If You Build It; They Will Come

Okay. We really didn’t “build” anything. We purchased a pricey, fancy-schmancy, squirrel-proof bird feeder, filled it with equally pricey no-mess bird seed, hung it in a tree, and they came—birds young and old, male and female. Business at our Seed Smorgasbord was sluggish at first, but once word got out you might say these winged creatures flocked to our neck of the woods. My guy and I often spend time on the deck observing the comings and goings of these avian beings. Binoculars aid us in identifying certain markings, and then we flip through our Birds of Ohio guide to determine the exact species. We’re up to fifteen types now, all of which have been alphabetically chronicled in an Excel spreadsheet. Yep. We’re officially Bird Nerds.

Just weeks after our initial foray into all things birds, we expanded our operation with the addition of a hummingbird feeder. According to our handy, dandy bird book, only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird spends time in the Buckeye state. So far we’ve witnessed only a male (or perhaps more than one male) stopping by to quench his thirst with our free nectar.

It seems logical that some bird families would take up residence near a 24-hour diner, which is exactly what happened this spring as two robin couples chose our yard as a place to settle down and start a family. Nests were constructed, eggs were laid and then hatched, producing triplets for each set of parents. I wish I could report that the infant mortality rate was zero, however, that’s not the case. Sadly, I’ve found three fledglings who didn’t survive. And that’s not all. We’ve also had three adult birds meet a natural or unnatural demise as well.

At first I was a bit distressed over finding the remains of so many birds. Is it possible this new-found hobby that brings so much life, song, and beauty to an otherwise tranquil landscape can also contribute to the low-lying cloud of sadness that hovers over our homestead always poised to shed its droplets of grief? And even more so, am I ready to take that on? The obvious answer is “yes.” Our backyard bird oasis is merely a microcosm of the yin and yang of life—good and bad, positive and negative, beginnings and endings. And in the creature world, survival of the fittest is the norm not the exception, as is the very real existence of a food chain. (You can thank me later for the science refresher.)

I recently resumed my role as a volunteer with a local hospice after completing a mandatory one-year hiatus. I’m generally assigned one patient at a time, whom I visit  weekly or bi-weekly. I enjoy the camaraderie and connections gained via time spent with these individuals. I’m a captive audience of one as they share stories about their life, family, careers, hobbies, and more. I guess hospice volunteering is another way I invite “endings” into my life, though I don’t look at it that way. I am grateful for the opportunity to create a bond or friendship that won’t be defined by its length, but instead is focused on sharing, caring, and creating a space where reflection, laughter, and tears abound, often all within the same visit. I had such an experience today with my current patient who has chosen to spend her final days at the home she shares with her husband. Her hospital bed has been placed next to a large window where she can pass some of the daylight hours observing her own flock of winged friends who visit the feeders hanging within her view. I haven’t asked, but I’m hopeful that a connection to nature comforts her and provides her with some sense of peace.

This post’s (slightly modified) title is taken from a favorite movie, Field of Dreams, and its clever storyline that connects this realm with another. And so it seems fitting that it should be wrapped up with a quote from another treasured flick, The Lion King:

“It’s the Circle of Life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, ’til we find our place on the path unwinding.”

The Circle of Life is a real, normal, and necessary part of human and animal existence. And for me, the birds that stop by to nourish themselves within the confines of our yard serve as a reminder of this cycle. An “end” isn’t just for the elderly or infirm, but also happens to the young who seem so full of life and potential. I have witnessed both.



Spring is the season of birth. Nature comes alive in vibrant hues as trees sprout leaves of green and perennials burst through the ground, dotting the landscape with shades of yellow, red, orange, pink, purple and blue. And creatures large and small meander among us, preparing nests for the arrival of their offspring. There are two birthdays worth noting from my teeny corner of the planet.

First, I would like to wish a belated Happy Birthday to this blog, Joan’s Jottings. I launched this site in March 2009 with the help of my midwife and fellow blogger, Jane. For more than a decade, this blog has provided me with a place to create, vent, share, and hone my writing skills. Here are a few stats worth noting:

This is post number 167.

I file these jottings within fourteen categories, including books, cancer, family, humor and life.

My most consistent writing came during my dive into the online dating world where I posted weekly about my matches, churning out a record forty-six entries. During this time, I developed a following of sorts, which mainly consisted of my very married female friends. These ladies vicariously entered this brave new world of mate hunting from the safe and cozy confines of their living rooms.

The second birth is not really a birth yet as she is still incubating, awaiting the perfect and precise moment to make her debut. I am, of course, referring to my BOOK and not a post-menopausal miracle. I have been nurturing this embryo for nearly six months, investing more than 220 hours of labor. She currently weighs in at approximately 36,000 words, divided among eighteen chapters. After completing the first draft, I conducted a self-edit and then handed the manuscript to three exceptional beta readers, Dauna, Jane, and Nan. These ladies provided me with valuable insight into the flow and content of the story as well as pointing out errors in grammar and punctuation.

Armed with the information provided by my beta readers, I completed a second edit which prepared the budding manuscript for a more microscopic critique performed by someone with trained, unbiased eyes—a professional editor. During a first pass, Miss Miranda used her knowledge, experience, and little red pen to clean-up and perfect my draft. I am currently working through her corrections and suggestions before handing the manuscript back to her for a second go-around. After all of the editing is complete, she will make a third and final proofreading pass. Her insight and expertise are aiding me in elevating this work to a higher level. Also, her initial comments have provided me with the motivation and stamina I need to continue to plow forward with this project. Her summary began with these words:

“Your memoir is powerful, and I enjoyed reading it. I think you did a great job of describing everything and providing the reader with powerful emotion.”

I hope to announce the birth of my book sometime late this spring or early summer. I have selected a name, but am not ready to share it just yet. Once she arrives, I will exchange my writing pen for another new and unchartered realm—the world of marketing. This critical and important step will be crucial to introducing my baby to as many people as possible. When the time is right, I might humbly ask for your help in sharing her, but more about that later.

I will continue to update my progress as I waddle through this final trimester. I look forward to introducing you to my baby girl.


Gratitude Amidst Grief

A can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.  How could I possibly have known this gag gift would be the spark that would inspire my last post of 2018.  More about an iconic, carbonated, syrupy sweet beverage later.

Today is December 28th.  IT is over.  The holiday season is mostly behind us save for the tooting horns, fireworks, dropping of the ball, midnight smooches, and the familiar sounds of Auld Lang Syne that signify the flip of the calendar from one year to the next.  March 6, 2018 will go on record as the most devastating day in my life-past, present AND future.  There has never been and can never be a more horrible event that can occur that will knock this date from its perch on top.  And yet, with a heart and mind so heavy with grief and sadness, I feel it is important to take some time to reflect on ALL that occurred this year and expose the positive that rose out of the mucky muck.  And so, I offer this thank you note of sorts, an expression of gratitude for the good that was found in a year full of sorrow.

I am grateful for the 101 sympathy cards that we received, and for the cards, emails, text and Facebook messages that are sent to me on random days “just because.”

I am grateful for the $6,000.65 that was so generously donated to the JDRF-Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I am grateful for the thoughts and prayers that have been sent our way.  It is impossible to obtain a count on the intangible, but I am certain that we have not walked this journey alone.  We have been carried by many, and I want you to know that we appreciate you.

I am grateful for the women I know who are also unwilling members of The-Club-No- Mother-Wants-To-Join.  I am not grateful for the tragedy that forever links us, but for the unconditional love and support they provide, and for the plain and simple fact that they “get” what child loss looks and feels like.

I am grateful for my sister’s current and former co-workers who donated money for a tree planting near the gravesite of my son.  A plaque bearing his name and dates also includes a foreshadowing quote he penned at the age of 18: “Realize the importance of everyone in your life before the clock runs out of time.”

I am grateful for the 60 minutes that I have spent in the company of a Medium.  Utilizing his God-given ability to communicate with the other side, he provided me with concrete evidence that Mark did not die, he merely changed form.  He also confirmed that Mark is well and spends time in the loving company of my parents, grandparents and his own father, Alan.

I am grateful for the signs Mark has sent to let us know that he is around.  It is relatively easy for those in spirit form to trigger things that are electrical, and Mark has taken full advantage of this form of communication.  He has managed to turn on lights and an iPod, and also tinkered with the clock in one of our cars, to name a few things.  Mark used the Medium to confirm that he was responsible for causing the alarm in his Honda Accord to suddenly begin honking numerous times in the days and weeks after he passed.  Funny for Mark.  (The Medium heard him chuckle as he took credit for this prank.)  Not so funny for our neighbors, especially the time he tripped the alarm at 1:00 AM.

I am grateful for the gift of time.  I left my job on March 30th and have spent the better part of nine months doing things that have aided in my healing.  By far the most productive form of therapy has been writing.  My journal and this blog have provided me with a safe place to vent and share my feelings and perspectives.  Grief can take a toll on the body, so it is important to get your feelings out, whether this takes place in a grief support group, talking with family and friends and/or getting your thoughts and feelings scribbled onto paper or typed on a computer.

I am grateful for my spouse, the Guy in my life.  He, too, has suffered greatly as a result of this tragedy, yet he always has my back.  It was Guy who encouraged me to leave my job and take time to absorb and process all that has taken place.  He listens to my woulda, shoulda, coulda moments in regard to things I did or did not do in the weeks before Mark’s passing.  He is my number one fan and consistent reader of all of my writing.  And, he is currently supporting and gently nudging me as I quietly and diligently work to complete a project that has been a goal for quite some time.

Lastly, I am grateful for the 20 years, one month and one day that I shared with my son.  My very human mind tells me that it was not enough, and that there were SO MANY things left to do and experience, but my soul knows that our time together was up.  Mark fulfilled his journey and has moved on, and I remain here to complete mine.  I know this loss can never be fully healed, but I know that my life still has purpose.  And so, I will do my best to fulfill my earthly lessons in my remaining days, weeks, months or years, and take comfort in the fact that Mark and I will be together again one day.

And now back to that can of Coke.  One week ago, just days before all of the forced joy and festivities that accompany Christmas, the fella that picks up our recycling did something that not only made me laugh but reinforced my belief that most people are good and thoughtful and even a tad bit funny and mischievous.

A few months ago, my husband happened to be home on a Thursday, our normal garbage pickup day.  He saw the recycling truck pull up, grabbed some money from his wallet and proceeded down our driveway where he struck up a conversation with the driver.  Just a few weeks before, another employee of our local waste management company had been struck and killed as he went about his daily route.  My husband had been touched by the news of this tragedy and he wanted to make a small donation to the family.  He figured he could use our driver to deliver this contribution.  During the course of that brief driveway conversation (and unbeknownst to me), my husband shared a story or two about his own close encounters on the road as a driver for Pepsi.  Apparently, this rather brief interaction left an impression on the young man.

Our recycling was picked up last Thursday morning, right on schedule.  After the driver emptied the contents of our can, he closed the lid, wheeled it back to its spot on the driveway and placed a small, red gift on top.  He then climbed back into the vehicle and drove off.  I happened to be in the kitchen at the time and looked out the window and saw something on top of the can.  I immediately ran outside to see what it was.  As I approached our receptacle, I spotted a single can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.   I recalled the encounter a few months earlier between my man and this driver and instantly surmised that my husband must have shared that he was employed by Pepsi.  I jumped in my car and found our Secret Santa one street over.  I pulled up behind the truck, found its driver and proceeded to ask him if he had left us a gift.  He smiled and nodded yes.  He also confirmed that my husband did indeed share that he was a driver for Pepsi.  I KNEW it!  We had a good laugh about his “gift,” and I thanked him for his kind, thoughtful and comical gesture.  He would have no idea that his holiday prank not only made a sad lady laugh, but also reaffirmed her belief that most people are good.  All thanks to a divine encounter and a can of Coke.

And so, I end this rather long and wordy thank you note.  I believe it serves as proof that there is always SOMETHING that we can be grateful for no matter how difficult or challenging or tragic life can be.  There is always positive in the presence of negative.  And there most certainly is Yin to the Yang.  It is my hope that as you put your own wrap on 2018, you take a little time to reflect on the events of these past twelve months and come up with your own gratitude list.  And perhaps instead of making this a once-a-year kind of thing, you might even choose to take time each evening before bed to list a few things for which you are grateful.  It is a wonderful way to end the day on an upbeat note.

Oh, and by the way, this post was in no way a plug for Coke.  Drink Pepsi.  My hubby needs a job, at least for a few more years.




Grief In My Aura

Aura is defined as, “A supposed emanation surrounding the body of a living creature, viewed by mystics, spiritualists, and some practitioners of complementary medicine as the essence of the individual, and allegedly discernible by people with special sensibilities.”  Recently, a stranger with said “special sensibilities” relayed to me that I have “grief in my aura.”  He also mentioned that I am “dealing with SO MANY emotions that I am trying to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize.”  That pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.  My aura must look like a hot mess.  Instead of a pure, bright white light or even a vibrant rainbow of colors, my aura just might appear more 50 shades of gray and foggy with a cold, salty mist spraying the space around me.  At least that is how I FEEL it might look.  In a currently abandoned motivational speaking piece that I worked on for weeks, I focus on the aura-its brightness and thickness and offer suggestions on ways to illuminate our light (or supposed emanation according to the above definition) while here on earth.  Instead of motivating others with my spiritual lessons, I am resigned to working on my own issues, which I am hopeful will result in positive changes to my aura.

I have no idea what grief actually looks like, but I know it is a force to be reckoned with. I believe that I have been Hostess Extraordinaire to this once again uninvited guest as this is not my first trip to the Grief Rodeo.  I have devoted myself to her needs for the better part of seven months with no paid time off.  That is until the past few weeks when I dared to consume myself with the final arrangements of my 40th High School Class Reunion which also included attending three events associated with this weekend of festivities.  A few days after the culmination of reunion events, my spouse and I headed to the mountains of North Carolina for a much deserved break.

In an effort to maintain some sense of composure in front of former classmates and their guests, I did not invite Ms. Grief to the reunion.  I even rehearsed a mini speech that I would offer up should anyone (and a few did) ask me the dreaded question, “Do you have any children?”  My reply was a swift and curt, “I had a son who passed away earlier this year, the result of a diabetic episode.  I am not talking about it this weekend.”  For the better part of three days, I (mostly) put on my gap-toothed smiling face and reconnected with fellow classmates.  And then I busied myself for THE trip.  The mini vacation that would provide me and my co-griever with a change of scenery complete with mountains, fresh air, touristy attractions and a sense of calm and peace that nature can usually provide.

Do you know what Ms. Grief whispered into my ear?  “You can run but you cannot hide.  You can mingle all weekend with former classmates and drive a few hundred miles to another state with breathtaking topography, but I MUST be included.”  And so, all of that stuffing down of emotions followed by an attempted mountainous escape resulted in a stuffing up of my sinuses, a day or two of the blase’ for my Guy, and the reality that my grief and loss go where I go.  As my spouse and I sat in a lipstick red, converted double-decker bus coffee shop in scenic, artsy, hippie Asheville, NC, I was overcome with emotion.  Just like that.  Tears spilling down my face into my pricey iced coffee.  Ms. Grief had indeed joined us.  For all I know she had packed a bag and ridden shotgun with us all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Oh, and about those mountain views and clean, crisp air?  We experienced little of that.  The picturesque terrain that defines western North Carolina was hidden by gray, foggy, misty, low-slung clouds.  Sound familiar?  Even my mountain escape was enveloped in its own aura of grief.

And so I say to Mr. Stranger Special Sensibilities, you are 100 % correct.  There IS grief in my aura and my ever-thinking brain IS attempting to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize the tragic, unimaginable event that occurred 223 days ago.  I now understand that I am at my current best at home, nestled in my cocoon, surrounded by a small group of family and friends.  I read, write, exercise, and attempt to quiet my mind through meditation.  But mostly, I am the hostess with the mostest to Ms. Grief.  Together we are traveling my current journey of grief.  Final destination?  Acceptance.


My Eulogy: 1960-2018

I know what you are thinking.  Joan is writing about death AGAIN.  Not really.  Okay.  Maybe just a bit.  A eulogy is not actually about death.  It is about life.  Your life.  Think of it as a mini autobiography.  If you take the time to jot down your story, you get to say what you want about yourself-the good, the bad and/or the ugly.  Who knows more about your life than you do?  As a self-confessed control freak, I want to be in charge of what gets said about me after I am gone.  Also, on a larger scale, writing your own eulogy and sharing it with your family and friends gets people talking about death, which is such a taboo subject in our culture.  I talk about death, write about death and do not fear death.  Why? Because NONE of us are getting out of here alive.  This post is long, so I hope you will hang in until the end.  There is a poem (not written by me) that I hope provides food for thought.  Happy reading!

Joan was born in 1960, the first offspring of German immigrant parents.  She grew up in the idyllic Village of Greenhills, Ohio where everyone knows your name (and your business).

Joan was afflicted with an eating disorder in her early teens and dealt with this issue almost daily throughout her life.  While Joan believed that regret is a waste of time, she wished that her issues with food and body image had consumed less of her precious time on earth.

Joan graduated from high school and went on to attend not one, but three different  universities in pursuit of a degree.  She finally settled on Psychology as a major, but never fulfilled her dream of being a licensed counselor.   In the end, she knows that she counseled many friends and acquaintances throughout her life.  She just didn’t get paid for it, which made it even more rewarding.

Joan loved to laugh and often surrounded herself with people who were able to channel their inner comedian.  She herself was born with a sense of humor, not a trait one thinks of as common among stoic, stiff, play-by-the-rules, Germans.  Later in life she married a Guy with his own comedic genes.  They often bantered about who was the funnier one.  She now concedes that he was George and she was Gracie.  (For the younger folks, you might have to Google this reference in order to “get it.”)

Joan had a giving heart.  She always believed that if she had found her way to enormous wealth, she would not have squandered it on lavish homes and fancy cars, but would have chosen to give much of it away.  Joan lived a middle class life that was below her means, so she gave when and what she could.  A few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the years.  She WAS blessed with the gift of time and so began a lifetime of  volunteering.  As a teenager, she worked as a Candy Striper for a local hospital.  In college, she was introduced to hospice work.  She believed that those who care for people at the end stage of life do not do it as “work,” but rather as a “calling.”  She was called to spend time with the dying and their families volunteering with a few different hospice agencies.  She also donated many hours working with the local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).  It was and still is her greatest wish that horrible diseases like cancer and diabetes are eradicated soon.

Joan had several jobs throughout her life.  She was a Department Manager, Retail Buyer, Aerobics Instructor/Personal Trainer, Administrative Assistant and HR Generalist.  She did not consider one job better than another as they each provided an income,  introduced her to TONS of people and aided her in honing her work ethic.  She was starting to believe that in today’s workplace, “work ethic” is being replaced by the “whine ethic.”  So many prefer a little Chianti with their paycheck.

Joan LOVED to read.  If she had kept all of the books that she spent time with throughout her lifetime, she believed that her library would have shelved hundreds of works penned by authors she loved including Pat Conroy, Nelson DeMille, John Irving, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris and many, many more.  She also liked to write.  She knew that her posts on her blog, Joan’s Jottings, would outlive her.  It was the one place where she was “published,” though not in the literal (and often elusive) meaning of this word.  She thanks everyone who ever took the time to read her posts.

Joan also LOVED to talk.  Probably too much.  She was spirited and opinionated and this was clear when she spoke.  She apologizes to all who were held hostage as she droned on and on and on about the topic or topics of the day.  Joan was once told by a fifth grade teacher that she had “diarrhea of the mouth.”  Joan always remembered these harsh words, but as she matured, she realized that she had disrupted MANY a classroom as the teacher attempted to complete their lessons.  As a way of cleaning up her Karma, she apologized to many of her former teachers when she moved back to her hometown in 2001.  She was unable to connect with Mrs. Diarrhea of the Mouth while here on earth.  Joan hopes to catch up with her on the other side.

Joan described herself as a Runaway Catholic.  In her third decade of life, she found her way to a set of beliefs that were more spiritual and less religious.  She devoured books on spirituality and was blessed to cross paths with many kindred spirits.  One of these kindred spirits informed Joan that she was an old soul who had chosen this lifetime as a way to experience accelerated growth.  Joan’s spiritual beliefs boiled down to a handful of tenets that aided her in her growth.  These tenets morphed into the religion of joan, of which Joan was the only card-carrying member.

Joan was a wife and mother, though these titles proved to be transitory.  She earned the title of “widow” at the youngish age of 41.  This loss left her as a single mother of a three-year old boy.  She did her best to raise the boy as a decent, caring, productive member of society despite the fact that the Universe continued to challenge them.  It turned out that the boy was also an old soul who, too, had arrived here to experience accelerated growth.  Unlike Joan, he only needed 20 years, one month and one day to complete his earthly lessons.  His sudden and abrupt departure left Joan questioning EVERY tenet of the religion of joan, as well as every single thing she did or did not do as a parent.

Joan understood that she was here on her own karmic journey.  She had chosen to enter this lifetime on 8-16-60, chosen her family of origin, and chosen the lessons that had come her way.  She has no regrets, and is hopeful that the accelerated growth she experienced on earth aided her in elevating her light and vibration.  She knew that she would only be able to receive answers to her MANY questions once she crossed over.

As Joan sat down to write this eulogy, she listed her “dates” as 1960-2018.  She did this for two reasons.  She penned this mini autobiography in August of 2018 knowing that she could feasibly pass at any moment since NO ONE is promised tomorrow.  Secondly, even if she does not actually cross over in 2018, a huge part of her did die on March 6, 2018 when her only biological son departed this lifetime.  There are 58 years between the dash, which reminded Joan of a poem she once heard (ironically) entitled, “The Dash.”  She included it in her eulogy since she believed the words need to be read and heard.  What will your “dash” say about you?

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars..the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

1996-2018 Copyright Inspire Kindness, LLC

All Rights Reserved


Cleaning House- A Chore, Grief Avoidance, Or Something More?

It is quickly approaching the five-month anniversary of my son’s passing.  It seems that on or about the sixth of each month, I feel the need to post something on this blog.  In some ways, time has passed quickly, but in other ways, it all seems new, surreal and frankly unbelievable.  As I have mentioned, I have kept busy in my current unemployed (my husband refers to it as “retirement”) state meticulously and methodically giving away Mark’s clothing, shoes, diabetes supplies, and more.  This consumed copious amounts of my time and energy in the first two months.  Then, just as things were settling down, I happened to notice the aging, brown, U-Haul cardboard boxes lining a few shelves in our basement.  Inside these fading containers were countless items that once belonged to my late husband and Mark’s father, Alan.  I had kept a sampling of books that he read, music CD’s, vinyl records, letters, religious (read: Jewish) trinkets and much more.  These items had sat untouched and unused for nearly 17 years.  What was I going to do with these items now that I could not share them, discuss their meaning and ultimately pass them along to Mark?  More so, what would my current spouse do with these things if I were to suddenly pass away? I did the thing I know best.  I began opening each box, meticulously and methodically going through these (somewhat) hidden treasures determined to find a new home or useful repurposing of them.

Over the course of several days in June, I spent countless hours and close to $200 in bubble wrap, boxes and postage to ship many of these items to Alan’s family and friends.  I also gave many religious books to a friend who converted to Judaism, and donated items that had little value, both monetary and sentimental.  My main objective was to insure that these items found their way out of storage and into the hands of others where they could be used, read, listened to or passed along to younger generations.  Also, as a self-described strong and independent woman, it is always my mission to NEVER be a burden to anyone, alive or dead.  If I were to suddenly pass away, I am not sure what my current husband would have done with Alan’s possessions.  He would have little to no knowledge of the contents of these cardboard homes, nor possibly much inclination to figure out what do with all of this stuff.  Now, this (huge) project has been taken care of, and our basement shelves are more sparse and devoid of their once heavy load.

As a former “grief dodger,” it has occurred to me that all of this mindless, busy work might have served more than one purpose.  Yes, I did find new homes for many things that left untouched and unused would only become out of style or no longer wanted or useful to others, but was I guilty once again of attempting to hide from grief?   I was tried and convicted of grief dodging that occurred in the days and months after Alan passed.  I had incorrectly and naively assumed that I was “okay” and that it was legal in the United States of America to disobey the laws of grieving.  WRONG!  There is no such thing as hiding from grief.  She must always be acknowledged, obeyed and dealt with.  If not, Ms. Grief will patiently and quietly wait for you like my Momma Hawk did this Spring as she secretly stalked her prey in an effort to nourish her young offspring.  I learned this lesson like I learn most of my lessons-the hard way!  I believe with 100 percent certainty  that my diagnosis of Leukemia was in direct correlation to pent-up emotions that I buried deep within my cells from the time of Alan’s cancer diagnosis straight through the   21 months following his death.  Only when I was forced to deal with my own turn with cancer did I finally take the time and energy to work with a therapist and also purge my imbedded feelings in a journal in an effort to deal with the pain and grief associated with having a spouse become seriously ill and die.  When I surrendered to Ms. Grief, she just smiled, nodded her head and took me by the hand.  She was thrilled to see me wave my white flag, acknowledge her presence and begin the work of grieving, which is the only way to begin the healing process.  Not the forgetting process, but traveling the path to some sort of acceptance and peace.

It has occurred to me that perhaps all of this cleaning out has nothing to do with my mantra, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, OR with eliminating a mindless and painstaking chore for my husband, OR as a way to commit grief dodging for a second time, but more to do with the fact that I am preparing for my own demise.  While I am most certainly NOT suicidal, it has occurred to me that I am not afraid of death, and that if I were to go now or soon, I would be reunited with my son.  Again, this is not a death wish, but a phenomenon that is common among people who lose someone close to them, ESPECIALLY a child.  Think of the recent, back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.  Mother and daughter passed away within one day of each other.  In his new memoir, My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, Todd Fisher says that his mother “willed herself right off this planet.” I do not think that I am ready to will myself off this planet.  In fact, I just traded in not one but two cars for a new one, have begun penning my own memoir, launched a website around my intended speaking career, AND paid for the printing of business cards.  Does this sound like someone who is about to rocket off Earth and head for the Other Side?  I think not!  However, if my clock  runs out of time and my name gets called, I am ready.  And so is my basement.



A Lesson On Empathy

July 6, 2018.  It has been four months or 122 days since the untimely passing of my only biological child. We have received an abundance of kind gestures from family, friends and many people unknown to us.  This includes 97 sympathy cards and over $4,500 donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in Mark’s memory.  I have always strived to make it my daily purpose to focus on the positive and my belief that MOST people in the world are good. Perhaps this post should end here.  You know, leave them on a high note.  Not today.  I launched this blog site over nine years ago.  It was created as a place to practice writing, a vehicle to vent that costs much less than a therapist, but mostly as a chance to share my story and possibly provide some insight into our common human journey.  This post is a lesson. It is my hope that you will remain seated and attentive until the bell rings, dismissing class for the day……..

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have had people say and do the wrong things, some within hours of learning of our son’s death.  Unfortunately, this behavior has continued.  Though somewhat minimal in comparison to all of the good that has been directed our way, it has been disturbing and upsetting that these actions have occurred at all.  My husband and I had a discussion earlier this week about empathy, and whether or not it is innate or learned.  This conversation led me to my handy-dandy computer and the internet where I started poking around with the click of my mouse. Empathy is defined as, “The experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from THEIR POINT OF VIEW, rather than from your own.  You try to imagine yourself in their place (or shoes) in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.” As a first generation American of German descent, I was excited to learn that the word empathy is a rendering of the German “Einfuhlung” or “feeling into.” Wow!  These often strong, stoic and sometimes somewhat cold Krauts are human, feeling, loving, empathetic souls!  The word empathy is often confused with sympathy, which is defined as “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”  The major difference between these two similar sounding words is that sympathy is a more distant form of caring than empathy.

Through my limited Google research, I quickly learned that empathy is innate. Studies have shown its presence in newborns.  Empathy is what defines us as humans.  The big BUT here is that although it is inherited, it must be honed and groomed throughout our lifetime.  It must be modeled and exhibited in the home, schools, and community. It requires practice like any skill such as the playing the piano, conquering the game of chess, or for me mastering the ever elusive quieting of the mind that is meditation. One site went so far as to say that “Empathy has been the main driver of human progress, and that we need more of it if our species is to survive.”

I spent time researching empathy as way to try to understand the behavior of the select few who have chosen to ignore or discount the pain and tremendous loss that we are experiencing as the result of the passing of our son.  They have made a decision to disregard common human decency, such as merely asking “how are you,” because they are possibly uncomfortable around us, are death phobic or might even think that grief is somehow contagious like the flu or HIV.  With that said, what I believe are the more likely culprits since these people are known to me are the following: They are insecure, jealous, overbearing, self-centered, self-absorbed and/or enmeshed in victim consciousness so therefore are incapable of giving even the slightest attention to someone in need of a kind word or a hug.  They are living in a place of FEAR, not LOVE.  (See the religion of joan for more info about this.)  They have lost or chosen to lose their innate capacity to express empathy.

In the span of just four months, I have heard the excuse, “people don’t know what to say”.  Guess what?  I don’t know what to say either, as there are no words that will bring back my son.  However, ignoring the elephant in the room is inexcusable.  (By the way, there is no “elephant” in the room.”  There is a deceased 20-year old young man who had dreams and goals for a future.) Furthermore, it has been even more disturbing and despicable that we have had certain individuals that have gone a HUGE step further into the deep, dark, murky, unsympathetic, selfish hole and have used my son’s passing as a way to focus attention on themselves or have used my dead son as a pawn in some sick game that they are playing.  This is Exploitation with a capital E.  While I will not reveal the names of these misguided souls, their demographic is interesting.  There are currently eight members, all females and all but two of them are mothers.  The most recent “hole digger” got her shovel out earlier this week.

I am a believer in the goddess that is Karma, but not in a vengeful way.  Ms. Karma is a teacher.  A quote from Buddhist, Pema Chodron says, “The idea of Karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart.”  I believe that her words also echo today’s lesson on empathy.  If you find yourself unable to understand or express empathy, I encourage you to spend some time getting re-acquainted with this God-given human attribute that is crucial to life here on earth.  If you need someone to practice on, I am available.

Oh, and one last quote for the day.  “If someone you know has lost a child and you’re afraid to mention it because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died…..they didn’t forget they died.  You are not reminding them.  What you are reminding them is that YOU remember that they lived, and that is a great gift.”

This is Empathy with a capital E.  See, I did leave you on a positive note.  Class is dismissed.



Yep.  Today, I am going to write about poop.  An online dictionary defines constipation as “a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened feces.”  As some of you know, I am the founder, pastor and sole worshipper of the religion of joan.  (Religion with a little “r.”  Thank you J.B., for your spelling suggestion.)  The book that rests in the pews of joan’s church is, “The Bodymind Workbook,” written in 1990 by Debbie Shapiro.  This is my bible.  In this literary gift to the world, Ms. Shapiro explores how the mind and body work together.  Chapter Six is titled, “From Abscesses to Ulcers.”  In just over 70 pages, she covers nearly every physical ailment and illness-the body, and connects them to their likely mental counterpart- the mind.

On Page 124, she writes about Constipation.  The first sentence covers the physical definition, and then she goes on to explain its mental component.  “A lack of muscular movement indicates that we are trying to control events, to hold on to them for fear of letting go.  This implies a lack of spontaneity and go with the flow attitude, a desire to control due to insecurity, for if we are feeling very insecure then we will want to hold on to everything we can…..Relinquishing control implies a deep trust and ability to surrender to what is.”

I first looked up this condition many years ago when my then young son, Mark, was potty training.  He mastered Number 1 early and easily, especially for a boy, however, Number 2 proved to be a bit more challenging.  He did eventually conquer dropping the deuce, but was prone to bouts of constipation.  His poop schedule would often allow five or more days to pass before he would go, causing his belly to become distended.  I often likened this to the photos you see of starving children.  Their faces are drawn and gaunt and their limbs are thin like spaghetti, yet their abdomens are large and protruding.  This is how Mark often looked.  He was a thin and smallish child, yet he would have this large and somewhat hard stomach.  I would refer to it as his “poop belly.”

Reading Ms. Shapiro’s definition of constipation triggered my “lightbulb” moment. Mark was holding onto his poop as a means of control. He understood very little about his dad’s long illness and untimely death, as he was so very young.  He did, however, intuitively know that things were amiss within our little nucleus.  One moment we were a family of three and in an instant we were reduced to two.  When I was hospitalized for nine days in September 2003 for reasons associated with my Leukemia treatments, my sister had to step in and take care of Mark.  While staying with Betsy and her family, Mark was unable to poop.  She was eventually forced to treat this current bout of constipation with an enema.  My cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments, which had arrived just 21 months after Alan’s passing, invaded Mark’s newly created safe, stable and secure world.  He had lost his power yet again.  The only thing that he could control were his bowels.

In the months prior to Mark’s passing as well as the nearly three months since that unimaginable day, I have been experiencing my own bouts of constipation.  I initially blamed this condition on menopause, because frankly, I blame EVERYTHING on menopause!  I recently retrieved my handy-dandy bible from its perch on my bookshelf, leafed through its worn pages, and located Constipation on page 124.  As I ponder the mental connection to this physical condition, I focus on the word “control.”  I am completely aware that I am experiencing “control issues,” as this is my go-to vice.  Anorexia and traumatic life events have attempted (without much success) to teach me that I am in control of next to nothing while in my human form.  I can control what shirt I put on this morning, or what I might eat and drink throughout the day, but the BIG choices or life events are mostly managed by the divine.

If I was capable of being 100% in control, Alan would not have succumbed to a rare cancer when his son was just three years old.  I would not have been diagnosed with a different rare cancer when Mark was five years old.  AND, Mark himself would not have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he had only inhabited this planet for seven years.  What loving, caring, devoted mother would allow these horrific events to happen to her only child?  And more recently, if I were the CONTROLLER OF ALL THINGS, I most certainly would not have allowed my 20-year old son to die alone on the floor of his dorm room as the result of a diabetic episode.

And so, in an effort to nurture my body, which includes allowing my bowels to move in a more frequent and natural rhythm,  I am incorporating more fiber in my diet in the form of fruits and vegetables as well as occasionally sprinkling MiraLAX into my morning coffee.  As a means of healing my mental state, I must allow myself more time to delve into and work through my grief.  This includes relinquishing control of that which is uncontrollable.  Daily, I must repeat a phrase I learned some time ago:  “Let go, let God.”

And you thought this post was going to be about poop……………




9 + 1 = 10

The birth of a child.  There is no other miraculous event in the life of a woman that has this much meaning attached to it.  From the moment the infant is placed into our arms seconds after birth, we the mothers are overcome with intense feelings of awe, joy and love, and a fierce need to protect this tiny human from harm.  As life moves forward and our love deepens, an often unfounded fear is also developing far within the recesses of our minds. We live with the remote possibility that one day this being could become seriously ill or injured, or possibly even die.

In my small world, I know nine (9) mothers who have buried a child.  Unlike a book or garden club, this is a group that no woman chooses to join.  In recent years, it had crossed my mind that it was somewhat odd that I am personally acquainted with so many women who have lost a child.  I now know why.  On March 6, 2018, I joined their club. It took me some time, but I have made contact with all nine mothers, many in person and a few via written correspondence.  Five (5) of the mothers live within my zip code, one (1) lives in the area, and three (3) reside in another state.  It is now vividly apparent that when our paths crossed some time ago, it was for this reason.  Connecting with them has provided me with a sense of empathy and understanding that only a card-carrying member of this group can fully comprehend.  They have shown me how to grieve with grace, and how to move towards acceptance and peace.

For one, the loss has spanned nearly two decades, but for many others, only a few years have slipped by.  The one common thread is that no matter how much physical time has transpired, the loss still hurts.  Tears are easily summoned when they speak about their child, and the hole that was carved into their heart remains.  The edges of this hole, once jagged and raw, have been somewhat smoothed over with the passing of time, but the hole itself is permanent.  I am honored to know these women, and am grateful for their friendship, love and support.  We are kindred spirits who share one of life’s toughest lessons.

Thank you Dauna, Debbie S., Debbie V., Dottie, Kelli, Kristi, Linda, Rita and Susan. 

Here are a few additional notes about our club:

Two (2) of us lost our only biological child.

There are 10 children who have passed, two (2) females and eight (8) males.

Five (5) of them died as the result of illness.

Five (5) of them died unexpectedly.

Their ages at the time of death range from the youngest at just seven (7) to the oldest, a mere twenty-two (22).

Their names and ages at the time of their passing are as follows-girls first and then boys in alphabetical order:

Kelsey  Age 16

Natalie  Age 18

Arun  Age 11

Blaine  Age 22

Brody  Age 7

Grey  Age 16

Isaac  Age 17

Mark H.  Age 20

Mark V.  Age 18

Tim  Age 19

9 + 1 = 10.  I Googled meanings of the number 10, as I am the 10th member of this club.  The number 10 is the symbol of love and light.  The 10th member of a group is always an old soul.  This is significant information for me, as it completely ties into my (finally) completed motivational speaking piece.  With each passing day, I am more convinced that this is my current life’s purpose: to share my family’s story and possibly enlighten others about the evidence of the perfection of the universe and all that is divine. I am ready to take my show on the road.  I already have one presentation scheduled for June 21st.  Stay tuned for more information…..And as always, thank you for reading.

P.S. While this post speaks about mothers who have lost children, I do not want to discount or ignore the fact that when a child passes, the loss is also deeply felt by the father, siblings, other family members and friends.  With Mother’s Day just nine days behind us, I chose to acknowledge moms only with this particular piece.



And The Oscar Goes To…….

It is here.  The annual event where Hollywood rewards its finest for their accomplishments in film.  I am less about the awards (and dresses, awkward acceptance speeches and political soap boxes) and more about what I believe is one of the strongest releases of must-see movies in years.  There were so many great movies that I actually started a list and began checking them off one by one.

It began in December with the release of Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren.  We attended the opening day screening as a family since the kiddos had arrived home for their winter break.  I enjoyed the storyline as well as its spiritual message.  Next was La La Land as part of a girl’s night out with the bonus child and sister-in-law.  This flick has been making a sweep of sorts of prior awards shows, but was not one of my favorites.  I am not a huge fan of the musical, and did not like the ending.  But hey, that is just me. The remainder of the screenings were knocked off by hubby and myself as part of Friday date night. Date number one was Fences.  We loved this movie!  Mr. Joan is a huge fan of Denzel, and Ms. Viola Davis should absolutely win for best supporting actress.  Date number two and the fourth feature was Hidden Figures, which I give a HUGE thumbs up!  I love books and movies based on real-life stories.  Also, as a young follower of the space program, I had been completely unaware of the back story of these women who played an integral role in getting the U.S. to the moon and back.  Moonlight was next on the list.  This is a powerful story that portrays what I believe is a mostly accurate depiction of life in the projects, drug addiction, bullying, and more.  Lion was another must-see movie for me as it was also based on a true story.  It too told a tragic story of life in an impoverished region of India, but in the end highlighted the truth that love can always find its way home. Lastly, we just barely squeezed in Manchester by the Sea as it was no longer showing in our area, but became available on our local cable provider this past week.  We headed to the Man Cave Friday night to take in this sad, rather intense movie and the Academy Award nominated performance of Casey Affleck.

We still hope to see Loving (also on our cable network) and The Founder, two more films based on real life stories, and A Dog’s Purpose.  After that, I am concerned that this wave of great movies will come to its natural end, and the shoot ’em up, sci-fi and kid flicks will once again reign at the box office.  Our patronage of local theaters and weekly contribution to the economy will likely diminish or disappear all together. We can return to our status as homebodies where the hubby can always find something on TV and I can curl up with a good book!