Oh Right, The Cloud.

My daughter was born in 2008. Breastfeeding was a bitch. Constant mastitis, a shallow latch that was murderously painful and a terrible paranoia about whether my child was getting enough food. I attended our hospital’s free breastfeeding clinic that met every Friday morning. I quickly became a “regular” and even had a few individual sessions with the nurse who ran the group. I was living on 3 hours of sleep a night and my nipples felt like they were being carved off by a spoon, but god damn it, I wasn’t going to give up. I had a tenacity for getting this problem solved that bordered on insanity.

The nurse who ran the group was one of those people who saved souls. She had never had children, but somehow was infinitely knowledgeable on breastfeeding. She was so patient, and friendly, and nurturing. She brought me back from the ledge numerous times, answering all of my calls immediately and making me feel better, sometimes with just an encouraging smile. I have met many people over the years who have also worked with her and every individual has sung her praises. I knew she eventually had kids of her own, but I always wondered what happened to her and if she was still working with new moms.

My son and I headed to the grocery store today after I dropped my now 8 year old daughter off at school. He pointed out every construction vehicle he saw, either in real life or just in his imagination. I silently became flustered at his constant questions and his need for me to say “Yea?” to his “Mama?” every 5 seconds. At the store, we grabbed a cart and I talked quietly to him about all the things we needed to get. He pointed out the strawberries and we picked some up. I smiled at him, thinking of how lovely it is for him to be old enough to suggest good things to eat.

We picked up milk and eggs, and my eyes fell on this woman who looked familiar. I couldn’t place her–I knew her face, though. I thought, “She was good. She was helpful. She helped me with something big….who is that?” And then it dawned on me. It was the nurse! I approached her and we chatted, one of her children in the shopping cart having a snack. I pointed to my son and said, “This is my third!” She asked how old my other kids were and I told her my daughter was 8 and ‘we lost our second one.’ There’s just no good fucking way to interpose that information.

“I’m so sorry,” She said.

“Yea, it was awful.” (WTF TO SAY HERE AT THIS POINT??)

“It’s so sad,” She went on. Did she know what happened?? I didn’t know. I just moved on, because that’s what I do when this comes up. I drop the bomb and then just keep moving, because there’s nothing else I can do. We’re in a grocery store.

I finished shopping and drove home. I thought about me in the breastfeeding clinic with this teeny baby. So very, very worried about her, about us, about keeping her safe and happy. There is something profoundly saddening to remember a time when those were the extent of our problems. As if I can see myself in the past and think “Kristen, you have no idea what’s coming.” You don’t just grieve for the person you lost. You grieve for your family’s innocence. You grieve your lives without the fucking cloud over it all the time.

I have gotten so used to the cloud that I often don’t notice it anymore. It’s there, but it’s become part of our routine. It’s like bird shit on your windshield. Eventually you learn to look past it, even though it’s still there.  Once in awhile something happens and you remember what life was like before everything changed forever. I know there are no guarantees in life. There isn’t a path that was “supposed” to be. I just miss the time when I thought there was.

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The Chair

After Jay died, an internal, immediate family investigation was launched about how the hell a child could die from falling back in a chair. The doctors had all submitted their reports saying that this was a freak accident. The detectives at the DA’s office were doing whatever they were doing (probably nothing, actually, but we didn’t know that. We, or I, imagined an intense round table discussion about whether to charge us with murder). But the adults involved, consisting of my husband, myself and my mother, had lengthy discussions on how this could happen. Nothing is worse than losing a child to an accident like this, in no small part because of the constant stories from other parents who have had this exact thing happen:

“Oh, dear God, what happened?!?!?!”

“He fell back in a chair.”

“Oh, Jesus. Our little Johnny, and our daughter Sabrina, and little old Chucky down the street,and my cousin Carol, and don’t forget our little nephew Jackson, and little Eleanor, oh lord was she cute, and tiny little old Malcolm…anyway, they all fell back in chairs right onto a stone floor and thank God they only suffered a bump on the head, each and every one of them.”

No one else’s kid seemed to die quite like this. Or at all.

At first we blamed the company that made the booster seat. We wondered if we should take legal action. But then we had thrown out the directions to the chair and didn’t know exactly whether there was a weight requirement for the chair, or something else that maybe we overlooked while fixing it to the dining chair. And the booster seat was thrown out so quickly that I’m not even sure anyone even knew the company that made it.

One day at my mother’s, I put a plastic shopping bag on the back of one of the dining chairs. After a few moments, the weight from the shopping bag tipped the chair back and it slapped against the laminate floor. The same slapping sound we heard when our son fell back. The lightweight wood, the low, airy wicker seat, the long narrow back–it fell backwards so easily. It was top heavy. As soon as it fell back then, I understood how it happened. My mother vowed to get rid of the chairs, but she couldn’t. She was so ridiculously ill. In and out of chemo treatments, there was no way she would have been able to go out and choose replacement chairs for the dining table.

She died two years ago, and up until now, we hadn’t even replaced those chairs. We own the house and are there often, eating meals sitting on the same chairs–one of which was responsible for our son’s death. Yesterday, my husband went on Craigslist and immediately found solid wood chairs, with the rear two legs at a backward slant. Sturdy. Stable. $100 for 4. We picked them up today.

We brought the chairs inside and put them around the table. My husband sat down on one.

“What do you think?” he said.

“I don’t know. Hold on. I gotta get rid of these bitches first.”

I picked up two of the old lightweight chairs and walked out the door. I wondered if I was carrying The Chair, the one that my son was sitting in. I didn’t know. My mother had switched the chairs around after he died because she didn’t want anyone to feel weird sitting in a any one chair. I know it sounds strange, but I can tell you it made perfect sense at the time. She knew which one it was, too, and she wouldn’t tell me for ages. But we had moved the chairs around even since then just by happenstance, so now no one knew anymore which one was It.

My husband followed soon after with the last two chairs. We opened up the big dumpster at the end of the condominium complex. We threw 3 of them in. Before the last one went in, my husband asked, “Do you want to smash one?”

“No, just toss it in,” I said. And then I picked one up and tried to smash it anyway. It bounced on the asphalt. Barely scratched. I tried it again. Same thing. Falls backward with any weight put on the back, but tough as shit. I put it in the dumpster, and hoped no one would see these four seemingly perfect chairs and take them into their own home.

We closed the dumpster lid and walked back to the condo. I sat down on the “new” wood chairs. They fit perfectly with our dining table. I was glad they were there. I know my mom would be happy those fucking chairs were gone. Me too, mama.


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My daughter was an awful sleeper. No, that’s not right to say. Rather, I was terrible at knowing when to put her down, was terrified of letting her cry and did everything wrong that a first time mother often does. I read books, but had no instinct. Nothing felt right or natural, and I felt like I would never, could never, be a good mother.

But all of those different sleep books I read shared a few pieces of the same advice. One of which was give your child a lovey. So I did. Each day before my daughter’s nap I chose a different stuffed animal that she had in her room. It didn’t seem that any of them “took”. She didn’t appear to care for any of them. It could have been that I never had the foresight to give the loveys more time in the crib with her. I switched them out, sure that we hadn’t found the right one.

One day I tossed in a fluffy, anthropomorphic looking lamb. Lammie Pie was discreetly embroidered on his chest. “Maybe this one,” I thought. I gave it to her, and she gave it a hug. I noticed his feet were filled with some kind of bead material. I imagined her chewing it in her crib, the beads getting eaten, etc. “I’ll take him out when this nap is over,” I thought. But when she awoke and I came to retrieve Lammie Pie out of the crib, she clutched him tightly and didn’t want to let me have him.

And that is the start of the greatest love story ever told.

He never left the crib. He was always in there, for every nap. She began asking for him when she played. She started carrying him around the house all the time. Then he began to come to the park. He gained full fledged, four star general level Lovey Status. He started coming to every family vacation, to the store, to the bathroom for potty training, Santa began buying him outfits each Christmas, he went down slides and swings and appeared in every family photo.

Sometimes he’d be forgotten for a trip to the store, but not for big trips. Except one. He was somehow forgotten on a routine trip to my mother’s. Jay died on that trip. Not that there was any correlation, but God damn it, if there was a time ever that we needed Lamb, that was fucking it. She hated Lamb after Jay died. Then she called him Jay for awhile. Then she renamed him Jayden for months and months, as if that were a disguise no one would pick up on. My husband and I also had to call him Jayden and it was torture. We watched as she pulled him, stamped on him, stuffed him in a drawer and repeatedly asked if she could throw him away. My husband and I were as cool as we possibly could be, offering to put him away if she wanted, but said we would not throw him away. She knew we were all attached to Lamb. It was her way of expressing all of her aggression towards the situation and the two people who were not supposed to let something like this happen: Us.

When she finally reconnected with Lamb, a collective sigh was felt through the entire family. It wasn’t just me. I could see it on my husband’s face. “Thank God he’s back.”

Last week, I took my daughter to a beautiful summer day camp near the ocean. Lamb was along for the ride, of course. We got out of the car and she asked me to hold him while she climbed a tree before the camp started. I carefully placed him on my left shoulder, adjusting him several times until I could walk freely with him nestled into my neck. I’m not going to lie. I like him there. I like that he is there with us, and with her. It is no longer just her lovey. It is the family’s lovey. We are all weirdly attached to him. If our family had a flag or a crest, he would be on it.  
She climbs the tree and I watch her, my head tilted slightly towards Lamb. I’m thinking about how special he is. She says to me, “Mama…..Lamb.” I walk over and dutifully hand him over, even though I am secretly digging hanging out with him. I won’t post the pic set I took with him in our backyard a few weeks ago, just he and I. She wants to put him in the tree with her and show him how to climb it. I watch her with him. She’s excited to show him everything. I think about how she is going to be eight this year, and that there will be one day when she will be too embarrassed to do this with him. One day he will be relegated to her bed once more. But for now, we are watching his day in the sun and it is glorious to behold.

She brings him to her nose and breathes deeply. “He smells like home.” I couldn’t believe that in this instant we were both thinking about how wonderful he is. It makes me happy that the smell of home is special to her.

Her camp is a farm that sits on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean. This is what heaven looks like, but it was cold as shit and I didn’t bring a coat. “Baby, I’m gonna take off.” I go to get Lamb and her face changes.

“Mama, can I keep him at camp?”

“Baby, you lost that stuffed bunny here 2 days ago.” 

“I’ll keep him in my backpack the whole day.”

She wants him with her. She knows the gravity of the situation, and that I am afraid to lose him. He’s like the family touchstone. I can see how much she wants him, though, and I won’t let my anxiety over this make the decision.

“Ok, baby. Keep him in the top pocket. Close the zipper.” I watch as she secures him. And I walk away and get in the car and think about what I would do if we lost him, how we would deal and how long she would hurt. When I go pick her up, it’s one of the first questions I ask before we leave the camp.

“Do you have Lamb?”






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At the beginning of the school year, one of my daughter’s classmates lost her mother to cancer. My interactions with the woman were few, but she exuded generosity and was a nurturing soul, committed fully to her family. I barely knew her, but I felt the loss deeply, not only for the family who lost her, but for myself, too. I missed her dearly even though I hadn’t seen her in months and months before she passed.

There was a funeral. I quickly made the decision that we would not go. I felt like my daughter had been through enough, and since she was not close to her classmate, that going would expose her to unnecessary grief when she had already experienced so much loss already. I felt like going would be like ripping a bandaid of an injury that she didn’t even endure. 

After the funeral happened, my daughter heard about it from her friends who had gone. She asked me why we didn’t go. I told her that we really didn’t know the family, but that reason didn’t sound right to me anymore. It seemed like everyone went but us. But the time for considering it was over. We missed it.

She has asked me a couple of times since then, and she asked me last night. I gave her the same reason I gave before. We were in the bathroom doing teeth and mouthwash before bed. I stroked her head and finally told her the real reason we didn’t go. “I felt like maybe it would be too sad for you.” It felt good to just say it. I knew she was able to hear it. She swished her mouthwash and used hand signals to speak to me, as she does every night, as if whatever she needs to tell me can’t possibly wait the 60 seconds it takes to swish. She shook her head and waved her hands. 

“Are you saying that we should have gone?” I asked.

Nods head yes.

“Are you saying it wouldn’t have been too sad for you?”

Nods head yes.

She then walks into the adjoining playroom and sits down at her desk. She’s writing something, but doesn’t want me to look at it until she’s done. When she’s finished, she waves me over, still swishing the mouthwash. 

Ugh. Initially, reading that was so sad that my eyes welled up with tears. Fuck. But then I realized I was missing the point, just as I had missed the point at the beginning of the year by skipping the funeral. 

She went to spit her mouthwash out and came out of the bathroom. “Are you saying that you could have handled it?” I asked.

“Yea, I can handle it. I mean, maybe if someone lost every single person they love, that would be too sad for me. But I don’t think that would happen.”

“Ok, baby. Next time there’s a funeral, we’re going.”

It’s hard to see your child learn these big life lessons when you’re still figuring them out yourself. But they’re more resilient than we give them credit for, and protecting them too much just does them a disservice and, frankly, kinda makes you look like a pussy in the end. I should have told her about the funeral and asked for her thoughts. I was afraid, though. I was afraid that she would want to go and then find it too sad. I was afraid that it would be too sad for all of us. That an unfair assumption on my part. Everyone in this family was slapped in the face with trauma they couldn’t control. I should have allowed her to be in control over this instead of making the decision for her. 

Children reprocess their grief through each developmental stage. You’re not ever really “done” raising a grieving child. What I always fail to remember is that I have so much still to learn about how to do this with her. But I will tell you this: She’s a fucking good teacher. 

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Phone Calls

If you ask any parent, I’m sure they will stand right up and proclaim that they love playing with their kids. And most of us do. But there are probably at least 5 games/make believe scenarios that you could rattle off that you absolutely abhor. I have to play a game every day called “Bad Sister”, where my daughter plays the role of a younger, totally perfect sister and I play a total asshole older sister.It does great things for her development. It allows her to see what happens when people (like my character) make bad choices while she gets to role play always doing the right thing. It makes her feel empowered and heroic while I play the role of a complete dick. I understand why we do it and she really gets something out of it, but I really do hate this game.

There are other games,though, that I absolutely love. The other day we played a restaurant game. She took all of the fake food we have in the playroom, which is enough to fill an actual restaurant, and she organized everything in sections. She put down pillows for the tables and set down stuffed animal customers at each table. She was the cook and I had to take orders. I was given a stack of Post-It notes and I had to go around taking everyone’s order, welcoming them, rattling off specials, asking about drinks, etc. I did a better job than when I was an actual waitress in my 20’s for sure. I wrote down their orders and gave the Post-It note to “the cook”. She dutifully put the order together and served each customer.

“Who ordered the veggie sandwich, mama?”

“Let’s see…I think it was blue teddy.”


It was so much fun that I totally lost track of the time. I was 100% in the pretend world, which is hard to fully get into once you’re an adult. The pretend world is so addictive and so fun as a child, but it can feel sometimes like you just don’t get it anymore as an adult. It was kind of a relief to know I could get there again.

We played another game the other day that I really love and recommend to any parent who is raising a grieving child. My daughter made this up, and I’m glad she did, because I’m not sure how I would have introduced this play scenario without it being forced and weird.

“Ring!!! Mama, the phone’s ringing! Hello?”

“Who is it, baby?”

“It’s Jay!”

Wow. The first time I heard this I didn’t know what to do. I just followed her lead. Now we talk to Jay and Gramma quite often on the pretend phone and I love it.

“How’s Gramma doing, baby?”

“She’s good! She’s taking care of Jay. Here, she wants to talk to you.”

There is something I really, really like about having pretend phone conversations. I don’t know what it is, but I immediately fall right into an actual conversation with a plastic phone with 3 buttons on it.

“Hi, Gramma! How’s it going? Uh-huh……..uh-huh….oh, you’re kidding, that’s hilarious! And is he talking a lot? Oh, I bet he is! What? He’s riding a bike now??? That’s crazy. Well, we sure do miss you over here……uh-huh….well, you wouldn’t believe what Floyd’s up to. He’s so funny, you would just flip out at all the words he’s saying…..oh she’s great, she’s doing so well in school, she actually has a play coming up….”

And I go on and on before I hand the phone off to my daughter and she has her own pretend conversation with our dead relatives. Occasionally Floyd is also given the phone. He does say hello but he really doesn’t get that we’re acting out how much we miss them and wish we could actually talk to them.

This scenario really hits home how therapeutic play can be. It’s much more effective than sitting in a therapist’s office discussing what you might want to say to someone. You’re on the phone, next to whoever you’re playing with, but not directly interacting with them, passively detailing all of the things you want so much to say to your loved one, without making it this big discussion about sadness and feelings. I would posit that fake phone conversations is a solid play therapy for both adults and kids. It allows us to convey to each other how much we miss our special people without it feeling overwhelming for her.

One day I will no longer be asked to be the asshole in the Bad Sister game. And my daughter will eventually get to the age where she doesn’t have pretend conversations on the phone anymore (or not…I actually still do this when I’m in a really awkward situation). Sometimes it can feel difficult to talk to our children about something as complicated as grief. But really, it isn’t. Kids can be excellent at framing a complicated situation in simpler terms, and they work through so much while at play. When she gets older, we will have deeper conversations about what it’s like to never, ever speak to someone again. But for right now, it sure feels good to talk to our loved ones on the phone.

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Right Before

I hate this time of year.

I mean, his birthday is hard. Christmas is hard. The day of his death is hard. All that stuff is hard to deal with. But what’s really shitty are the weeks leading up to the death anniversary. All I can think about is how those days traveled by and we had no idea what was going to happen.

In late January, his hair was getting long. I cut it. I wanted to keep it, so I used my label maker and typed out his name and the date. I wrapped the sticky side around his little lock of hair and stuck it in our windowed cabinet where we display special things. “Jay 1.29.13”. Having no clue that the next time I’d be cutting his hair was because he was brain dead, lying motionless in front of me.

A few days later, I bought a plaster cast for his footprint. Those things aren’t easy to use. I tried relentlessly to get it right, placing his little wiggly foot on it over and over until I thought I had gotten the best we could get. The plaster ended up being flawed. By the time it dried, I had decided that I would buy another one and do it again. “Jay  2/4/13” carved into it. 15 days later his hand would be placed into another one by the hospital staff for us to take home. We didn’t get to leave with our actual son. We left with a handprint. Which, as an aside, was worse than the one I did 2 weeks before.

Facebook’s “On This Day” is particularly difficult. Pictures, status updates, all from this chick with two kids that has no idea what’s around the corner. Every year it’s like having to re-watch a horrible tragedy unfold slowly. “Oh, this is the part where the grandmother visits. Here’s where they take a family photo 3 days before he dies. Here’s the last picture ever taken of him…and they have no idea!!” It’s a vicious fucking rerun that I can’t avoid. Even if I stayed off of Facebook, it’s still in my head. Everything we did before everything changed.

My husband and I discussed how weird it feels this year. It’s been 3 years now. 3 years! It’s hard to fathom he’s been gone that long. There is a coating of dust on his urn as we speak. 3 years in an urn. Unthinkable.

And that’s what it is right now: Unthinkable. For so long I was so steeped in it; it was the only way to feel close to him. Now I feel like I’ve run away for too long. Not on purpose, mind you, but I’ve let myself get out of touch with the grief. It isn’t healthy to do that, at least for me. I find that when I stay away too long, it’s torture when it returns. It’s always better to keep your hand in some grief. Let yourself feel it all the time, just a bit, so you can control it. Turn your back on it, and it will eat you alive when you face it again.  This is exactly what I’ve done, and it’s going to be a bitch to deal with now.

How do you deal with your grief when this anniversary approaches? How do you deal with your grief when it hasn’t been visited for awhile?


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Grief Glasses

When you live through a traumatic experience, you look at things differently. You have your trauma sunglasses on, and while that can open up your world in many ways, you sometimes forget to take those glasses off and are unable to just live in the world as a normal person. Your child may be overly anxious or shy because they’ve lived through something horrible. Or, that just might be the kid you gave birth to. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Once in awhile, after I pick my daughter up from school, we take a different route home because of the ridiculous amount of traffic in the area at that time. That route brings us near a cemetery. When we pass it, she often asks me if we can take a drive through the cemetery to look at the graves.

“Certainly,” I reply. And I drive on in, as if we’re going to look at Christmas lights.

We slowly drive past the headstones, remarking on the different sizes and shapes. She asks about the particularly old looking ones and asks me to read the dates to her. Then we figure out how many years ago that person died and talk about how long ago that was. Some of the graves are well over 100 years old.

She asks other questions, too. Because of the job I used to have, I know more than anyone needs to know about burials and cremations. I should wear a t-shirt that says, “Ask me about your final arrangements!” She asked me last week during our cemetery drive, “Will the rain leak into the grave?” I went over how someone is buried. We talked about the casket, the coffin and how everything is sealed shut. She wanted to know why everything is sealed. We often talk about death as a return to nature, so she was befuddled why anyone would want to keep themselves from returning to life in another form. I explained that long ago, people felt it was very important to preserve themselves, so that they would always stay the same, even in death. Nowadays, while many still hold that belief, it is becoming more common to be cremated. Also, since land costs a lot of money, there simply isn’t room enough to bury everybody.

One of my worst parenting flaws, behind very little patience and a tendency to fucking nag constantly, is that I talk too goddamn much.

We left the cemetery and resumed our drive home, and I wondered from where her curiosity stemmed. I know part of it is that she is enthralled with the idea of visiting someone’s grave. She wants a place where that person will be. A tangible spot. Not an urn, and not the vast ocean where her grandmother floats endlessly. But a place where the whole body is, together. A special place to go and be with that person is important to her.

Death is something that she’s had to make room for in her life. It wasn’t distant relatives who died. She lost two very close people, one right after the other. Death was a project she was forced to take on, like a 1000 piece puzzle dropped on the head of a little girl. She’s still on the floor, working on this puzzle, trying to find where the pieces fit. It’s something she’ll work on for a long, long time.

But let’s take the grief sunglassess off for a moment.

I have a memory of myself, at 10 years old, creeping into a closed cemetery to look around. I tried to get back over the gate and wound up stuck in mid-air, hanging off the gate by my cable knit sweater while my friends laughed hysterically. And at 18, creeping through cemeteries at night with my boyfriend, walking around quietly, taking in the idea that I was surrounded by people who had once lived. I read the headstones, taking particular notice at the old ones, the dear babies and beloved wives, the pictures placed on the headstones, the stones left on top, and the ones so sunken in by countless storms that you could scarcely read who it was that was once placed there so lovingly.

My sweet girl is indeed working on that big grief puzzle. She has also inherited a bit of her mother’s weirdness.


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Teaching Kids About Death

In the early, most horrible days, a very trusted child psychologist gave me advice on how to reassure my daughter that she wouldn’t also lose me or her father.

“Tell her that everything is going to be OK. Tell her nothing is going to happen to you.” I knew she was right, too. This wasn’t the time to keep it real for my daughter. She, no, we all, were traumatized and terrified. I needed to be able to shore her up. I was supposed to make her feel safe.

And I did. For awhile, anyway. Over the course of many months, we slowly started coming back from the edge. However, the questions never stopped coming. “When will you die? What will I do when I lose you? Please don’t ever die, mama.”

And I stopped lying to her. I didn’t break it down insensitively, but I was honest about the fact that death is a part of life. I reminded her that because mama and papa made Jay, we all have a bit of Jay in us. And when her grandmother died 18 months later, I reminded her that we are part Gramma. I tell her that yes, I will die one day, but that I take good care of myself and that I am doing everything I can to lead a long, healthy life. I don’t tell her that I’m going to live to be a hundred. She’s seen firsthand that we truly don’t know when our time is up. It’s not my job to bullshit her until she’s an adult. It’s my job to remind her how precious life is.

I also tell her that knowing that we all die makes me love everyone around me that much more. It makes me do things that sometimes scare me. It makes me do things that exhilarate me. It makes me say things that I would have been afraid to utter a few years ago (and a few years ago I still said way more than I should have, so this might be a problem). Many friendships have deepened, fading friendships faded away completely, and I have had deeper conversations with my most cherished people than I think was ever possible before. No, losing my son and mother were not “blessings in disguise.” I just learned a few things.

We hide death from our children. We teach them that only bad people die. Or that babies never die. Or that you’ll die when you’re 100 years old. I was talking to a friend the other day who said, “I love your blog. I mean, I can’t read it all the time because it makes me too sad, but it’s so great.” I felt sorry that she couldn’t even deal with my blog. Most grown adults tell me, “I can’t believe you’re able to stand here and talk to me like this. I never would have survived.” I absolutely hate that statement. A grown adult, speaking to me like a 5 year old would. The lies they were told as children are still looping around in their minds 40 years later: “I’m glad that little thing called Death isn’t going to happen to me. I just couldn’t handle it. Whew!”

A couple of years ago, a wild, unknown animal caught a rat in our backyard and left the carnage on one of our stone steps. Of course, my daughter found it immediately. Instead of ushering her back inside, we looked at it together. It was a complete mess. Maggots were eating it, and ants were eating the maggots. She was fascinated by the whole thing, so I decided to turn it into a lesson about life. The rat was dead. Part of it was food for another animal, who got energy from that food to go do other things. Maybe it fed its babies. The maggots are eating the food and will become flies later. The ants are eating the maggots, which will give them energy to aerate the soil. The actual rat is dead, but the energy derived from that rat is keeping other living things going. The rat continues to help make the world go round, even though it’s not alive anymore.

We continued to come back every few days to check on the rat. Eventually, it disappeared completely. The rat was now gone, but not before impacting countless other beings on this Earth. And while I may pull them up one day, there is a decent collection of moss and weeds where that rat once lay. Life.

This is the way death should be explained to a child. It’s not just something you experience at the end of your life. It’s all around us, and is a necessary part of living. We eat plants and animals, all of which died. We receive that energy and that allows us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Without death, there is no life.

I’m still afraid of death. I will lie to myself just so I can get to sleep at night. Leaving my children too early is my greatest fear. But I know the truth, and my deep seeded fear is not going to make me shroud my children from what is not only a natural, but necessary, part of our world.  I truly believe they will grow to be happier, healthier adults understanding that death isn’t something to look away from. In fact, it is only by looking at death realistically are we able to really understand life.


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House of Treasures

Things are going well. Not sure if they’re going well because I’ve been distracted with other things, or if I’m just now able to distract myself with other things because I’m doing well.

We traveled down to my late mother’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. I love being there. My husband and I sleep in her bed. I literally sleep exactly where she died. And I don’t care, either. Sometimes I fantasize that I’m there all alone. I want to get into her bed and peer out at her room from under the covers. I want to imagine what she would be doing if she were still alive. I like to pretend I am a teenager and I get into her bed during summer vacation while she’s up in the morning getting ready for work. I don’t think you ever forget how your mom smells. I remember being in her bed and feeling cozy and happy. That smell conjures up feelings of safety and reliability. I barely ever smell it anymore these days, but when I’m at her house, sometimes it still happens.

I want to lie there and look at her pictures on the wall, stare at the titles of the books on the bookshelf. Look back into her closet and see the still-hanging clothes…the ones I couldn’t get rid of. I want to smell the ocean through the sliding glass door, and watch the white curtains blow gently until I close my eyes.

I love being in her house. I’ll get ready in there, and think of something. “Oh damn, I wish I remembered my shower cap.” And then I’ll open a drawer and one will be tucked away in the back. “I forgot my lipstick.” There’s hers. “I wish I had remembered to bring a hair tie.” I look in a different drawer and it’s there.

My husband remarks on the old, tiny kitchen. I see years of pulling open the cutlery drawer to make a sandwich. He balks at the 70’s countertop. I see countless conversations with my mother sitting on a kitchen stool, asking her about everything from friends to crushes to when would I finally, finally, finally start my period.

“It must be hard being there with your mom gone,” someone said. No, it isn’t. She’s everywhere there. She’s everywhere and she’s not sick and feeling like complete shit. I still find little things there. Grocery store lists, random notes, cards she intended to send, but didn’t. It’s a treasure trove of my mother. It’s stopped in time. She died so quickly. I walk in, a year later, and it still looks like she’s just popped to the store.

Slowly, very slowly, we are making it our own. We’re making decisions on furniture and what needs fixing. But I still treat it like it’s hers. I sweep the floor constantly. I dust as if I live there 24/7. I pull the weeds, water the plants, and still take my shoes off when I come in. When we drag in sand from a beach outing, I immediately clean it up so she’s not disappointed.

When Jay died, one of the first things a therapist told us was to take his carseat out. We were driving around with his carseat still installed for weeks. “It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your daughter to sit back there and see that. Take it out now.” So, we did. And as soon as it was out, it was a relief. Seeing the empty carseat that used to hold your living child was torture for us and we didn’t realize it until it was out. That reminder did a lot of harm. But this isn’t like that. I feel like I’ll know when it’s time to let that house go. Or maybe it will just become our house naturally, and we’ll never let it go. Either way, for now, I still need it.

I still need her.


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Time Away

Something happened.

It wasn’t just one thing. It was a collection of things. I’d finish the frenetic morning breakfast/school lunch making/drop off routine, look down at my hands and notice all the spots I earned from decades of not wearing sunscreen. I’d look in the rear view mirror and see dark circles under my eyes as well-worn (and seemingly as old) as the Nile River. I quit my job in February, which I certainly do not regret, but am having a hard time with the question “What exactly do you do?”

“Well, I write.”

“Oh really? What have you written?” Genuinely interested parties would ask.

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s a blog.”

“What is it about?”



And therein would start the conversation of my son. I began feeling like an old, sun-spotted, unemployed Grief Queen. I felt neither interesting nor inspired. I began a healthy handful of blog posts, then would save the draft and go do something else. I had thoughts and ideas I wanted to share; things I felt needed to be said, but suddenly just didn’t have the motivation to keep going. I had to take a break from putting my creative energy toward something that was so serious, so sad, and so solemn.

Not that blogging makes me sad. In fact, it’s profoundly therapeutic. In fact, I should have kept going. But I didn’t. I ran away for awhile and began a new venture. I began a new creative outlet that made me forget about extraordinary sadness, sun spots and a stomach reminiscent of The Saggy Baggy Elephant.  It’s something I intend to keep doing, but it’s good to get back to writing that has a whole bunch more heart.

I was lying in bed the other day when math hit me over the head. I have been thinking about how my son has been gone for two years, and it never occurred to me during all those months of that thinking that year 3 was coming up soon. Christ fuck, 3 years?! How on earth could he be gone for that long? I was watching Floyd in the bath tonight, all happy and laughs. Just having a gay old time, and it crushed me all of a sudden that all of the love and happiness that was Jay isn’t here. He’ll sit in my lap and all I see is the back of his head and feel his little warm body in my lap. I could be reading to Jay, but I’m not. I’m reading to his brother, who wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t died. And he did! Floyd had his first dental appointment today; a milestone Jay never reached. We sat down and the dentist said, “I just love his sweater!” My gut reaction was to respond with, “Thanks, it’s his brother’s.” But I didn’t. I stopped at “Thanks” and spent the next minute wondering if I should have put that on Floyd today.

Grief is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week experience. You get breaks, sure, but you’re on call for grief for the rest of your life. You don’t know when you’ll be pulled into the sads, or get those dreadfully traumatic moments where you actually, fully take in what has happened to you, your family and your child. So you must forgive me for running away for awhile. But as I said, it’s a job that never goes away. I will always be back.

For grieving parents: What do you do when you need to run away? How do you take breaks in your own life? Do you feel guilty when you do? I do sometimes, but I do it anyway.

Also, I would love to write more about topics that interest people. If you have any ideas for things you’d like covered, please message me with your thoughts. I have always wanted this blog to have more reader comments and input, so please feel free to ask for any grief topic to be covered.


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