Vegetable Beef Soup

When the girls and I were first on our own after I lost Joe, I was working hard to make life as normal as possible. I didn’t feel normal, but my game plan was to act it out for them and life would creep into me.

Everyone knows the key: Fake it ’til you make it.

I’d purchased a new crock pot and found a super easy vegetable beef soup that was actually really delicious*. The girls loved it and I made it pretty frequently.

After we moved from the apartment into the house, I quit making it. Not for any particular reason. I just rotated it out for the spring and forgot to bring it back in. And they never asked for it again. I don’t know why all three of us developed soup amnesia, we just did.

At work, we like a good pot-luck. During the fall and winter we have one every six weeks or so. It’s fun and we all get to try new things. The theme for today’s pot-luck was “Soup and Bread”. My soup recipe barged back into my brain and I had a planned pot for the communal luck. That’s how pot-lucks work; lots of pots, lots of luck.

I got up early this morning to put it together and I was suddenly rushed back to the last time I made it. We were in the apartment and I was trying my best for the girls and the three of us would get home in the winter and eat soup and watch TV and commiserate about homework and the struggles of middle school.

I don’t get sentimental for that part of my life. It wasn’t a great time. It wasn’t even a good time. I’d left everything and everyone I knew and loved in Detroit to move to Grand Rapids. I disliked living in an apartment (even thought it was a snazzy apartment). Life was so… claustrophobic (?). Nothing was where it was supposed to be. I felt it in all of my being.

When we moved to the house, things were looking up. I’d found a different job I really loved, I was stepping into a sort of clarity, I’d purchased the new house all by myself for my family that had been through so much in their short lives. I was starting to accept my role as head-of-household just as the IRS was redefining me as just that.

Maybe we left vegetable beef soup behind accidentally. Maybe my id left it behind because I was moving forward.

I stood in the kitchen this morning making soup for work. I’m back where I was all those years ago in the apartment. I’m starting a new life from scratch. Again. Maybe that’s where the soup belongs in my life and I just didn’t realize it. It took a pot-luck to bring it back.

Hopefully there are healing properties in this soup.

Soup as emotional usher is weird. 0 stars. Would not recommend.

*the secret: don’t use all beef broth. Half beef, half vegetable broth. It cuts the salt and gives the base a complexity that doesn’t quite have a place. Add powdered mustard and suddenly it’s a flavor powerhouse.

8 years/6 months/62 blogs/0 stars

In spring 2016 Z had an endocrinology appointment in Traverse City. She drove over and I drove up. We went to the appointment, charts were reviewed, meds were adjusted, there was the reminder of the importance of maintaining healthy thyroid levels and we were off. It was rather typical.

We had the afternoon to spend together and I suggested a movie. We went to see the Ben Hur remake.

Z and I have seen biblical movies before. We saw the 2014 disaster of a movie “Noah”. It was so, so bad. I’ve never actually (viscerally) hated a movie like I hate that one. Contemporary major studio bible movies don’t have a track record of being good but we decided to brave it anyway. I paid and we went in.

Neither of us had been to that theater before; As an entertainment megaplex, it was pretty cushy. The seats were great. Popcorn and pop featured free refills. They served alcohol and something that resembled “food”. We really liked the theater. The movie itself? Bad. It really was bad. Not as bad as Noah, but still really bad.

As we were walking to the parking lot Z and I stared talking about the badness level of the movie. She made the proclamation that lives forever.

“The Theater: 5 stars. Would recommend. The Movie: 0 stars. Would not recommend”

I laughed and we were on our way to get actual food.

Today is the 6 month anniversary of this soundly 0 star situation. I like making numbers work, so my plan was to land my 60th blog post on the 6th month anniversary of her passing but a couple of things happened that spurred me to write when I hadn’t planned and now we’re at the 62nd post in six months. Goal overshot.

I have so many feels and emotions today. The first being that it went much better than I anticipated. Which, looking back, is pretty standard. The days that I expected to be bad (her birthday, Christmas) were okay. I made it through those days. It’s those “day after” days that are the sneaky bits of sorrow (my birthday, the day after Christmas). On the plus side, I don’t think 6 months plus 1 day will be a big deal.

That being said, I’ve been wrong before. For example, I thought losing Joe would be the low point in my life.

I’ve determined 6 month milestones, for the foreseeable future anyway, are a good time marker. Much like recovering addicts concentrate on one day at a time, I can move through the balance of my life in six month increments.

Six months after Joe passed, I was a disaster. I’d moved twice, started a job I hated (and still keep off my resume), hated my new city, missed my friends, missed my old job, missed everything that was comfortable. The second six months were just as anguishing and soul-crushing. The third six months started to ease up on my fragile state.

Six months is not as daunting as a year. And far more meaty (?) than a month or a quarter. Six months is my default measure of survival and forward progress.

Six months is my witness mark.

Eventually, 6 months will give into years. And my milestones will reflect as such.

It’s been 8 years since Joe has passed.

It’s been 6 months and 62 blog posts since Z has passed.

0 stars. Would not recommend.

The Team

Toward the end of her 9th grade, Z transferred to a very (very) small school in Gaylord. St. Mary Cathedral School. She was in love. Maybe not on her first day, but for sure by the end of the year. She went from a class of nearly 400 to a class of 17. She was in her element. She immediately picked up friends, got involved in everything, challenged all of the rules she thought she could get away with breaking, and generally spent her time being loud, fun, assertive, and happy. She was so happy there.

As soon as she started, she dropped herself into the archery team. She competed on the team for 4 years and proved to be a steady aim and straight shooter. She consistently did well and loved all of it. Even if she did occasionally insert high school drama into her narrative.

We are not an athletic people. Z had tried sports before. In 8th grade she was on the girls track team and performed so poorly that one time the next race was set up while she was still running the previous race. But Archery? She took to that like peanut butter to jelly. We never knew why it clicked, but it did.

At the conclusion of her first season she made me purchase a new competition bow since she’d been borrowing a team bow. She picked out bright pink. She never shot it. Even once. She ended up in love with the team bow and used that for the next three years.

For as little time as she spent actually practicing, she was remarkably good. She wasn’t amazing. There were most likely no Olympics in her future, but she was good enough that she was on the “A” team that always finished national competitions ranking extriemly high. Especially considering most of the competing schools had archery teams as big as the entire student body of her school.

She’d found an archery club in Detroit so she wouldn’t have to give it up when she started college. She loved to shoot.

When she was shooting, she was with her people.

The archery team wore their uniform shirts to her funeral.

Tonight her coach sent me a picture. There was an adjustment made to the archery records board in the school gym. Obviously, my allergies kicked in.

St. Mary Archery / In memory of Isabella “Izzy” Williams. She is permanently with her people.


I’ve mentioned before that Z passed away on my late husband’s birthday.

August 16th is also her coach’s birthday.

Being part of the perfect team is 5 stars. Would recommend every time.


I was widowed at 33. That’s stupid young.

I met Joe in 2004. We married in 2006. In 2008 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. In 2010 we said goodby and I watched him slip into the early hours of his favorite holiday. The 4th of July.

I wouldn’t trade my years with him for anything. As incredibly painful and unfair the end to our relationship was, the 6 years we did have together were pretty perfect. I mean, up until the tragic ending. That wasn’t really perfect at all.

The end of our marriage was a long goodbye. We struggled (and partied) for a solid two years. There was one 10 hour surgery, a couple of minor procedures, several trips to emergency. There was many, many rounds of chemo and radiation. We rounded our rodeo out with a transition to home hospice care.

When involved in a long goodbye, there is the opportunity to start mourning for loss before it happens. And it’s really helpful. I visited funeral homes and planned music and flowers before he passed away. I was able to get these chores done with a clear(er) head. Lots of people had the opportunity to say goodbye.

I felt his loss before he was actually gone. I’d sit in our bathroom and cry and bereave the life I’d wanted for us while he was in the bed on the other side of the door.

I faced his actual death all warmed up. I expected it. I walked into life head on.

As conversely as one can imagine, Z was gone in a flash. No lingering sickness, no preparation, no warning. She was just swallowed up by the universe and that was it.

In the nearly 6 months since she’s been gone I’ve weighed (to no end) the differences in their respective denouement.

Which is better? No. Which is easier? No. Which is preferred? Nope. And stop asking these questions.

I’m not sure I could have watched my child struggle for years on end. That would have damaged me in a much different way than I am damaged now. Conversely, if Joe had passed without any warning, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with no job and no home and two small children in my charge.

It is hard for me to articulate what or how I objectively feel about their deaths. Since I’m not an unfeeling troll I can’t come out and say one way was better than the other. Not even as part of my late-night internal monologue. But since I’ve lived through both of these experiences, it’s hard not to compare and contrast the differences and think about what would have happened had it gone any other way.

Clearly, ideally, my life is void of tragedy and everyone is fine, thanks for asking.

I will, for a very long time, have to think about their escapes from this mortal realm and wonder if it’s better to rip-it-off-all-at-once like a bandage or if it’s better to have the long goodbye.

Maybe the speed at which these two lives concluded was the easier way for those left behind. I don’t know. I can’t say because I’m still too pissed off about it. I definitely for sure feel like any untimely end is unjust and unwarranted. I also feel like I should acknowledge the fact that since I had to do this, maybe I got something a little easier for me in that time and place? Did I tragically luck out?

I think these things and then I also feel as though I need to acknowledge everyone that’s lost someone and their emotional places and ends and my circle starts over. It will never end. Because that’s how circles work.

This is sticky. 0 stars. Would not recommend.

My Pity Party Started This Week

Lately the shock that I’m insulating myself with is wearing even thinner. I’m 25 weeks into this disaster and next week will be 26 weeks. That’s six months for those that don’t regularly consult calendars or the mathematics contained therein. Once the 26 week mark arrives, there is no more measurement by weeks – it switches over to months. 6 months. Halfway to a year.

The thing about six months is that reality really starts to take hold. I can’t pretend I haven’t seen her in six months. I can’t fool myself into the comfort a temporary situation affords. Six months isn’t temporary.

Clearly day 1 wasn’t temporary – but I can pretty easily lie myself into any situation. I go in with my head held high, certain that I can make better whatever hot mess I waded into. Ugly parts of life gilded with self lies.

I’ve fallen back into the waves of clarity (?) I was trapped in those first couple of weeks. Crashes of life fall into me and I can’t hold them back. And, sadly, I used up my “leaning into the situation” energy at Christmas. I can’t lean into this. Not right now. Maybe tomorrow. Or Sunday.

Overall I’m just… defeated. And deflated.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll stick to my guns on this, but I find “signs” to be problematic. I don’t like them. I feel people look too hard into coincidence and they generally don’t hold up to scrutiny and critical thinking.

That being said, twice today the universe winked at me.

The first time was first thing this morning. There was an emergency at work and someone needed to drive to a place in metro Detroit to pick up some parts for a down press in the shop. I had to coordinate the purchase and the transport.

I mapped the destination and found it was almost exactly one mile from where Joe and Z passed away. The neighborhood I swore I would never visit again (it’s cursed, clearly) and I was staring at it right in the face. Except from the comfort of my office.

Just now, an old friend of Z’s stopped by. It was 11:00 and I was closing up the house for the night when she rang the doorbell. We hugged and she told me some (temporarily) confidential information that directly ties to Z. Very sweet and touching confidential information.

There it was again, the universe all up in my face.

It really is nothing. It is coincidence. And no sign in my life, however comforting or conjured, will compare to The Rosary situation. But sill, I’m not sure I like the universe trying to add extra elements to my (pretty outstanding) pity party.

Joke’s on you, universe. It didn’t make me feel better.

Except for maybe 3% better. But that’s it.

0 stars. Would not recommend.

For the Rest of My Life

About a decade ago I was involved in a situation where there was a moment of clarity. I can’t remember the circumstance and I can’t even really remember who was there – but it did involve the following: A person was complaining about having to get up so early every day for school. I told them to get used to it because that was going to be life for the next 50 or so years. If we don’t wake up early for school, we wake up early for work. Forever. Because we are productive citizens that act like normal people.

Three of my grandparents continued to be early risers until they passed. Oddly enough, my only grandparent that enjoyed sleeping in is still alive. And still sleeping in every day.

I mean, I’m an early riser, but I have the good sense to stay in bed until a reasonable weekend hour. Or until my back starts hurting from being in a weird position because I’m starting to be that age. Whatever. We’re not here to talk about my age.

(Casual segue that makes sense here)

When I was younger my family adjacent old-lady Della lived to be nearly 800 years old. And I remember her anxious for death all of the time. Not that she was scared, but she had out-lived everyone in her life. She was lonely. She’d never had children, she was widowed, she out-lived her siblings and her friends and she was left behind. Being the last one at the party isn’t fun.

She’d wake up every morning and pray it was her last day. She wanted to be with everyone she loved.

Bereaved parents and the widowed – we get that. Not that any of us pray that any day is our last day. That’s not the case at all. We are not suicidal. We have other children and sometimes we have new spouses and mostly long lives ahead of us. There are vacations that need to be had and beaches to be seen. Personally, I’m really looking forward to winning the lottery (because, really, I feel like I’m owed something on a universal level) and living on a sailboat for a year.

But in the back of our minds – bereaved parents and widow/ers are okay with the end getting closer. Death isn’t this far-off thing abstract concept. It’s not a lingering nightmare.

It’s a comforting future. Someday my spirit will find their spirits and that will be a good day. And, God willing, my parents are going to beat me to the end. But finding my daughter and my husband will be a sweet day. It’s no longer abstract.

I told you all of that to tell you this… we are not suicidal. We aren’t looking for ways to speed anything up. There is no early exit in our futures. But it is something that bereaved parents and widow/ers feel sometimes but we don’t want to mention publicly because it’s not polite and people will jump to the wrong conclusion.

So there you have it. A ball of honesty on this snowy Sunday afternoon.

Also, I’m staring down the barrel of the her six month anniversary, so I’m feeling especially sentimental.

I’ve told you before, on Sunday I get sentimental.

This whole death business isn’t for the weak. 0 stars. Would not recommend.