I take the Metro.  An adventure in and of itself.  I followed the compass on my bracelet to the front door of the museum !

There is an oil on canvas, of a "Girl in a White Bodice".  The strokes are airy and light almost playful in their depiction of her mother. 

I'm now sitting in the Gallery of Eudora Welty's photographs.  Tender honest photos of Black America in the 30's.  Sensitive, expressive moments, frozen and preserved, they exude such life ...such spirit!

I feel so, I was going to say whole but that would be an exaggeration, because whole would imply solid, sturdy, strong and at this moment, I am only a promise of those things.

Like Humptey, I'm pieced together.  I hint at who I once was but redefined. 

How - with every modern convenience is it that just coming into this city alone was so daunting?  These women traveled across continents and oceans, carried only by their creative passion and insistent muse.  Even tattered, they stood tall and sassy and defiant.  There is an unfinished quality ... a sad but tender expression...subdued color, softness, certainty of line."

November 24, 2003

It is so very important to recognize and embrace your sorrow, weep until you are dry and then weep some more.   One day you find that you look behind with more love, less pain and look ahead with more hope and less fear."

I got an A in Art History, and the inspiration to try courage on for size.