24 December 2008

Christmas Eve snow

As the snow falls, and we are covered in over 25 inches of snow, I am reminded that many families do not feel like listening to Frosty the Snowman; they do not feel like singing Joy to the World.

The beauty of the snow, the reflective white light, is contrasted by the depth of the snow, the difficulty in maneuvering through the town, the inability to just throw on a coat and go out for a walk. One needs to think twice before heading out.

And in this season of celebration for some, in the birth of a baby, I am reminded too of the death of so many infants.

And today, especially, I send my friend, Gina, big, big love, like this:

The smile on both Ginas faces may be a reminder that smiles will return, that joy will be found. Gina P's mother died last week and in the midst of the holidays, in the midst of the faces of joy we are supposed to wear, there are friends with heavy hearts, friends who would rather in the midst of this holiday season, pull the blankets up over their head as the snow falls faster.

Gina's mom, Kay, knew about grief. Gina knows about the emptiness felt by the absence of an older sister, born still, born without taking a breath, born not of this world but into her heavenly Father's arms. And now Gina knows the grief of losing a mother.

And the snow keeps falling.

27 November 2008

Welcome to the world...

To my sweet, nameless, little friend whom I've never met,

You are three days old today and four weeks early. I heard this from your mommy who is really amazing for emailing me three days after your birth, especially since we've never even met in person. But this, sweet girl, is what you must understand about your life: Already there are people who love and adore you who don't even know you. Your little five-pound petite self is making splashes all across this country, and all you are worried about is where your next meal is coming from! As it should be.

This is a strange, strange thing, this whole thing about love and babies. You--you just get to do exactly whatever it is you do, day and night, and you will be loved. Period. end of the sentence that isn't really a sentence at all. Truly, love is more of a question mark often but today, you are the exclamation point!

Someday, you will learn about Pudding. Maybe your mother and father will tell you. Maybe your big brother, Gus! But know that you are one lucky, little girl with the two big brothers you have and the arms wrapped around you right now.

And if you ever for a second, god forbid, question your parents' love, which you most certainly will, let today be the day that I can honestly say without knowing a thing about you, that love is all around and surrounding you! And your mother adores you beyond anything you will ever understand. It is our job as parents.

Welcome to this crazy, harried, mixed-up place that we call life! That you have come into it with eyes wide open is a gift much larger than I hope you will ever have to understand.

Love from Spokane, from a friend that you may never need to meet!

And to your mother, Elizabeth, from the bottom of this cracked and beat up heart, love, love and more love to all of you!!

25 November 2008

Beauty from Pain

Where I've been...

The lights go out all around me
One last candle to keep out the night
And then the darkness surrounds me
I know i'm alive but i feel like i've died
And all that's left is to accept that it's over
My dreams ran like sand through the fists that i made
I try to keep warm but i just grow colder
I feel like i'm slipping away

Where I never thought I'd be...

After all this has passed, i still will remain
After i've cried my last, there'll be beauty from pain
Though it won't be today,
Someday i'll hope again
And there'll be beauty from pain
You will bring beauty from my pain

When you're in that tunnel, when you can't see the light, it's hard to know where the light is going to come from.

In the early days AG (after Grace), my days were all darkness. There was so much darkness that I didn't even want to find the light. And if some light started to seep in, I'd crawl farther into the dark. I remember being alive and wishing for death.

It was a dark, dark time. It was a kind of darkness, that if I think about it for too long, I start to feel panic, I start to feel the pain, I start to hypervenilate. And so, as much as I want to find the beauty in that pain, the beauty really has come after the pain, from the people, the experiences, the life after Grace.

The entire area around Grace remains panic-stricken--the ultrasound, the drugs, the birth, post-birth.

It's the sounds I can remember--Beth walking down the hall taking Grace to the funeral home. The sound of the elevators when we left the hospital without her. The whirl of the lights at 3:40 a.m. when I woke up with blood pouring out of me. The sound of nothing waking up that first morning at home, without child, with milk running down my breast, crying out.

There is pain all around. I have friends in pain right now and I can do nothing. It is the helplessness really that's the hardest. The part of me that wants to fix the world, that wants to find the beauty and take the pain away.

And yet I know that the stark contrast of pain from beauty is really what makes those moments even more stunning. It is seeing Sawyer for the first time, crying out and the eyes open, the open eyes. I can tell you now there is absolutely nothing more beautiful than the open eyes of a baby. Seeing his eyes wide open after birth, the looking around, the searching for milk.

What I wish for my friends, for my friend, is the absolute knowledge that from this pain comes sheer joy, sheer pleasure. And from this place of deep sadness within me comes understanding and love and grace. And that this sadness too shall pass and when it does, we will dance and sing and celebrate all of the briefness that is Grace and grace.

02 November 2008


Terry, Carver, Sawyer and I spent the last 2 hours in the ER. Sawyer fell at a friend's house and had to get the cut on his head permabonded (no stitches).

Being in an ER allows a lot of time for thinking and a lot of time to remember trauma.

So there she was--Grace--right there in front of me, taking up space in my head while I was trying to console Sawyer during the trauma he was experiencing. Wrapping him up in a sheet like a burrito and holding him down was bad, was painful, but having experienced Grace gave us the calm, gave us the steel we needed somehow to sing songs to him, to wipe his forehead, to keep him calm.

When Carver broke his leg some years ago, before Grace, I nearly passed out in the ER as they were holding him down, as he was screaming, as he was begging them to stop and yet, here in this hospital tonight, I was holding down Sawyer. Terry and I were singing to him and I thought, "he's screaming, I am so grateful for his tears, for his pain, for our ability to hold him."

I just wanted her to cry. I just wanted to hear her wail and still the silence of Grace's birth is deafening, the absolute stillness, the lifelessness of it all, it is too much, too great.

And so, as Sawyer cried and wailed, I found myself surprisingly calm, surprisingly okay with all of it. "All we can do is keep breathing; all we can do is keep breathing; all we can do is keep breathing."

And Grace, she is here among us, silently teaching me how to fall in love over and over again with my children, grateful for their burdens, grateful for their cuts, grateful that the trips to the ER brings us back home with our children safe in their beds.

29 September 2008

Thoughts on a conference--body, mind and soul

Where can a person put four days of grieving with bereaved families? Where can a person put the grief for a child killed in a car accident, shot in the desert, dying in the arms of his mother, left in a car, born dead from his mother's body? There are far too many to name, far too many for anyone here to have to read.

But what I can tell you is this--

When you sit in a room full of 200 bereaved parents, there is an energy, there is alot of pain, and there is also the possibility for so much growth, so much transformation, so much awe, that I sit here thinking about my return, thinking about my homecoming and I am amazed at the resiliency, the love and the power of grief. And I know that there are families today who are aching for the MISS conference, aching for their child, aching for the understanding that is inherent in a conference like this. And I can tell these same families that I know what this is like, I know what can happen in a conference like this and how, with time, there really will come a new kind of energy, a new sense of purpose, and sometimes that purpose is as simple as getting out of bed, pouring a bowl of cereal for a living child, walking out the door to collect the mail.

Sometimes it is enough to know that someone else across the country, in another city, is sitting and thinking of you, thinking of your child, saying a prayer, sending a wish for a moment of breathing, one single smile in a day, a humingbird finding some nectar.

And never forget that all of this began, this energy, this work, this conference because 14 years ago, a small child, living in her mother's belly stopped breathing, and as she took that last breath, she created a kind of ripple effect unknown at the time to her mother, unknown to her family, unknown to the world. But with her last breath came a lasting breath, a breath that each of us feels as we return each year to Phoenix to share our stories, to share our hearts. A warm breath that becomes larger than any of us can imagine, most of all, I'm sure, her mother.

And with Cheyenne's last breath, she created new life in more ways than anyone could ever quantify or understand because really, there is no understanding in a child's death, no understanding.

But let me say to everyone who can listen, I understand. I understand that your child is your world and your life and your love.

I am here.

22 September 2008

Figments of imagination

I first discovered this book in Oprah magazine, excerpted as an essay and what struck me besides the absolute beauty and starkness of the language was the understanding, the grace, the simplicity of the words and the complexity of the words all at the same time.

I will just quote Elizabeth here at the beginning of her memoir:

"A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son."

And that, my friends, is the beginning of a book that takes your breath away with sadness, with laughter, with hope, and with the ultimate faith in life.

Is it a book for parents whose children have died? I don't know. I am reading it. I put it down several times a day. I will read it. My husband may not. He doesn't like sad books anymore. He doesn't like books or stories where babies die. He doesn't find comfort in that. I somehow still do.

And because I first discovered Elizabeth in The Giant's House, a novel that sings, I know that I cannot be disappointed in her writing. And because Ann Patchett and Alice Sebold love McCracken's writing, well then, that also says a great deal. And because I think, Elizabeth's first love is of the literary genre, it too is evidenced here.

But of course there is a paradox because the book, however lovely, is here because her son is not. And that will always be the real tragedy.

Do I have any disappointments about the book? Only one. When I picked it up, it was lighter than I expected, and I realized in that moment, that I wanted it to weigh a healthy eight pounds. I wanted to hold it in my arms and rock it. And that perhaps is all that is left to be said except for this:

Go and buy the book!

17 September 2008

Gracie girl....

Once in a while, I find myself walking along through life doing just fine. And then something happens and bam, I'm struck back down on my knees! Just like that.

A couple of days ago that happened to me. I was just going along with my day, with my life and this song started playing, "Gracie" by Ben Folds. I'd never heard it before, and just like that, I was there with tears streaming down my face, completely taken by surprise, off-guard and what was lost was right there in front of me. A life with Grace. A baby, a toddler, a child, all of those years just wiped away and the song, so haunting, so lovely, so simple just undid me.

Two days later, I think, the puffiness in my eyes is decreasing, and I am starting to return to this world again but not without this song playing in my head over and over again.

"You can't fool me, I saw you when you came out....and there is always gonna be a part of me nobody else is gonna see but you and me..."

And sometimes you just have to be prepared for when life catches you off guard.

12 September 2008

Traveling Mercies

A friend emailed me last week while reading Anne Lamott's book, 'Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on Faith' and sent me this quote:

"... (Grace) is unearned love -- the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrased and eventually as grateful as you are to be there."

And that seems to sum it up best. Anne Lamott seems most times to find the words to express the emotion when it fails others.

Grace is the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. And in this way, Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place...

I remember shortly after she died being afraid to be alone. I didn't want to be left alone in any room by myself nor did I want to be in the presence of others. It was a difficult place to be wishing for isolation and fearing loneliness when of course, both of those things co-existed whether or not someone was in the room with me or not.

I was afraid to be alone because the silence was overwhelming, the emptiness, the hunger, the aching was too great, too large, too cumbersome.

Sometimes, someone would come and sit with me and ask questions when I didn't want questions to be asked and other times, there was the rare person who just came and sat and that was grace. That was the grace I was looking for, the simple presence of another person without questions, without an agenda, without fear.

Most people who came to visit me were afraid--afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to not say anything at all, afraid to get too close to me as if I could rub off on them, as if I was bad luck, voodoo, a black cat walking under a ladder. And I don't blame them. Occasionally someone asked me if they could get something for me, and I would look at them blankly. Grace, you can get me Grace. Can you do that? Because unless you can, there is nothing else I want.

The times when I felt most comfortable was when I could lie in bed with the shades drawn and the blankets drawn up around me. But once in a while, I could hear my heart beating in that space, literally, I could feel it beating against my chest. And literally, I could trace a crack through my heart, a tear, a hole, an irreparable crevice that when I breathed in, I could feel the air racing through that hole and the shortness of breath.

And somewhere along the way, there was a kind of mercy that descended, a kind of grace that eventually allowed me to stand up again, to crawl out of my cave--a light, an electricity, a breeze that pushed me along back into the sunshine, out into the world, where Grace could find me and I could find her.

A place where Sawyer could fall from the sky to land in my lap. A place where my arms could open wide enough to catch him.

02 September 2008

Imagine if we could be more like Gana...

What if when your baby died, you could hold her until you were ready to let go? What if you could keep her up against your chest? What if you could share your meals with her? What if you got to be the one who decided when you were ready to let go?

What if you could roam in the wilderness, through fields, across valleys, and feel her against your chest, feel her body close to you, up against you, until finally after hours or days, when you were ready to let go, not really let go, but when you decided that it was time to give her back into the natural world, to place her body in the ground, that only then was it time to give her up?

Well, Gana the gorilla in a zoo got to do that with her baby. Turns out the zookeepers get it and they let Gana carry around her dead baby until she was ready to give it up. And people came to mourn and leave flowers and share Gana's grief.

What if at the hospital they let us hold our babies until we were ready to let go. What if it didn't matter whether your baby was born on a Monday or a Sunday? What if it didn't matter if the funeral home was only open for 4 hours on Sunday? What if they had told me, you call us when you are ready to give her up?

We're getting there aren't we? Are we there yet? Have we advanced to the point that Gana has? When will we get there? When?

It can't be soon enough.

28 August 2008

What Grace and grace can look like...

Grace can look like 26 backpacks all lined up on a set of steps, and grace can look like 26 people responding, answering, asking to help, to purchase backpacks, to send them on to schools where students might not bring them, to put them on the backs of five-year-olds heading off into the classroom, into the unknown.

Grace looks like this, and as I drove to Longfellow elementary school today to drop off 13 backpacks, I thought about the transformation of grief and the transformation of love and how love can take on so many forms and how love is so much deeper than the affection for a person who is standing right in front of you. Today I felt so much love toward Grace and so much love toward my family, toward Terry and Carver and Sophia and Sawyer who have managed to stand with me through this, who have managed despite losing a daughter and losing a sister to continue to love one another and to continue to embrace each other.

And then I drove to Holmes elementary school to drop off 13 more backpacks. I thought about the confusion I sometimes feel in loving Sawyer, in finding absolute joy in his 2 1/2 year old self, in knowing that if Grace were here, Sawyer wouldn't be here. Yet also knowing that Sawyer is here with and without his older sister.

Grace can look like all of this, all at once, transformational and loving. And on Tuesday as 26 kindergarteners appear in classrooms with backpacks waiting for them, I hope that they find a little bit of grace in knowledge that even though they couldn't go to the store and pick one out for whatever reason, that someone took the time to buy one for them so they could know the joy at opening it for the first time and finding new crayons and pens and markers and glue sticks and all of the things they need to begin creating their mark in the world, their yes. So that each day when they wake up, they can understand that yes, they are walking and riding away from their homes into a classroom of opportunity, into a classroom of possibility.

And that yes, Grace exists and grace is real and grace is really the only thing that can propel us forward into the future--that ability to love unconditionally and that ability to understand that love transcends all things. Grace is love and to that end I can honestly say that I am grateful to her and for her, and I am grateful, despite the hole and despite the darkness and despite the grief, I am grateful for the things she continues to teach me and for the possibilities that keep presenting themselves because of her.

That feels like the best kind of love of all.

19 August 2008

Backpacks for Grace!

Is this the backpack you'd choose? Or would purple be your favorite color? Would you be a tomboy and pick blue? Maybe, just maybe you'd be less like your sister and more like your own self. In that case, maybe you'd want a slingback bag or a tote bag or maybe even a brief case!

We don't know do we for sure, what kind of bag you might choose for your first year of school, for your first day of kindergarten...

What I do know is this? I have to take action. I have to do something because in three weeks, all the kids go back to school and all the 5 year olds are shopping like it's Christmas, buying school clothes, getting school bags, buying pencils, practicing writing their names.

So here's the deal, Grace! I can't buy you a backpack. I can't dress you up for school. I can't let you scream at me that you don't want me to brush your hair and you don't care if it's all tangly and you just want me to let you dress yourself in stripes and colors and patterns that don't match. And I can't walk or drive or follow you to school on the first day and sit in your classroom as you look around taking cues from your older brother and sister on how to act.

But, sweet child, here is what I can do:

I can go to the store and pick out a backpack and fill it with school supplies and take it to a school and drop it off for a child who maybe hasn't had the same chances as we have, who maybe won't get a new backpack even though she is here. What I can do is ask others to do the same. I can ask them to go to the store and get the following supplies:

1 girl's or boy's backpack
A supply box to hold pencils and crayons
1 box 8-large size washable markers
1 pair blunt-end scissors
1 box of tissue
1 box 24 Crayons
2 - #2 pencils
glue stick

You can buy those things and send me an email and I will come to you to pick it up and donate the backpack in Grace's name to a kindergarten class in the Spokane District 81 school system.

Or if you don't have time or live far away, you can send me a check for $25 and I will go shopping to purchase a backpack and school supplies in Grace's name for someone who might need a little extra something to get them started.

And who knows, maybe I can get 5 or 6 bags or a dozen or more and children around Spokane can carry backpacks on their shoulders and I can find Grace in them.

Ask and ye shall receive!

14 bags and counting. The world rocks!

17 August 2008

More backpacks for grace...

Wow, and just like that, I have 10 backpacks either made or promised to me! So now, I'm going for a dozen at least! Thank you, all of you, for your support!

And incredibly, I just got a note from someone in New Zealand who is participating, and I've never met her! How amazingly cool is that! Thank you, Sarah! (really, her name is Sarah too!)

17 July 2008

Fourth of July

Thirty-four days after Grace died, I got it in my head that we needed to get out of the house and we needed to go to Riverfront park and we needed to take Carver and Sophia to the Fourth of July Fireworks show. We brought a blanket, we brought snacks, and we sat on the grass looking up at the sky watching the fireworks. And I remember just staring at them, listening to the crackling and kabooms and looking at all the people around me, hundreds, a thousand or more people, and feeling lost in a sea of strangers.

Tears were streaming down my face, and Sophia was buried in my arms terrified at age two of the noise the fireworks were making. And Terry was holding Carver who was mesmerized by them. There were people everywhere, eating cotton candy, drinking icees, and I had never felt more lonely, more alone than in that moment, the sky above lit up and somewhere out there was Grace among the fireworks, lost in the air, and I couldn't reach for her, I couldn't save her from the sounds, I couldn't cover her ears.

And five years have passed, and just a few nights ago, we sat under the stars, on the same grass watching what could have been the same fireworks and it was a beautiful and glorious site, mesmerizing, transformative and Sawyer at two was on my lap and I was covering his ears and I buried my face against him and I said a prayer in thanks for his sweet, sticky self, for the way the icee was spilled all over his shirt, stuck between his fingers, and his hair hard and cracking from the sugar, a sweet, sweet taste of life and love.

14 July 2008

...something is missing...

My daughter Sophia cried for an hour straight tonight. No, she didn't cry, she sobbed. And while she sobbed, Terry and I tried unsuccessfully to figure out what was wrong.

She had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion at about 5:30 p.m. on our bed and woke up an hour later sobbing.

We assumed she was discombobulated. We assumed she was hungry. We assumed a lot of false things on the pretext that we are the parents and we assumed we knew what was wrong. My talking made her crying worse. My leaving the room made her crying worse.

And finally after settling down, after drinking some water, after being cheered up by her older brother, she confessed that she didn't really know what was wrong, that it just seemed to her like something was missing. But she couldn't tell us what was missing. She just felt like something was missing.

She has done this before--started crying inexplicably and in the end can't vocalize what's wrong. And tonight I thought about it some more. Of course, this something missing she is going to carry her whole life.

I've felt it. Terry has felt it. Carver has felt it though he doesn't express it in the same way. Something is missing. Someone is missing, and I think that I need to be more aware of this as I help my children navigate through the complexities of this feeling. Because as Sophia grows up, as she understands the greater thing that she has lost, her grief could become larger, heavier, more complicated. She may in fact feel that missing sister more as she struggles to understand her place in the world sans Grace.
It may be that as my grief settles and changes (never diminishing), as the children grow older, their grief for Grace may feel unsettled and larger.

And sometimes, I get too caught up in my own grief to allow anyone else to have theirs. I want to keep my grief for Grace and I want it to be THE grief for Grace and I don't always remember to let Carver or Sophia or Terry or even Sawyer have their own grief. And yet, here in front of me is Sophia reminding me that she has her grief too.

The last thing I want is for her to walk around with that hole being unable to express it, being unable to be okay with it. I know that hole; I know that sense of loss deep into my bones as deep as a five-year-old girl knows when she has lost her father, when she has come home from kindergarten to find her mother and her brothers at home crying and a whole host of friends, family and strangers walking around in her house and never understanding why her father decides to never walk through that front door again. And as she fails to understand all of this or describe it or even be allowed to express it, the hole just grows deeper and larger and darker until it disappears into a black hole only to be unleashed thirty some years later as she holds her lifeless daughter on her lap and in her arms.

And that hole, that something missing is what she's been trying to protect her family from unsuccessfully. And yes, Sophia, yes, something very large is missing, and there is something very fragile in that feeling, but there is also something very beautiful and delicate and full of love, and full of love, and full of love...

02 July 2008

Gina and Sarah and Grace

Last week a friend moved away. She didn't move across the country or out of my life, but she moved across the state, and with her she took a piece of Grace. Last week we were standing on her porch talking, and she told me her story of Grace, her story of standing in her driveway, having a party during Artfest weekend and answering the phone and hearing the news and standing among friends with tears rolling down her face. And as I heard that story for the first time, it occured to me that there is a whole piece of Grace's story I am still missing.

I am missing the pieces of Grace that affected other people's lives. I have another friend who started a jewelry business after Grace died. And these are the friends that get it. They are not the friends who have lost children, but they have an innate understanding of my grief that most people seem to be missing. Why is that?

Why is it that some of the people I've known the longest, some of the people I grew up with, some of the people I've shared houses with, don't get it. They don't get that the grief doesn't ever go away, they don't understand that what I really need is for them to just say Grace's name, they don't get that it's okay still, after five years, that I long for Grace, that I think of Grace, that I miss Grace.

My circle has grown smaller. My circle includes the people that understand me, that let me be me in front of them, the people who say Grace's name outloud, the people who tell me their dreams about Grace.

I miss Gina already. I miss the familiarity of her presence, knowing that in a moment I could step onto her porch and be with her as she talks about Grace; I miss the security of having just one more person in Spokane who was here when Grace was here, who gets it and gets me and without saying anything else, I miss just being in her presence, in their presence together knowing that when I am with Gina, Grace is present and Grace is real.

26 June 2008

the ocean

When you are standing in front of the ocean, when you are looking at the water with the eyes of a seven-year-old, you think that the ocean goes on forever, that the waves crashing onto the sand will fall back into the ocean and return again and again into forever.

When you are standing in front of the ocean, when you are looking at the water with the eyes of a two-year-old, you think that the sand and the water and the air and the sun and the noise are all exploding into a sensory overload of your head, your body and your soul. It is all too much at once and all too little and as you try to drink all of it in, you begin to laugh at the absurdity of it all, and you simply learn to delight in the what is there in front of you--first, the sand, then the water as if the rest of the world existed to make you become the water.

When you are standing in front of the ocean, when you are looking at the water with the eyes of a forty-one-year-old, you wonder how it is that you swam in this same ocean, that you slept on the same sand, that you walked along the same shore year after year for so many years and not once did you contemplate that it would only be yours for your childhood. That you would walk away from that ocean in your teens and not return again until well past your twenties. That when you returned, the forgotten days of childhood, the innocence of it all, the memory of it seems distant and fond and all with rose-colored glasses.

And when you are standing in front of the ocean as an adult, you realize how momentary it all is, how fragile it is and as the waves come crashing down and the sea salt sprays your body and the water touches your skin, you close your eyes and breath it in, breath it in so that this moment when it passes is with you forever so that like the conch shell you can carry it inside of you and hear the waves, smell the salt and feel the breeze at any given moment even when you are 1,200 miles away.

And you do the same with your children so that when they leave home whether at birth or as they walk out your front door and into their own lives, you can close your eyes and smell their breathe, feel their warm milkiness against you and their soft, downy hair that has turned coarse and altogether disappeared into forever like the ocean and the waves and the memory of the sand all at once warm on your body and stuck between your toes.

31 May 2008

Foot Bridge

I went walking this week. I probably walked close to 30 miles, all over town, across bridges and up hills, through neighborhoods, past baseball diamonds, into parks, through fields and into the city. I walked across rivers and I stood on a foot bridge with the river splashing over the top of me until I was drenched, until my glasses were fogged and my hair was dripping and my clothes were soaked. Certainly the urge was there to get lost in the river. What I wanted to do was float, I wanted to float on top and let the current take me where it will. They say people die in rivers because they fight the current, that if you really fall into fast moving water, you shouldn't fight it, you should float it. That's not to say there isn't still a danger. Of course there is. Of course, there is still a huge risk but you have a greater chance of survival if you don't fight it, if you don't fight the current.

That makes sense because I'm guessing that people who supress their feelings, people who bury their grief, live a shorter life. This is not a scientific theory but it makes sense to me. After all, if you can release your emotions, if you can release your feelings, it's healthier for your physically, mentally and spiritually.

What if we took our collective grief and really did something with it? What if we took our collective grief and let it out, if we wailed in the streets, if we danced in the park, if we floated down the river.

Grace would be five years old tomorrow, on Sunday. And Grace is five, but she is five in a much more ethereal way then I ever expected. And of course I'd rather have her in a tangible way, I'd rather have her in a physical way. So I can mourn that loss, I can grieve that loss of her while I celebrate the presence of Sawyer, while I celebrate the presence of other things in my life.

Here is a list of first names of people I know because Grace isn't here:


This is by no means a comprehensive list. But it is a list of people who have made me a better person in one way or another. It is a list of people, one or two who have saved my life, 5 or 6 who never lived more than a month but affected my life, many who have made my life better.

And so for that I am forever grateful and knowing that Grace is not here, I know that my life is still rich and my life is full and I am supposedly a more empathetic person. I am a person with a deep, deep wound that once in a while seeps. But we all carry our wounds one way or another and it is how we heal them that determines the size of the scar. I wear my scar proudly, and I remain wounded, but I am wounded with my heart grown larger and so the river still rages but eventually it will subside and it will flow more smoothly until another snowstorm hits and another thawing melts the snow and it may just very well start all over again to rage. But it will have changed and it will have evolved and it will have strengthened.

29 May 2008

Chronos versus Kairos

In graduate school, I had a professor who often referred to literary references in novels in relationship to kairos versus chronos. Kairos time, he explained, meant 'in the time of angels.'

It was a difficult concept for me to grasp at the time because when I was working on stories, it was easy to think there was a beginning, middle and end. Time moved forward. But the more I wrote, the less time began to move in a forward direction.

While chronos is described as quantitative, kairos is described as qualitative.

My life used to be easily divided into segments of time: before I got married, after I got married, as soon as we have children, when we adopt a dog, 10 years into marriage, etc.

And then Grace happened and time as I've always known it, twisted and turned upside down. Time was no longer linear; time was no longer slow or fast, time became kairos, time became qualitative and I still find myself struggling to define time. When I tell a story, I often confuse the time period, I can't recall how long it's been since I've been on an airplane, or how long it's been since my last period. But I can tell you how long I have been without Grace and how long I have been with Carver, with Sophia, with Sawyer. I can tell you that Sawyer is 2, but really hasn't he been here my whole life? Haven't I always known he was going to come be with us. And it is in this time that I now live, with the angels, among the angels and because of the angels.

28 May 2008

The River

If you live in Spokane, it is highly unlikely that you've missed the river of late. Even as it is rushing by, you cannot miss it, you can blink and it still appears rushing by. It is swelling, full, raging--it is all things I have felt of late. And still I am drawn to it, to its power, to its fullness. I walk by it nearly every day. I have walked across all the walking bridges in downtown Spokane, and I stand on the edge and look over; I stand on the edge and wonder about jumping and I don't mean jumping in the sense of losing life, but I mean jumping and swimming up river, swimming against the current or lying on my back and letting myself float downstream. What if you could wear some kind of body suit that protected you from the river's damage, would you jump? Would you fly over the edge? What if the river took you downstream and there sitting on the edge of the stream was a little girl, about to turn five, with her feet dangling over the edge, and you could swim and sit beside her and talk to her and ask her about her life and ask her about the life she isn't living. What if you could find her in the river, on the rock not worried at all about falling because she has already fallen. What if you were the one who had fallen and she was there to pick you up?

But then the river just keeps flowing and I keep going downstream and occasionally I try to swim upstream and I try to fight the current and eventually I return to floating on my back, to watching the sky above me and letting the river below me hold me, float me, and carry me. And on that journey, I discover new things about myself and others.

27 May 2008


Have you ever felt like you were walking on egg shells that were just about to crack? Have they ever cracked on you?

I am both amazed and frightened sometimes at the fragility of life. It can happen in a moment, a child darting away from you, stepping out onto a ledge, a heart beating one moment and the next, it stops.

Today Sawyer ran away from me. He ran hard and I chased him. He ran out into the street. Luckily there were no cars coming because if they were, well, I can't go there. But he does this often, he thinks it's a game and he dashes off, running at full speed with a good lead. It can be hard to catch up to him.

And shortly before this, Sophia went off to a public restroom with a friend. Carver never would have gone on his own and I wouldn't have let him. But now, my hands are so full with so many children that the younger two get away with much more. And so off she walked, dripping wet in her swimming suit, barefoot, into a public restroom. And then, I didn't see her come out. I didn't see her come back and head toward the fountain, the water fountain in the park where everyone was playing. And so I went looking for her and as the minutes ticked by, my heart beat fast, my head filled with blood and I started to feel woozy.

I've been holding it inside, all of this, thinking that if I breath, if I let out my breathe, something else might happen. As if my very existence could conjure up something terrible. I breath and my breathe holds itself up, as if falling, it might very well crush something. And so my chest rises and falls, and I wait, wondering, looking, feeling overwhelmed.

26 May 2008

Plunging into the wild

Have you seen the movie, 'Into the Wild?'

Some might see it as adventure, as foolishness, as stupidity...I see it as loss, as growth, as discovery...The quote that takes my breath away:

"I fear for the mother in her. Instincts that seem to sense the threat of loss so huge and irrevocable that the mind baulks at taking its measure. I'd begin to wonder if I can understand all that chris is saying any longer but I catch myself and remember that these are not the parents he grew up with but people softened by the forced reflection that comes with loss. Still, everything Chris is saying has to be said and I trust that everything he is doing has to be done. This is our life."

And there it is--'people softened by the forced reflection that comes with loss.'

I suppose you have a choice, to be softened or to be hardened, but in choosing, one doesn't really consider those things on a conscious level. One just does what one has to do to go on living, and sometimes the living is the most difficult part, the getting up in the morning, the getting through the day, the getting to the end of the day.

And here I am, nearly five years out; in just a few short days, Grace would have been five. In just a few short days, I begin the re-living that starts again, that has already begun. It is not so much that the grief pales, but it does change, it does metamorphose and in that change, it doesn't always necessarily get easier. I feel like I've taken steps backwards as of late, steps in the opposite direction. I feel like I want Grace here. I have everything I've wanted. I have Terry, I have Carver, I have Sophia, I have Sawyer. I want Grace.

Why is it so hard this year? Why is it different than last and the one before that? There is Sawyer who is no longer a baby, but a toddler, a person coming into himself and love grows and love grows and Sawyer, I know, is not Grace nor would I ever want to put that on him. But in turning five, Grace would be starting kindergarten, Grace would be trailing after Sophia, looking up to her, looking for her approval, testing the limits. I want the tantrums, I want the hair cutting episodes with a pair of scissors under the kitchen table, I want the ponies lined up waiting for princes and princesses. I want those things that are out of reach, out of touch, out of sight. I don't want flowers on an altar; I don't want pity; I don't want gray images of my daughter with her eyes closed. I want Grace. I want the very thing I cannot have. I want to see the baseball land at my feet in the 9th inning with the bases loaded so that I can reach out to catch the baby that is falling; I want to catch the baby; I want to stop falling.

17 May 2008

before you leave...

Go here, buy a song, buy a cd, take ellis home with you. And before she leaves town, I want to say thank you for coming back, thank you for reminding us what matters, thank you for your laugh and thank you, thank you.

It is much easier to get through the month, it is much easier to make it to June 1st. It's much easier to make it past June 1st. It is all just much better with you here.

Blessings, my friend!

09 May 2008

The Anguish of Loss

This is the book on my desk next to me. Have you read it? If not, why? It speaks volumes around anything else I could say or write. And when I just want to curl up in a ball and cry, this is the book I hold. It is beautifully written, the art is stunning and what it says, says it all.

At our MISS meeting on Tuesday night, Sara and I gave out books to all the moms and grandmothers who came. It is a reminder of where we are, of what we share.

Mother's Day is on Sunday and for some of us, it is a reminder of what has been lost, of what is missing, of what we can't have. It is a reminder that we while not entering lightly into the task of motherhood, could not choose our path, could not have what we wanted, could not hold on to our children despite our best efforts to protect them, to protect ourselves from that which we could never wish for.

We are mothers still; some of us have other children that we can cling to; some of us are mothers despite the fact that our children are not here.

And so a challenge: What could you do for someone on Mother's day who is hurting, who is lonely, who might be missing their child? Probably nothing, but for us whose children are missing, in Spokane we are handing out Random Act of Kindness cards and we are driving through espresso shops all day on Mother's day and we are buying cars behind us a little bit of joy, a little bit of relief, and in the moment, maybe for just a few moments, someone will think of our children who aren't here, someone will wish for us the kind of peace that we might never have. But I will drive away from the window smiling, knowing that in that moment, perhaps someone can have a cup of coffee with grace, for grace and of grace.

30 April 2008

Grief has a way...

Grief has a way of blindsiding you, of stepping into your day and turning it upside down; of showing up on your doorstep unannounced, rapping at the door, tapping, insistently until you let it inside, and when you do, it has a way of unleashing itself, of throwing itself onto you and not letting go.

This is how it has felt all month to me and today. An ordinary day, an April 30th, 2008 ordinary day. The three kids are tucked into bed, a cake is in the oven, the dogs are asleep on the floor and there behind the door I have refused to open all day is my grief, rapping harder and harder, pretending to be patient, pretending to be waiting for me as if it's not just going to break the door down and descend on me.

And here I am hiding, amongst my things, hiding behind a screen, in a room filled with papers and books, and dust. Hiding and hoping that eventually the grief will turn around and leave thinking everyone has gone away. But we haven't have we? Here we are, waiting to open the door, hoping at any moment instead of the grief, it will be Grace knocking on the door, running inside at the end of a day, an ordinary day where she might have played with friends, where she might have made a mud cake, climbed over sleeping dogs only to knock after her friend's mother has brought her home, only to say, "Here I am mommy, don't cry, here I am."

Only to say, "It's me, and I will grow up and be your daughter and find a love in my life and have children and you can see them and hold them and love them and they will have cousins and I will still have one sister and two brothers and the four of us, we will all be here with you and I will hold your hand when it's your turn to be held and I will still be here and I will still be here."

12 April 2008

What if you could...

What if someone told you that you could see what your child, though dead, would look like at 2 years old, at 5 years old, at 8 years old, at 12 years old, at 18 years old. Would you do it? If all you had was a picture of your baby at birth and her eyes were closed and you never saw her grow and you never saw her blink and you never saw her climb a tree or ride a bike or run on the soccer field or chase her brother and sister but you saw her lying, unmoving, would you want to know what she might have looked like? Would you want to see her with eyes staring at you, with hair falling over her shoulders, with lips curled up into a smile. Would you? What if you could? Would you do it? Or would you sit around too frightened by what the possibilities could have been...

08 April 2008

"I love me"

Tonight, Sawyer and Terry picked me up from work and on the way home, Sawyer said, "Mama. I love me." It was sweet, genuine and a matter-of-fact.

And then he said it two more times when we got home. And I thought, of course, he loves me and he loves him and he loves you. He is a love machine and he is not old enough to have that sense of lovelessness.

How lovely.

And I love him too but what about me? How often do we really think or feel love toward our own self? Probably not as often as we should. And I wonder if we really loved ourselves more, if that love wouldn't transfer out into the world.

And without getting too sappy what's wrong then, when our love continues after death. When that love sometimes makes us incapable of doing anything else. Sometimes, still, I am frozen by my love of Grace. Not very often any more; mostly it's love that creates movement but sometimes, every once in a while, it freezes me, it stops me, it takes my breath away and I have to compose myself again. I am awed by the power of this love. I am in wonder. "Mama. I love me."

10 March 2008

Where I want to be today!

I woke up this morning feeling better than I have in over a week. Sawyer stopped coughing. Sophia isn't coughing at night anymore and Carver is back to his old self, looking at me sideways most of the time and raising his eyebrows. Terry, however, woke up feeling our colds, feeling our congestion, feeling sick and I stared at him sideways and rose my eyebrows. And then for a split second, I contemplated taking the car and driving south. South to the ocean, to the warmth, to the beach, to the palm trees.

I longed to smell the salt in the air, the sand on my skin, the way it gets stuck between my toes, the grittiness of it all.

Instead, I trudged to church with Sophia, I picked up a 50 pound bag of dog food, I trudged home and I fell asleep for two luxurious hours with Sawyer as the laundry somehow piled higher, the kitchen sink filled with more dishes, and the toys continued to get strewn all over the floor.

Terry remained sick, I continued to look sideways and now at 12:40 a.m. with the laundry still unfolded and the dishes still unwashed, I am calling it a day. I am going to sleep to dream dreams, to feel the ocean air and listen to the lapping of the waves on the sand.

29 February 2008


Is any parent getting enough sleep? That's the question pondered today at the S-R blog.

It is a question my friends and I have pondered for years as we sleep with our children in tow, welcoming them into our beds at all hours, and nursing on demand at anytime they wish. There are nights when it seems exhausting, nights when it seems never ending, but here I am now, with a child about to turn two and nearly done with co-sleeping.

Oh, perhaps he'll still be in my bed another year or two, but I wouldn't trade these moments for anything. Just this morning, my older two crawled into bed with me and we stared for nearly an hour at Sawyer's sighs, turns and movements. He looked angelic as he slept and the three of us couldn't get enough of it.

I have known each moment when my kids have run a fever, when it's broken, when they feel sick, when they have aching teeth, when they need to get a drink of water, when they can't fall asleep, when they need to go to the bathroom, when they have bad dreams, when they have good dreams, when they cough, when they are ready to nurse again, when they think Terry's breast is mine, when they mistake snuggling with him to snuggling with me, when they kick off their blankets, when they pull the blankets up to their chin, when they hiccup, when they sigh, when they take a breathe.

These moments, I hold on to them, I see them disappearing, I see them growing up, and these moments, I can't get enough of them!

26 February 2008


I am surprised by my reaction. Ten years ago, I would have been enraged, angry and shocked. But today, I find myself sympathetic to this nanny, and I'm not sure why.

It is easy though to toss the blame toward her, to direct our anger toward her. But it is much harder to find sympathy, to find empathy in a situation that seems so sad.

I don't condone her behavior, nor do I find it so shocking either. Is it because I have become desensitized? I actually think quite the opposite. It is easy to be judgmental and point fingers and find blame. But if we step for a moment, really step, into her shoes, perhaps we can see after six weary hours, two babies, in a strange house, how it might happen. Is she alone? Does she have any supportive friends or other nannies to get together with? Does she know what she is doing is wrong?

I don't know. But what I do know is that I can hold my kids closer tonight. I can kiss their cheeks and rub my eyelashes against theirs and be grateful for these small moments.

24 February 2008


I went to see Gypsy tonight at the Opera House in Spokane and I was surprised toward the end that I teared up. In a scene where Mama Rose and Loise are fighting and they mention that June has gone away. There is a small moment when Mama Rose realize that what she really misses is her own mother who abandoned her when she was a child and there it is... That longing, that feeling of loss, that mother-daughter connection zapped. It is in those moments that my own tears can fall so quickly.

It is an emotional response to a feeling deep within me. It didn't help also that when I left tonight, I left with Sophia sobbing for me not to go out. She can pull at me, tear at me, and I have to keep my emotional self in check at those moments. It is a difficult place to be and a tricky point to maneuver between distinguishing emotional manipulation and emotional maturity. I know that Sophia misses me sometimes when I leave but I also know that she is going to be okay, better than okay, in Terry's care. So I struggle with that sometimes.

But we all struggle and in those moments, I am reminded of the power of love, of the pull of love, of the genuine breadth of it all. Love does not boast. It is not proud. It is not self-seeking. Love is. And I am. And Grace is love.

23 February 2008

Shoe Shopping

My seven-year-old and almost two-year-old went shopping today for shoes. Sophia was ready for a pair of spring shoes, you know, puddle jumping, flip flopping, slip on and slip off kind of shoes. She found several pair that she liked in size 13 1/2. And while she tried them on, Sawyer and I walked over to the size 6 shoes for him. But I found myself gravitating toward the size 8 and 10. Is that what size Grace would wear? And of course as it always is in any store, the girls shoes outnumber the boys easily two to one. And all the shoes in 8's and 10's where the same kind as Sophia's--matching shoes--how cute would that be.

My two girls walking around in matching shoes, Grace mimicking Sophia, Grace wanting the same shoes, the same color, the same kind.

It reminds me a bit of Hannah's shoes, have you read Maria Housden's book? Hannah's Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived. It's a classic, it's a heart breaker, it's compelling. Go get it and prepare to be absorb. Oh and have a box of Kleenex nearby: Hannah's Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived

Enough said. When I see a pair of red shoes in the children's department, I think of Hannah, I think of Maria, I think of Grace.

20 February 2008

One more 75-worder

When my mother handed me my father’s sunglasses—ray bans—from the 60’s, I was certain that I’d see things I hadn’t seen before when I looked through the green-colored lenses. Did he wear them the day he died? Did he wear them with his collar on and tuck them into his robes before he stood up at the pulpit? Did he ever wonder why his direct line to God couldn’t save his life? Because I did.

A Contest

Who doesn't love a contest? Who doesn't love a contest where money is given away?

Try it. You at least will enjoy reading others.

Oronte Churm

Here's my attempt using 74 words:

She didn’t know when she was five years old and staring at the hole growing bigger in her father’s back that her world was growing smaller. She didn’t know at 34 years old when she was staring at her unmoving belly that her whole world could grow even smaller still. If all the pieces of your own puzzle fall in ruins at your feet, how do you know which piece to pick up first?

19 February 2008

Saving the planet

Our local newspaper, The Spokesman Review, has gone the way of blogs for many topics. I don't know how many people actually read them, but a former colleague is one of the moderators, and I often go on to post things. Sometimes they create a bit of 'anger' in me or a reactionary response, but mostly it is food for thought. Her recent question had to do with 'eco moms' and my response is below. I wonder sometimes, if Grace had been my first child, how I would have responded to things differently. It is after all a much different response then I might have given five years ago.

You know, I think it's a really interesting topic and one certainly to bring up. I have gone from one end to the other and hopefully landed somewhere in the middle. When my kids were young, we were in a mom's group and we all sat around breastfeeding our babies, changing our cloth diapers, sharing organic snacks, and I think, feeling pretty smug about our choices.

But I never felt quite comfortable because I remember thinking, "So if a mom walks in here with a bottle and paper diapers and a bag of Cheetos," are we just going to toss her out? Of course, it didn't happen because like-minded moms ban together and we were never around bottle-feeding, cheeto eating moms.

And on some level, I felt like I was missing out on something that maybe those moms could teach me. And I wonder about that now in conjunction to this question.

I think the 'eco movement' is good. I think we need to look at the bigger picture and we need to send out a message that enough is enough. But we can't do it all at once and we can't see it all done in our lifetime, and I think it can all happen, one conversation at a time, at the dinner table with our kids. And it can happen when we use cloth napkins; and when we grab that paper diaper, we can be glad that we have the resources now to purchase the diapers and perhaps tonight at the dinner table with the cloth napkin, we can make a difference with the children in front of us.

I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird last month and I also reminded of the timeliness of the novel written almost 50 years ago. As Atticus Finch says so wisely, "If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

For me, this holds true today as it does any day.

16 February 2008


It is four years, eight months, and 18 days since Grace died. It is good to remind myself of this sometimes, to try to understand how time passes, how it moves neither forward nor back but it just moves. I want to be moved, I want to be reminded of Grace, I want to remember her small face, her even smaller hands.
Terry took a short but meaningful video of us shortly after she was born, and I had fallen asleep without knowing that I had fallen asleep. Grace is lying on top of me and I am holding her and you can see the rise and fall of my chest as I breath and in the video, it looks as if she is breathing too, moving up and down on me and I love that. I love that I can pretend for a moment that she is moving, she is breathing, she is there alive and well.
And sometimes, I look at the pictures I have of her but there are so few, so few poses, so few of these pictures and she never changes, never grows, never moves forward in time. Time is frozen into one moment, one place and one time. It neither moves forward nor backwards, nor does it move at all. And if I close my eyes, I can go to that moment, to that space with Grace, with her in my arms, and when I revisit that place now, it is not so much filled with pain, but a moment of peace, of joy to have her in my arms, to be sleeping again and breathing with her. And if I could, I would have her here: Carver, Sophia, Grace, and Sawyer--all of them together here and now. But that can't happen and won't happen and knowing this pulls at something deep within me and the longing remains and the longing aches but there is love there too. And for now I must live in the time of the angels, in a space where time exists neither as a movement toward the future nor away from the past but just simply living in the moment, in the here and now. With Grace and without.

Break the Spell

Okay, if you want to be moved, if you want to fall in love, if you want to have an emotional shift, if you want to be lulled, if you want to be changed, if you want to be amazed, if you want to feel passion, if you want to feel hope, if you want to feel a change coming on in our country, then go out and buy this cd or download the cd or get 10 for you and your friends.


Have you gone yet? What are you waiting for? Go. Now. Get.

13 February 2008

e e cummings

What can I say about this poet? He says it all best of all:

the moon is hiding in
her hair.
of heaven
full of all dreams,
draws down.

cover her briefness in singing
close her with intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Deepen her,

upon her
the rain's

pearls singly-whispering.

e.e. cummings