The Festive Cemetery

Really, I like the cemetery my people are in.

It’s called Lakeview, but it really doesn’t overlook a lake.  Possibly it could if it weren’t for a lot of trees and a road and more trees and a bunch of houses.  But still the intent is there and branding is everything.

I’m not much of a gardener (I did buy some plants 6 years ago.  And I spray painted my bushes silver 4 years ago – so… green thumb) but suddenly I really feel the need to decorate the crap out of my plots.  I’ve planted a rose bush and my parents and siblings planted some pretty red annuals.

That’s kind of the nice thing about this cemetery – it’s festive all around.  Almost all of the plots are covered with plants (plastic and fresh) and wind chimes and whirly-gigs and all kinds of what-nots.

Just down from my people is another girl.  Two years older than Z, she passed away three months after Z passed.  I bring her things too.  In my mind, she and Z are friends.

There are plots that are completely edged and mulched and covered in memorabilia and tokens of affection.  There are benches under a tree and good shade and rolling hills and a constant nice breeze and signs of life everywhere.

I did not bury Joe because I was afraid of letting him go.  His presence gave me a kind of calm.  And the thought of letting Z go scared the crap out of me.  I did not want to put them into the ground.  I hated the thought of it.

They belong with me, they belong in a house, not in the ground.  They are supposed to be near me always.

But now I’m okay with it.  I like where they are.  I like that I can stop on my way home for a quick visit.  I’m much more at peace with the situation than I thought I would be.

There are very few places I feel home.  I feel like a visitor in Grand Rapids.  Even six years in, I still tell people I’m new.  Flint feels like home when I drive through it, but it’s not my home.  Flint and I have both grown apart from each other.  It’s a distant home.  The same for Macomb County.  It was my home and my heart warms in it’s memory.  But, again, the metro area and I have grown apart.  Trout Lake never changes.  It’s population will never see 400.  It won’t get a new store or a new bar.  It won’t be home to some hip new brewery.  It will always be my escape.   My heart beats calmer when I’m there.

Now the Upper Peninsula will always be my home base.  What was firm before is now cemented.  I left my people there.  I will never leave them behind.

Where they go, I will go.  Where they rest, I will rest.

I am far too young to be so tied to a cemetery.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

The Last Party

It’s been a long (long) time since I’ve had an opportunity to write about the goings-on regarding this stupid, ridiculous situation I’ve found myself in.

Mostly it’s because I was busy with the last party. I prepped for two solid weeks, I cooked three kinds of dinner meat, I pickled 11 jars of red onions that got left at home, I cleaned out and organized her belongings to distribute among her friends and loved ones, my family cleaned and prepped.  Visitors from Alabama, Indiana, Washington, and all parts of Michigan made the trip to the UP to attend.

I had a catholic burial, which much like the funerals, I don’t actually remember much of.  Other than the priest can make holy water out of any water.  On the deck just before the ceremony began, he asked us to give him some water to bless which, in turn, he would use to bless the graves. We used lake water on my request.

Later, we all wondered about the volume of water that could be blessed at one time.  I mean, if he can bless a travel-sized shampoo bottle’s worth of water, why not the entire lake?  Give everyone a quick baptism by sun and warmth and taco dinner.

This part I do remember: I interrupted the ceremony because I forgot I’d brought the summit rum. Summit rum is what was left of a bottle of Captain Morgan that Z and Alex  found on a mountain climb in 2010.  I’d brought it with me and completely forgot that I wanted to do that.  I hurriedly cried out a little “WAIT!!” and then passed out shots just after we started filling in the grave.  As customary, we dropped some onto our departed, we toasted, and I finished off that business with the proclamation that the drink itself was really, really bad.  Comically bad.

We all went back to the house to eat and swim and commune in our tragedy and losses.

I hated it as much as I loved it.

I have so many thoughts and feels and moments from this past week.  And I’ll get to them.  But for now, it’s done.  Tomorrow I go back to work, nurse my sunburn and bug-bites, and re-start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


The Headstones

I was having a hard time with the headstones I need to purchase.  I’ve placed such a mental importance on these markers that I couldn’t place an order.  Nothing was right.

Do I have laser engraved pictures?  A fun saying?  A dumb poem about lights and birds?  Lynard Skynard lyrics?  Those options are endless.  Add in stone color, size, height and the options are overwhelming.

I can not deal with these decisions.  What can I put on a stupid rock that will sum up the incredible lives that were cut so short?  It’s too much.  I am not equipped to make this decision.

Plus (PLUS!) there is the matter of cost.  As it turns out, there isn’t a bulk discount on headstones.  No BOGO or coupon codes.   When I called the monuments companies in my area, the best I could do was have the transport and placement fees removed if I did the heavy lifting myself.

My brother suggested ETSY.

I found the perfect situation – and the perfect company.  A small outfit in New York state run by a husband and wife.  They lost their infant daughter in 2000 and then their 21-year-old son shortly after Z passed away last year. After their second loss, they started an economical marker company.  $45 plus $14 shipping (USPS: if it fits, it ships) and you get a small headstone with just the name of the decedent and the appropriate starting and ending dates.  Nothing else.  There is no choice in size, color, material, or flourish.

They did this because a tragically large number of families can’t come up with $2,000+ for a modest headstone from a monument company.  That’s a lot of money.  This is the reason so many families can’t mark the grave sites of their children.

In the company description they noted that for every marker they sell, they put $5 toward their donation fund.  They will find the unmarked graves of kids and install headstones for free.

I’m a sucker for a low-cost good deed.  I purchased a stone for Z, a stone for Joe, and then paid for a third stone and asked them to donate it.

That was last night.

This morning, I got an email back from their owner.  She had the details for a month-old infant in Pennsylvania that had suddenly died.  The economical marker company called the funeral home.  They reported there was no funeral or burial because the family couldn’t afford it.  She told the funeral home she had a marker to donate.  A few hours later, the funeral home called back.  The family really wanted a marker.

This entire transaction – from my surprise donation, to the identification and offer of a free headstone – took place in less than 12 hours.  She passed along the name of the baby to me.

Today I’ve got all these children on my heart.  Mine, the two that belong to the family that makes the markers, and the baby in Pennsylvania that never got a funeral.

It’s a lot to soak in, but I am happy I happened to make the decision yesterday to buy the headstones.  Maybe I’ll chalk this up to kismet.

Buying headstones is a terrible chore.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.



If you’d like to buy and donate a headstone, do it here.


There is no crying in rock concerts

I’ve written before about the significance of Flogging Molly in my life.  And, as per my usual love, this past Tuesday I went to see them again.  Except this time, it was different.

After Joe passed, I’d relentlessly sit in my car and listen to “If I ever leave this world alive”, a conversation between a dead husband and his late wife.  Obviously it rang true to my soul and I’ve never looked back.

A couple of years ago, I took the girls to their very first rock concert.  Flogging Molly.  They, having never been to a rock concert before, met me in the kitchen ready to go in their best dresses.  I instructed them to go back and change into jeans and tshirts. I’d clearly not done my part as a parent and they had no idea what was coming.

Z was changed that night.  She was hooked.  She got her taste and was with me for the ride.

I have a blown-glass necklace with the cremains of both Joe and Z embedded in the glass.  I don’t wear it that often out of fear.  If it breaks or I lose it, it’s gone.  And once they are in the ground, that’s it.  I won’t have another shot at making another necklace.

I wore the necklace to the show so that I’d have them with me.

I rocked hard, my ears hurt, I saw a drunk girl looking up the kilts of random men, I walked through a very large puddle of what was probably 90% beer urine.  There was drunken impromptu renditions of “oh-yea-oh-yeah-oohhhh-yea-oooohhhh-yea” (does that song have a name?) it was rowdy and perfect.

And at the end of the set, they sang my song.

Really though, this song is everybody’s song. Everyone that’s lost someone.  Everyone that has their heart broken or been cheated in life by death.  It’s the anthem from one lost soul to another.  It doesn’t speak to only me, it speaks to everyone.   For that song, I am not alone in a crowd.  I am with everyone that needs to commune in personal tragedy.  We are all in this together.

I tried hard to sing along for everything I could.  But, in the end it was my worst performance ever; tagged with a lot of tears and once even an outright sob.  But that’s okay because when I see Flogging Molly live, I am with my people.

As an aside, and I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or not, but I used to sing The Pogues’ “I love you to the end” to Joe.  When he was really sick he told me that it was a great song and all, but considering the circumstances,  it didn’t really have a sentimental meaning anymore.

Joke’s on him – I still love him till the end.


(Personal note: Renetta – I know you’re new to this widow business.  It’s sucks.  I’m with you. Maybe Flogging Molly will help you, too)





The Intersection of Faith and Science

Personally, I believe that faith and science are not incongruous. I feel those that reject science for their religious beliefs are not giving enough credit to either God or science.

In the beginning, there was light. That happens pretty early on in the story of creation. It’s also the very first thing in the widely accepted theory of start of our universe – the big bang. God created humans after everything else – and that tracks with evolutionary biology pretty closely. God created the universe in 6 days – why does that necessarily have to mean 6 human designations of 24hour periods? Why do some people chose to limit God’s time schedule to one revolution of the earth? God is omnipotent, why are we assigning a human time line to creation? If humans were not meant to more deeply understand, God would not have given reason, intellect, critical thinking and free will. These are humanity’s gifts, why eschew them to force limitations on both Science and God? It makes no sense to me.

Several weeks ago a long-time friend went from a walk-in clinic to a coma in a matter of a couple of hours. It was touch-and-go for weeks. She’s been out of the coma for a while now and my mom and a third friend went to Texas to stay with her for a week while her husband came to Michigan to attend to their home fires. While in Texas, she told my mom that she can remember being in the coma. She more or less remembers what was happening around her. She knew everything was wrong.

She was anxious, upset, and afraid. She couldn’t be comfortable. Her body was rebelling against her life and she was not about to check out of this mortal realm.

Z came to her in the hospital and laid with her. She felt immediately calm from the inside. She relaxed. She was comforted and calmed. She started to heal. Z was with her in the hospital bed with her, she knows that with all of the resolution that any of us have about anything we *know* to be true.

It lines up, too, with the prayers of intercession I sent to Z when I found out about the whole coma business.

I frequently ask for intercessions on matters of mortal and spiritual importance. Z and Joe are my go-to for that. Their duties to me physically are gone, but that doesn’t mean they are released from service. They just have to answer me on a different, more universal level. Which, I guess, is a consolation prize. (It still sucks)

I am positive there is a scientific explanation for what she experienced in the hospital. Dr. Amy (non-certified) assumes it was most likely a chemical response to trauma and anxiousness that was relieved with serotonin and other self-soothing chemicals that get released in the body as a reflex to increased physical and mental distress and trauma.

I am also positive the strings of the universe are so strong and wide, that it was Z’s spirit that was picked out of life and brought comfort to my friend. It was not something like Z. It was Z. The same energy and shine and spirit that I gave birth to and raised is the exact same energy, shine, and spirit that went to Texas to bring comfort to the sick.

Our belief in God gives us heaven, a place for our spirits after we die. Our belief in science tells us energy can not be destroyed. These statements of faith and science reside in harmony.

My friend has known many people close to her that have passed. Her mother and her brother (for example). But it was Z that came to her bedside for comfort. That is the statement of faith.

I’ve not attended to my blog while I’ve had this event tossing around my mind. I’ve stopped and started it a couple of times, unsure how to articulate my resolution in all universal creation and works. Faith and Science.

Circling back to my prayers of intercession, I have two points. The first is that prayer is tantamount to sending energy into the universe. Whether a believer in God or not, we all do the same thing: prayers, good vibes, thoughts, hopes – it’s all energy we project for the goodness and benefit of others. Some people have more specific name for it and I’m not going to judge the label. I asked for and intercession and one was received.

The second point is this: I’m fairly certain this is the first time Z has done something that I’ve asked her to do without nagging. FINALLY. I mean, really. Z did noting without being asked (reminded?) several times. That in itself is practically a miracle.


I can’t adequately express how deeply Alex cared for Z’s opinion.  Her approval wasn’t just important – her approval was the only thing that mattered.  Z was Alex’s litmus test.  If Z disapproved of a person, Alex wouldn’t stay friends.  If someone didn’t like Z, Alex wouldn’t stay friends.  Z’s input was paramount and her approval was non-negotiable.

Z made quick decisions where Alex does not.  Z had strong opinions and was better at shutting down situations that weren’t in her best interest.  It got Z into trouble a couple of times, but largely Z was the model.

It seems questionable, but with all Alex’s life complications her personal interactions don’t come easy.  Alex, 100% of the time, believes what people tell her is always truth.  Alex believes everyone’s intentions are genuine and good.   Alex wants everyone to be happy.

Z, on the other hand,  was jaded and assumed everyone has an angle.  She liked to argue.  Where Alex naturally believes that everyone is genuine, Z started every interaction with suspicion.

Alex leaned on that for balance.

After Alex’s second day of college I asked her how everything was going.  She told me school causes her anxiety.

Later I found it is because she no longer has Z to blaze a trail.  Z didn’t start college, so she couldn’t tell Alex how to handle the next part of life.  Z’s perspective and advise is gone.

Alex is left to navigate the waters alone.  She has no reference.  She has no one to tell her which direction to go. She has no one to make the decision when standing at impasse.

Of course, Jay and I are there to help but parents are dumb, and we don’t know things.

Losing Z has exceeded Alex’s capacity for change.   She has no means for navigation.  She is unmoored.   She is lost.  She is leading her life without a chaperone.

It is not school that gives Alex anxiety.  It is the loss of her north star.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s day is complicated.  For the most part, relationships with our collective mothers falls into one of three camps:  1) Everything is great.  2) Your relationship with motherhood is, best case, complicated. 3) Half of the mother/child combo has passed.

Up until this year, only situation #1 has ever applied to me.  I have a great relationship with my mom and my children.  We freely express our love and I don’t really feel like I need an extra day to tell my mom I love her.  I tell her I love her on a pretty frequent basis and I don’t love her extra on mother’s day.  I love her all of the time.

I disliked mother’s day for situation numbers 2 & 3.  Empathy killed it for me.

I ache for the women that only achieved motherhood for a brief, shining moment and then had it taken away, and the moms that tried so, so hard – but couldn’t ever make it happen.  I feel for the kids in foster care that got cheated out of the kind of mom I have.  I hurt for the step-mothers that give everything to their partner’s children and get forgotten because “your not my real mom”.   I see the pain of the women that have lost their mothers; even if they’ve passed at a reasonable age, the loss of a mother doesn’t sting any less.

We place so much emphasis on our perfect families and wonderful Mother’s day cards and brunches and gifts that it fills up our facebook pages and spills into the rest of the weekend.  But, in my experience anyway, mother’s day hits far more people painfully than joyfully.

For most of us, Mother’s day isn’t hand-print flowers and prom pictures and celebration of a special relationship  – it’s hard and it’s rough and it’s a day of tears and an extra glass of wine.

I don’t begrudge any mother that has what everyone wants.  I don’t begrudge anyone anything good in their lives.  Maybe motherhood is the only thing that some women have.

What we have is a day that celebrates deeply complicated emotion and circumstance.  It reaches out and stabs you with a thousand toothpicks.

So, for my friends that have lost children, could never have children, miscarried or still-delivered, my friends that have lost their mothers, my friends that are step-mothers, my friends that gave their babies to other families, my friends that are single moms with no support, my friends raising grandchildren when their own children can’t, my friends that are anxiously wait for their children to come back, my friends that have given up on their dreams of motherhood, and my friends that have escaped their own mothers (because not all mothers are good), today I think of you.  I hope your heart aches less tomorrow than it did today.

Starting next year – I will stop celebrating mother’s day and start celebrating the strong women.  The women that have propped me up when I was going to crumble under the weight of life.  The women I admire as role-models and pillars of strength.  The women that do their best every day.  The women that smile and love and give everything to everybody.  The women that get up and run when they are tired and the women that love and protect – no matter their children or mothers or the complications that go along with those titles.

I’m checking out on Mother’s day.  Instead I will absolutely use the opportunity to celebrate and appreciate the strength in all women.  They strength I see every day, mother or not.