This is why I have no money ever

While I was binge listening to short biographies last week, I learned about a peculiar habit of Sarah Winchester (of Winchester gun fame). When she donated money to charity in her own name, it was typically a small amount of money – paltry sums considering her wealth. We’re talking like $10 and $100 donations from someone that had millions. But she was secretly super generous – she donated millions and millions anonymously to charities she loved. Never in her own name.

I don’t donate millions of anything. I just don’t have millions. Except pet hairs around my house. But I do over-tip, and I do give money to corner panhandlers. I buy extra gifts and send things on the side to people I know need it. I had to come clean a couple of weeks ago to Jay and tell him that I have been sending bi-weekly shipments of goods to someone that really needs it for the past several months and there is no end in sight… so, you know, just an FYI about where our money is going. He really didn’t have a say in the matter.

You’d think that one of the side effects of losing a child is spending less money. No more clothes or shoes or books. No tuition payments. No car insurance or phone bills. But really, I’ve found that is not the case for anyone that I know that’s lost a child.

Just like the love that never dies, that stream of money doesn’t quit. Except now instead of fretting about our budgets and how we’re going to keep all the kids in good financial order, we start giving it away.

I mean, I know lots of sad parents that do it for our children, but I don’t know of anyone that makes a “thing” out of it. We just become relentless, secret givers. Dollars to you and books to you and shoes to you and all these things just happen.

And time – we give so much of our time away. Time that we wouldn’t have had before that suddenly becomes so… available. We give it to projects and people and occupation for our hearts.

I’ve turned into a giver and I’m probably not doing it for selfless reasons. I think it’s just a habit I acquired over the 18.83 years I took care of my child. Just like I don’t stop loving her, I don’t stop spending on her either. It’s just redirected.

Redirection seems to be a theme both emotionally and financially.

Sara Winchester was emotionally devastated when she lost her baby and then her husband. She didn’t know what to do with herself and became tragically restless and just meandered through life without real direction.

I’m pretty sure that when she donated anonymously, she didn’t per her name on it because it wasn’t her money. She donated $100 for herself. The millions she donated was the money that belong to someone else.

The same with me, this money and stuff I give away is supposed to go to someone else. So, I make sure it goes to someone else. It’s what I do for them (my child and my husband) quietly and in my heart.

I don’t tell you this to be all “look at me! I’m a generous giver” – I share this because it’s a side-effect-quirk of loss. It’s just something that happens. And I’m here to share the weird.

0 stars. Do not recommend.

A brief biography of Wilma Mankiller

On the way to school this afternoon I was listening to a biography about Wilma Mankiller. An amazing woman. An amazing woman that had a near death experience when she was hit head-on in a car accident.

It was mentioned that while she was laying in her car dying of her injuries, she felt as though love had enveloped her.

That was it – just this brief mention. The biography moved on to the tragic circumstances* of the crash.

I quit listening to the biography. The recording went on and my brain froze in that mention.

Martha was dying in pools of her injury and all she felt was love.

I think about Z and Joe in their final moments and I hope the feeling of love overcame whatever else was going on in their bodies and brains.

Joe knew my love for him – there wasn’t any doubt. But that’s what happens in a strong, committed romantic relationship. You feel the love constantly. It’s part of the dynamic. Unending and forever widening love.

The kids though? I mean they know it, but those teenagers want nothing more than to reject it. Part of the maturing process, they spread their wings and struggle to get away and we, as parents, want nothing more than to bathe them in love.

Their souls collect the energy we put into them. I’m positive their spirits recognize what the teenaged brain rejects. All the focused energy doesn’t get lost in the universe – it hits the intended target, even if that target is mid-fledge.

Even in death, the love doesn’t magically stop. But the intended destination is gone and the love bounces back as grief. That’s a super in-elegant way of saying it, but that’s why we feel grief. Love with no direction.

In my sad parents club, I talked about the weird way to describe this half-baked healing. It’s not easier, being a seasoned member of this club. These are not wounds that time will heal. There is nothing that will make the grief go away. There is no moving on, only moving forward. But I’m not as raw as I once was. Those waves of grief that crashed over me so often at the beginning don’t happen with the same frequency. I remember when it was fresh; sitting at my desk like a zombie, having the relentless waves of sudden, shocking grief crash across my guts. That only happens once or twice a day now. Not once or twice an hour like it was at the beginning.

While I was on my blogging hiatus, a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since high school lost her son. I went to his visitation and cried with her. For our lost children. A woman that I hadn’t seen in 25 years and the time melted for the hour I was there while we communed in our shared position. I couldn’t offer her any advice – and frankly, I wouldn’t want to – I’m way to cold-watered to be helpful anyway, but I could give her my love. I gave her my love and my energy in that stupid pale-pink room.

What I hope is everyone that passes through my life collects my love. And I will collect the lifetime of love given to me. Even if we don’t in that minute it’s offered, I hope the spirits understand the intent and saves it up. And when we are all in our dying hours (our very old, appropriately aged dying hours) our bodies remember that love and let it wash over us, deeply and truly.

And this is my comfort, that my child and my husband left this world not in pain or fear, but comfortable in the saved-up love.

0 stars. Do not recommend.

The Importance of Art

I read an internet thing not too long ago that I’ve not really been able to shake. It talked about people that are sewn into your life and when they leave, they don’t just go – they rip apart the fabric of you.

That was a pretty good demonstration of loss for me. I could see it, what a failure in fabric sewn together looks like. (a hole. It looks like a hole. But more dramatic)

It’s hard to describe to someone that hasn’t had a traumatic loss what it is to lose. Words don’t ever get at the core of the situation. I can dance around it. But I can’t quite describe it. Not really.

One of the reasons I fell out of the writing habit was because this exercise is healing through hurt. Like when your back hurts and you lay on a hard, flat surface and it initially hurts worse but then it starts to feel better… I dread sitting down at a keyboard and screen to write out my feelings and make things worse.

I know it is temporary, and that getting these things out is far more beneficial in the end, but that initial step? Man that sucks.

According to movies and TV shows, water on a keyboard can cause sparks. Last I checked, tears were water and you shouldn’t cry on a keyboard. I mean I do have Kleenex, so it’s not a legitimate visual, but still. You get my point

Now it hurts, and there is a fire hazard, and I’m unoriginal because I don’t really add anything new to this conversation around trauma and grief and loss.

“Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that is the work of artist Celeste Roberge, a wire-form person filled with rocks. “Melancolie” by Albert Gyorgy is a bronze man slumped on a bench with no chest. Both super famous works that, if you’ve seen the internet, you’ve seen these sculptures. These are opposed imagery. They complement the simultaneous weight of trauma and the emptiness left behind. They each tell half the story.

Art is the visual where our words fail. “Let me show you” is the refrain we give our children when they need to learn a new skill. It’s not with words, it is when we engage in visual communication that we can really demonstrate the inner workings of life.

It’s why we romanticize a shared glance and sweeping landscapes and why Baz Lhurmann has a successful filmmaking career.

I’ve had friends that painted Z’s name into rocks and shells and left them in the wild. Whomever finds them will know they represent an emotion. A visual demonstration that isn’t quite so big and public, but far more personal.

I don’t want to talk about it. I want it acknowledged. I don’t want to talk about it.

But if you can see it, if I can show you? That solution is best.

There is the matter of lives sewn together. These threads of life that were supposed to keep us together until the day I died. Not the day she died. Nor the day he died. These threads failed – everything let lose and unraveled and then all I’m left with is this stupid hole in my life. Life has frayed to failure. That is a visual I can share.

Zero Stars. Do not recommend.

20 years

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the last time I gave birth.  It was only 11 months after my first baby was born.  Alex’s delivery was long and complicated.  Isabella’s went by in a flash.  I surmise it was because I’d just been through it and my body didn’t forget.  I was in the hospital bed and the nurses were yelling at me “don’t push!  We don’t have a doctor yet!”  and I was yelling back “I have to push!  I can’t not push!”  Up until that moment, I thought that all of the movies that included delivering mothers yelling “I have to push!” was not a real thing.  I was wrong.  It is a thing.  A doctor did arrive in time with a brand new intern that had never been to a delivery before.  Isabella was born, he held the fresh infant and said, probably to no on in particular, “What do I do now?”

“Give her to me”

I have always wondered about that young doctor and what he thought of his first birth.  I wonder if he thinks about the so tiny baby he was the first to hold.  I wonder if he ever tells the story about his first delivery and realizing his school taught him everything to do during a birth except what to do with a baby right after the APGAR score was tallied.  Some things you learn on the job.

A couple of weeks ago, a point was brought up in my sad parents group.  I’ve not been able to shake it.  Mostly because I’ve been working through my feelings on this blog, and our formidable leader summed up this entire year’s worth of blog posts in one, quick thought

Her absence is the presence in my life.

She’s still here, she’s all around me.  She’s present in everything I do.  Every worry I have.  Every celebration and laughing fit.  She’s with me every time I cry in the car or walk down the stairs backwards (because my new fun fear-turned-obsession is falling down stairs, dying, and then leaving Alex all alone).

Her absence is the presence in my life.

I went to sad parents group today armed with two dozen amazing cupcakes for her birthday tomorrow (she shares October 18th with another baby in our group… Even though Scarlett’s parents weren’t attending tonight, I reminded everyone both birthdays were tomorrow).   We had the cakes because even though my baby is gone, she still has a birthday.  Tomorrow, we’ll have a birthday dinner with my parents.  We’ll have tacos because even though she’s not there, she is a part of our lives, and everyone gets a fun dinner for their birthday.

The brand new doctor that delivered Isabella will never know how life turned out.  But she will always be present in his life.  I’m certain she helped shape it.  Her absence in his life was still a sort of presence.

One day, when I am aged into a thick number of years, I will close my eyes for the last time and I will see her again and all of the times in my life when I called out to no one in particular “Give her to me” I will get her back.  She will be present again.


I have a new hobby.  Which is weird in that I’ve decided on at least 17 new hobbies I want to pursue, but never seem to get past the “buy the book” stage of the situation.  I have lots of books about new hobbies.

I  judge deaths.

I look through the obituaries of the local newspapers in Michigan and check them all.  Is it someone I know? (it never is).  How old is the decedent?  Younger than 75? (too young).  Is the word “suddenly” included in the obituary of a middle-aged person (today there was one).

For the Grand Rapids obituaries, I wonder if I’ll see new members at my sad parents group.  If not, I hope they shelter at one of the other sad parent’s groups around the city.  Everyone needs the support.

With the exception of infant deaths, everyone is smiling in their final pictures.  I like that, but it makes me even more sad.  Although, to be fair, the photo we chose for Z’s obituary didn’t inclulde a smile.  It was a prom picture.  She looked like a sprite engulfed in pink fluff in front of Lake Michigan.

Everyone gets an okay/not okay judgement from me.  Age is the only criteria.

How many parents survived?  How many people feel the loss?  Did a mother or father lose a partner in addition to a child?  Level II unacceptable.  Was there an entire family lost at one time?  Level III unacceptable.

I don’t judge the method of loss (an overdose is no more or less tragic than a long disease).  I don’t judge income (grief does not check in on bank account balances).  I don’t judge race or gender or family status (no life is unworthy of longevity).

I mine the papers for adjacent grief.  I mourn with those that don’t know I’m looking on from afar.  I’m not compelled to visit anyone or drop a note.  I just offer silent prayer and I get it.

Really, I want to make pants (I hate shopping for pants).  I want to make backpacks and tote bags (I even purchased the material for a cool tote bag).  I’d rather be a comedy writer (I’m looking for a hulu exec to option my half-scripts).  I’d rather be a professional back-yard whiskey maker.  I’d rather keep chickens and goats.  Or buffalo.  That’d be cool.

I could clean out my basement.  I could organize my pantry.  Instead I read obituaries and commune through the universe with those that don’t know I’m looking out for them.

I don’t welcome anyone to this stupid group.  I merely watch for them coming and hold the door open.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


I get jealous pretty easily.  I dislike that about me.

When I was growing up,  I wanted to be a stay at home mom and raise a family.  I wanted to be crafty.  Maybe be a freelance writer for extra vacation money.  I wanted children that were wildly happy and successful.  I wanted to retire early and spend time on my lake in the UP.

Instead, I had two children in very rapid succession with a man that *was not a good guy* and shed that dead weight and started my life as a single mom.  I had amazing parent support, but I didn’t have a partner.  I didn’t have the partner support I needed to raise kids.  Having my parents help me was amazing and I’ll be forever grateful.  But it’s not the same.

My marriage to Joe seemed to be a course correction, but it ended up being all cancer, all the time.

Unemployment.  I lost a job that I loved.  But they at least felt bad and covered the cobra insurance I needed to keep my husband in treatment.  It was a mixed blessing.  I loved that job.  And everyone there.


Single Parent. Again.

I worked hard, but it was hard.  I was by myself again, except this time I had the flowering mental illness in Alex to deal with.  My life wasn’t happy children, it was frequent self harm and destruction and anger and fear and misguided attempts at talk therapy.

Would my child be alive when I got home?  Would I find a suicide victim in her bed?  Would all of the glasses be shattered?  What mess will I have?  Will I find out today that a drug addiction found it’s way into her life as it does in so, so many of the others that struggle with mental illness?  Would she have cut so deeply that she needs stitches again?

The doctors at the walk in clinic stopped giving me literature on self-harm and depression and anxiety disorders.

Unemployment. Again.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I was going to stay at for the rest of my career.

I have only unemployment income and no prescription coverage.  Alex’s meds were half of the unemployment benefit I received.  The remaining $700 did not cover my brand new house payment.  Luckily, my new partner floated me through this.

Mental illness strengthens.

Z is gone.

I don’t talk about this because want anyone to feel like they need to cheer me up or be positive, but because it’s the root of my jealousy.

I don’t begrudge anyone that’s had a good life or has the things that I want.  It’s the further away from Z I get, the more deeply it sets in that life has given me more lemons than my bowl can handle.  They’re leaking all over the counter.  Spilled onto the floor.  I have stupid lemon juice all over the floor.

I want to be the pretty one, I want to be the athletic one, I want to have the put-together house and the firm schedule and the dog that behaves and the supportive husband that was the only husband with a sweet and whirl-wind love story.  I want to have lengthy summer breaks and academically accelerated children that have Saturday games and giddy sleep-overs.

There is so much to love about my life.  Alex is generally coping with her life in a much less destructive way.  She’s taking two classes at the college she paid for herself.   I have an excellent partner and an amazing family.

Nor do I think I’m all alone.  I mean, I have a group of other sad parents that I visit with every week.  I know other young widows.

But in the back of my mind, behind all of the positives I project into the world, is this glowing ember of jealousy.  I don’t want you not to have it, I just would like it too, please.

Maybe I didn’t make my vision board bright enough?

Maybe it’s because I feel summer closing out and soon I’ll have to leave Joe and Z behind for their first winter without me.  Maybe it’s because there is far too much cemetery and mental institution in the fabric of my life.

Maybe it’s because (for those that know me) it’s easy to forget that my projection of happiness and normalcy is mostly because I’m trying to fool myself.

Tomorrow will be another start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Being Tough

I think I might have called back to this particular incident before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In the waning day’s of Joe’s life and we were getting lots of “goodbye” visits.  People he hadn’t seen for years were stopping in.  They feigned encouragement, but everyone knew what was really going on.  It was the parade of farewells and see you on the other side.

One of his ex-employers stopped by.  Joe was genuinely happy for the visit.  He stood up to shake hands, took a step forward and fell down hard.  He kind of caught himself, face down in a chair.  Before the visitor had a chance to act I stepped in.  I actually stepped between them and shielded the view of the fall from the guest with my body.  I leaned down and, in one swift movement, I was pulling Joe to his feet.

As I was pulling the situation back into focus, I whispered into his ear “Get up… Get up.”  He didn’t really have a choice.  I am strong and, at that time, had he weighed maybe 100 pounds. I got him up and back to the couch in a matter of two or three seconds.

The rest of the visit went well.  Neither of the men acknowledged the fall.  They were just two men talking in the living room.  Catching up on old times and drinking lemonade.

I often think of this moment (this literal second of our lives) and I remember it with raw intimacy and true connection between the two of us.  I gave him everything I had in that moment so he could save some dignity in the room with the visitor.  He had always been such a strong man.  he was such a strong man.  We were both so tough.  He was tough staring down the inevitable.  I was tough in my resolve to get him through everything that might be uncomfortable.

When I left the UP yesterday I expected to leave a fog behind the same way I left a fog behind when I lost Joe.  I’ve been waiting for it, anticipating some sort of relief, no matter how small.  A year is gone, I made it through all of the firsts.  My life is bigger than it was last year, there are new memories that don’t crowd my brain with all loss, all the time.

It didn’t happen.  I didn’t leave a fog in my wake.  I am still moving forward in a swell of bereavement.

I set myself up for this.

I whisper into my own life “Get up… Get up.”

I feel like I’ve been here before.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.



Tomorrow is the day.  August 16.

My husband’s birthday.  The 1st suckaversary of my child’s passing.

Right now, I’m waiting for my partner to meet me in route so we can finish the trip to the UP together.  We’ll have a quiet dinner w/ those that happen to be up north.  I have a significant amount of alcohol ticked away in my room for this weekend.  I have games and (most of) my people.

I’ll be okay.

Really, though, I’ve spent a lot of the day reflecting on the change in perspective a year brings to the bereaved.  I will no longer start thoughts with “A year ago I had no idea this would be the last time we…”  From now on it will be “A year ago I was mired in the unimaginable.”

Today I ran into a work colleague that, through a series of transfers, I haven’t seen in a couple of years.  We business ourselves over the phone or email, but that precludes personal chit-chat.  When we were catching up, I mentioned that tomorrow was suckaversary.  He shut the door and teared up.  “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you.  I just didn’t know what to say.  I just can’t imagine…”

The truth is that even though I have a year into the bereaved parent column and 8 years in the bereaved spouse column, I’m in the same boat.  I still sometimes forget the losses.  I’m very good at pretending I just haven’t talked with anyone in a while.

Tomorrow, had the universe shifted a different direction, Joe and I would be celebrating his 48th birthday.  I would have teased him relentlessly about nearing 50.  He didn’t even hit 40.  Tomorrow I would be sending a text message to all our collective girls, reminding them to call their dad.

In a different universe, my life is so wildly different.

Last week it crashed into me that in 18 years (when I will still be in the workforce) Izzy will have been gone longer than she was alive.  Already, he has been away from my life longer than we were together.

My life now is just so, so different than the plan.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


(also, I’m not even going to proof-read this.  you get what you get)

(lies.  I just proofed it up a little)



Alex and I are on the way home from a day on the river.  We’ve spent four and a half hours with family, having a great time.   Swimming, floating, not realizing that my Aunt’s tube keeps losing air because it lost a patch.

We’re on our way home and she’s crying.  She’s so, so upset.

“I just feel like if it was me that died, no one would be sad.  They would expect it.   If I died, no one would get tattoos of my name.  People wouldn’t be upset.  Because I was supposed to die”  She tells me this and my heart breaks.  I try not to cry and reassure her that without a doubt, any death would have the same aftermath.  There is no winner in this race.

Earlier  today she went shopping with me to prep for the trip (Cherries:  the ultimate river food).  She’d mentioned that it gets hot working in a jacket in the summer time, but she doesn’t like wearing short sleeves.  People stare at her arms.

Her arms and deeply pitted and scared, the remainder of years of self-harm stemming from mental illness that we all fought long and hard to control.

This summer, she has tried so, so hard.  She has been involved and engaged with the rest of our extended family.  She’s sat in the lake with the adults and played games with the kids up north.  She didn’t remove herself from our group chat when we made plans.  She has let us love her the way she needs to be loved.  The way she should be loved.

She is putting herself out into the world and, when she does, my heart soars with happiness.  It has been a long and rocky road for her to get where she is.  She’s shedding her black sheep and letting us bring her into our fold.

We’re on our way home from a great day and she’s crying because she will always believe that Z’s death was a tragedy and, should she ever die inappropriately young, it wouldn’t matter.

The truth of the situation is that Alex has always felt second to her sister.  In her mind, she has always lived in the shadow of Z’s out-sized life.  And she can not escape that shadow.  Even in death.

As we move forward, there will always be parts of her that can’t let go of the silent tragedy – the part where Alex lives while it was Z that died and not the other way around.

My baby is in pieces again.  I can’t put anyone back together.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


The Stuff of Z

Over the 4th, I gave away a considerable amount of Z’s stuff.  It was mostly easy to figure out what went with whom.  Especially with books and stuffed animals.  There seemed to be something perfect for each of her cousins.  Even the smalls got books that were held onto and she managed to retain a stuffed animal that was just right for each personality.

I didn’t mind giving the things away.  Mostly because I knew either I could give the things she loved to those that would love them and, in turn, keep that spirit alive OR I could let her things wither away in her bedroom to collect dust and let the memory in the things fade to nothing.

I chose to give the things more life.  A life with someone new.  More love and joy.  More memory and, by way of transitive property, more of Z spread into the world.

All my love went into the bags and I sent them into the wild.

The one thing I had a problem with was her archery shoes.

There was both nothing special and everything special about those ridiculous shoes. Bright blue and yellow, they were not made for wall flowers or the shy among us.  We shopped for archery shoes at the Gaylord discount warehouse shoe store and they were chosen for their merits in both personality and budget.

They were also the only gift I took back from their first box and put them into another.  I’d put them with all her other footwear intended for my neices.  My sister thought my niece (and my love) could use them for an upcoming sporting season.  I was hesitant to give them away for a non-specified sporting passion.  Which is super weird because I brought several other boxes of sundries and notions that were freely available to be picked through and chosen from.  Jewelry and purses and clothes and shoes and bubbles that I was ready to let go.

The archery shoes caught my breath. And I’m not really sure why.

Z only wore the shoes in a gym.  Never outside.  She practiced and competed in them and then changed out of them for her regular life.  She held her breath and calmed and centered herself in those silly looking shoes.

My niece could have used them for volleyball.  Or gym.  Or any other sport.  But I needed them to be something more than athletic shoes.  I needed them to transfer her spirit and power to another sport of equal intensity and calm.

I mean, the entire thing is so… pedestrian.  Why would I so freely give up her daily life shoes and her boots and her sandals but not her archery shoes?  They were of equal importance in her life.  She had as much enthusiasm for hiking The North Country Trail as she did for Olympic hopefulness.

It was me.  It was my projections.  I transferred the feelings onto those blue and yellow shoes.

In the end I gave them to Z’s “sister from another mister”, another girl with whom she shared a weird connection in sport and fandoms and free-spiritedness.  They were too far apart in both age and geography to be BFFs, but they were tight enough in spirt and shine and we all knew their connection was true and lasting.

And that’s how the archery shoes became fencing shoes.