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.


The Last, Worst, Best Celebration

This coming July 4th will be the internment for both Z and Joe.   Planning for this event really is not great.  At all.  I hate everything about it.

July 4th is two things:  1. It was Joe’s favorite holiday.  Bar none.  He lived for the 4th of July.  He, fittingly, died on the 4th of July.  2. It is our family’s vacation week.  We’ll miss Christmas or Thanksgivings or life milestones, but we do not miss the week of July 4th.

Their funerals were a respective group effort.  I’d planned his funeral as best I could before he passed;  Her funeral was an arrangement of plans and favors mushed together by people coming together to help out.  We united our pieces for that.  Their funerals were soundly group efforts.  This event is mine.  It is my opus for their lives.  My requiem for their love and spirit and shine.

I’ve made sure the clergy is available, the time is in place.  I’ve gotten word out for local hotel accommodation (  I’m menu planning, looking for seating rentals, decorations, and party favors (?).  I’ve got some live music lined up and I’m trying so, so hard to be as festive as possible.

I don’t want another horrible day in the memory of either of these two amazing people that were both jovial and fun loving.  It will be horrible because that is an inescapable part of the day.  It will be good because I am determined to love.

I’ll make sure we have a vigil campfire and the wind chimes from St. Mary’s faculty and staff will be hung up.   We will all be armed with funny stories and our favorite memories.  I’m banking on one of the older generation to not hear something correctly and get a little confused.   We will eat and drink and be merry.

This would have been the party I planned for her low-key wedding that she won’t have. This would have been the party I planned for the 40th birthday he didn’t make it to.

The party is getting expensive but this is the last party I’ll have specifically for either of these loves.

I want to make it nice.  I want it to be special.  I want the day to be filled with laughter and love and celebration of two lives that were perfect to me.

I want everyone in the world to be there and be happy and reminiscent and be sad and devastated.  I want to light the biggest fireworks I can find.  I want to usher in some joy even though joy will be a tall order.

A terrible reason to have a good party.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.




Cool for the Summer

Today was the day.  The head-shaving day.

I got so anxious at work that I had to leave early.  I made myself sick to my stomach thinking about my hair.  I really do like my hair.

After some wine and chili, I went upstairs with Jay and Alex.  The first cut was rather dramatic.  By the end I was just annoyed at how long it took.  I had a lot of hair that had to be taken off and it was not coming easily.  Alex took over the cutting situation.  Jay had to finish the job.

I was in charge of all Joe’s haircuts.  One summer I carved a mohowk into his head for our week in the outer banks. I kept it trim sometimes.  Other times it got real wily.   He had his clippers and for all the years we were together, he was part of the Dr. Amy special haircuts program.  There were others on the program.  Including my dad once.  But just once.  (I mean, it was just one small patch).  After Joe passed, I moved his clippers with me.  They went on to cut more hair and then eventually they got put into the top of the bathroom closet.  As with a lot of weird items, I have an emotional attachment to something that really needed to be thrown away.

I cut off my hair with his clippers.

Z also sported this look for a while.  Three Haircuts day was a part of that.  With little exception, she lived with and passed away with short hair.  She would have loved every minute of the current situation.

With all of the haircuts I’ve given looming just inside the clippers, I made the plunge.  I drank from my Mary Poppins mug, I had the balance of my family with me in the bathroom.  It was a group effort.

I could almost hear Z behind me, giddy with excitement.  It wasn’t all Z.  It was Alex, giddy with excitement for the change.  Alex and Z.  And Joe.  And all of the rock-and-roll in my life cheering into the universe around me while Jay finished what I could not.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.




I’m having surgery on my head this coming Friday.  Six incisions.  Most all of the hair on top of my head has to be shaved off plus a patch above my ear and another spot on the back of my head.  It sounds way worse than it actually is.  Had I taken care of my situation 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be staring down the business end of a #2 guard on my clippers.  My surgeon advised the most prudent thing would be for me to take all of my hair off.  So much has to come off the top center that leaving unshaved portions would be ridiculous at best.  When I talked with my hairdresser, I told her I needed to make an appointment to have her shave my head the day before the surgery.

She told me no.  Absolutely not.  She’d clean it up post-op, but the actual shaving would be something I do *for myself*.

Head shaving is an emotional operation.  It is not a time to surrender my emotions to the salon and everybody in that day.  It will be cathartic. I need to own it.

As with most adults, I’ve been to several funerals and burials.  When I arrive at the cemetery, the hole is open and everything is set and ready for a quick abdication of life into earth.  Prayers, grief, hugs, casket into prepared hole, and we’re off to lunch.  It’s a swift symphony practiced to the Nth degree by all end-of-life professionals.

Things are different in the UP.  Rules are more… interpretive (?). This summer, I have the option to dig the hole for Z and Joe’s urns myself.  Just like in the old-timey movies, the family goes early, does the digging and the filling.  No prepped site, a DIY situation any of us would be wholly unprepared for.

I really struggle with this option.  It is at once paralyzingly fearful and fittingly perfect.  I brought this girl into the world with labor, I cared for him with my labor. I can put them back to the universe with labor.  I can and do this last physical act on their behalf.  I can sweat out the grief I’ll have pent up that day.  I can bring my family along for that ride and we can work it out together.

Maybe digging the hole will be the actual catharsis I need in the burial rite.  Maybe it will be a thousand degrees and I’ll wonder who made this dumb decision and why isn’t the professional there with his powered equipment.

Also maybe I’ve turned the proposed hole-digging transaction into a scene from an overly-dramatic ham-fisted movie assigned a “C” grade in Entertainment Weekly.

Whatever the case, I have plenty of opportunity for profound melodrama in the upcoming season.  I really do have a need for a physical change to marker this time in my life and the universe is answering that in spades.  My bald-headed self in a sweltering July cemetery  digging a stupid hole for these stupid urns that I didn’t ask for.   The picture itself is ridiculous beyond what I could have ever imagined.

And probably achingly cathartic.  Which is something I need*.

Solidly 0 stars.  Would not recommend.

*Dear universe:  I also need to win a powerball.  Since my life seems to be winning insane odds in tragedy, please ante in on that as well.


The Spring Clean

I spent yesterday doing spring cleaning.  I opened the back door to let our pets come and go, switch out the house air, and just enjoy the warmth before the bugs swarm.  I did some hard core cleaning on the big light over my kitchen table.  When I was done, I discovered I probably broke it.  It won’t turn on anymore because apparently the dust had become part of the circuitry and removing that delicate structure caused delumination.  I also have an old banged up silver-plate water pitcher that I use to hold my wooden spoons.  I really only clean it up once a year.  I did that yesterday and I’d forgotten how cute it is when properly cleaned.

My older daughter has struggled her entire life.  Things that are easy for others are difficult for her.  She has Asperger’s Syndrome occurring with anxiety and mood disorders, depression, and ADD (for good measure).  She’s a trove of diagnoses.  Her moods and feelings and actions generate from a different place than mine or Jay’s or most others.

She is 11 months older than Z.  And where Alex struggles, Z was charmed.  Alex spent her 15th birthday inpatient in a psychiatric hospital.  Z’s 15th birthday was so standard-issue I can’t remember the details.   For the past 10+ years, Alex’s life has been a tornado of medication, serious self-harm, doctors, counselors, trips to the emergency room, and attempted suicide.

The truth is, on some deep level, I have long understood the outcome of my life might include the loss of a child.  It just wasn’t Z.  For anyone that raises an emotionally complicated child, this isn’t ground-breaking news.  This is standard issue life.

Last week Alex was very upset with me.  With others.  With life.  She couldn’t see how love could overcome differences in opinion.  She was passionate about her stand.  I understood her need.  I wanted so desperately to drive love, above all things, into her brain.  Into her soul.  I tried rationalizing.  She didn’t buy it.  After two days we came to a stale mate on the subject.

In her frustration and anger she told me she was sorry that it was Z that was gone and not her.  She was accusing me of having that sentiment.  In the moment there was (and is) complicated traumatic grief she can’t articulate.  Were the feelings mine or hers?  She didn’t know.  And, right then, it didn’t matter;  Our lives are woven together.

I love my arduous daughter with the same urgency I love my easy daughter. My complicated daughter has trouble expressing complicated thought.  The minutia of her feelings are so intertwined that all individual colors turn gray and come out lumped together.

She’s had a life full of internal pain that isn’t easily assuaged.  Adding in complicated grief is a weight I can’t quite comprehend.

Because her emotions don’t display in the typical way, it’s easy for me to forget I’m not the only one in my house so deeply broken.  She watched her step-dad slowly move from a strong man to a wheel-chair bound man ravaged by cancer.  She grieved for the father that doted on her starting her first grade.  She grieves for her sister, the alter-ego she put on a pedestal and idolized above everyone else in the world.

Today she sent me a trailer for a movie with a strong female lead.  It’s an action movie where a mother and her daughters are victim to a home invasion and the mother turns the tables on the bad guys and takes control of the situation.  It comes out on mother’s day.  She thinks we should see it together.   Obviously we will.

Yesterday while I was busy cleaning/breaking my kitchen light and shining my spoon holder, she was dusting the mantel and vacuuming the family room and cleaning the bathroom vanity.

She worked along side me to clean things up, looking toward a different spring.