The Journey Begins

I was introduced to grief unexpectedly on February 13th, 1990 in a nondescript room of a local hospital that had a sign on the door that  read, “Quiet Room.”

Within five minutes of being ushered into that room, two more titles were added to my list of roles – wife, daughter, sister, friend, mother, R.N., volunteer.  I was now a widow and single parent.

There was nothing quiet about my journey through grief except for God’s voice whispering, “I am with you always” – even though I couldn’t hear it!

This blog is not only about my story but it is a way to share things I learn as I listen to, accompany and facilitate support for many others going through “the valley of dark places.”

May you find this to be a resource for HELP – HEALING  and HOPE.

Posted in My story | 6 Comments

Tears Come With Joy and Sorrow

I visit my first husband’s grave to tell him that our son is getting married and I tear up.  And when I see our daughter in her wedding gown for the first time, the same thing happens.  Two children getting married, 5-weeks apart – that alone could make anyone cry. 

There are many times over the last year-and-a-half of their engagement period when my emotions feel raw.  Tears spilling out as I plan showers and think of the life-changing events that will take place. 

My 85-year old mother prays daily that she will be at both celebrations.  Despite the many ailments that she struggles with,  her desire to be a part of the celebrations keeps her motivated, and she crosses off each day on her calendar.  

Mom’s prayers are finally answered as we gather with friends and family from all over the country at the first wedding in May. Now tears flood her eyes when she sees her beautiful granddaughter as a bride, and five-weeks later as her grandson escorts her down the aisle.  Looking at pictures, tears come again when she sees five of her six grandchildren gathered beside her, and she recalls highlights of each wedding.

She deserves those tears after fighting through all the adversities that could have made her participation impossible.  Those tears signal her victory and they are tears of JOY

But, the most difficult tears to watch come on our last day of the second wedding as she gathers with her family before going home.  She has enjoyed every minute of both celebrations, but as she pushes her walker to the awaiting car, she seems tired and frail.

Hugs and kisses from her loved ones bring out the final set of tears as she says, “I was just getting used to being around all of you.  I have my whole family here, and now I have to leave!”   Eyes move around the crowd and each of us chokes back tears or dabs our eyes with tissue.

Promises to call and get together soon can be heard, but we all know the unspoken truth.  We are a family that gathers at weddings and funerals, and sadly, we sense deep down inside that our matriarch just attended her last two weddings.



















Posted in Aging, family, grandparents, grieving, Life's Losses, My story, parents, Relationships, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mountain Top Moments

blog image - mountaintop

Two weddings, five-weeks apart.  Mountaintop moments galore as my summer fills with parties, the gathering of family and friends, travel, and fancy clothes – all to celebrate the marriage of our two children.  My mind revisits all the details, and I try to recall every minute of those life-changing days.

But whether it’s celebration or loss, replaying the details over and over in your mind, is part of the process. Details are foggy at times, yet others bring razor-sharp clarity.

I think back to the days soon after my first husband’s death and I know they were my darkest days so far.  I ask myself, “But when did I start to see the gifts?  How long did it take before I could remember the mountain-top moments within my grief?”  Now (26 1/2 years later) I see that they did exist!

The unexpected presence of a friend allowing me to cry on her shoulder, or a warm meal shared. The porch light left on next door, the toy given to my young son at his father’s funeral, the donation made to the zoo to support my husband’s favorite animal.  The notification that my husband’s organs gave the gift of life to three people on Valentine’s Day.

Those may not seem like mountain-top moments to you, but looking back they are just that – moments that took my breathe away, moments that touched my heart in a profound way.

Sometimes just looking up and out brings the gift of healing.  

So, if your view is blocked by the shadow of the mountain right now,  bring your gaze up – take a deep breath and give yourself time.  Slowly but surely, you might see with new eyes!  





Posted in Faith, family, Grief, growth, Healing, Inspiration, Nature, Summer, Widowhood | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Help Within A Stone

The teary-eyed, middle-aged woman sits across from me with her head resting in her left hand.  Her little finger is in her mouth; the nail being bitten off.  The white-haired man beside her repeatedly wipes his weather-worn hands on his blue jeans as he introduces himself.  The young woman who sits furthest away from the group rolls her tissues into a ball between her two hands…

 I watch this nervous energy in every support group I facilitate, every time grievers gather.

 So, I hand them my stone.

FB pic

 A soapstone I purchased online years ago, when I started facilitating support groups.  I wasn’t sure how I would use it, but I love its symbolism.  The stone is heart-shaped, golden-yellow about 2 ½” x 2 ½”, and fits comfortably in one’s palm. 

 There are dark lines that seem to be cracks throughout the stone, although none of them have broken the heart in half.  The surface remains smooth, even and intact despite the presence of the lines.

 In Mark Nepo‘s book entitled, The Book of Awakening, he states: “Symbols are living mirrors of the deepest understandings that have no words…We ask the smallest items of everyday life to carry unbearable meaning for us, and the dearest one’s work like Aladdin‘s lamp.”

 So, when I offer this small symbol, every person I hand it to examines the stone, turns it in their hand and rubs the surface.

 Then I say, “This is a healing heart.  It has been held by hundreds of grieving people.  Their tears have spilled onto its surface and their hands have supported it just like yours.  Their pain was once as raw as yours, but they have continued to live and travel through the darkness.”

 I invite them to tell the group their story while holding the stone.  Of course, they are given permission to pass, never feeling pressure to share, or they can wait until the end if it feels more comfortable by that time.

 Then I sit back in awe of the transformation that occurs.  I see the deep inhalations as participants take their turn, rolling the stone over and over in their hands.

 Their brokenness is acknowledged.

 Their nervous energy has a place to land.

 A deep sense of connection to others is established.

 They now feel empowered to tell their story as they hold this small symbol of hope and healing. 


 Did you have a symbol or special possession that helped you through your journey of loss?  Tell me about it here…


Posted in behavior, Bereavement, caregiving, death, Grief, grieving, Support groups, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living After A Child Dies

I take my glasses off to wipe the tears streaming down my face.  I have just watched a memorial video of a young woman who died 18-months ago.  Pictures chronicling her growth into the beauty she is, family members surrounding her with love throughout the years.  Affluent neighborhood, material goods, vacations – nothing that anyone would recognize as the life of a heroin addict.

Our neighbors try to give their 10-year-old son a normal holiday, but what does that mean now that his 12-year-old sister is dead?  It is the second Christmas without their daughter and this one seems more painful, the grief somehow more real, more raw.  So they do what many grievers do, surround themselves with family and friends – but the elephant is looming large in the room.

The young first-time parents are thrilled to be pregnant, but news that “something isn’t right” comes early in the fifth month.  Testing, conferences with specialists all show the same thing – heart and lung abnormalities, not compatible with life.  The tiny baby boy, perfectly normal on the outside is delivered and given a name.  His parents bathe and dress him, take hand and foot prints and a memorial service is conducted 2-weeks before Christmas.

Even after working with grieving families for twenty years, these scenarios take my breath away.

Is it because I am a mother?  Of course.

Is it because these losses involve children?  Yes, I admit, when the natural order of what we describe as life is altered in an unfair way, it seems more painful.

Honestly, I suspect it goes deeper than that.  All of these stories touch an exposed nerve no matter how old I get, no matter how thick my scabs are from loss.

For the truth rears its ugly head every time I hear stories like these.

Life is risky.

It isn’t fair.

No one is safe and no one is ever given a card marked “nothing bad will ever happen to me.”

And yet, despite our knowledge of this, the human race continues.  We decide to have children, we do the best we can to raise them, protect them and teach them right from wrong.

But our world is flawed – babies die before they have a chance to grow, children get cancer, and despite all our love and guidance, addiction kills.

The good news is that the resiliency of the human spirit is stronger than any loss experienced.  Looking at each of these parents, I applaud them for their attempts to survive their loss.  They are working, they are getting dressed and leaving the house, and continuing to do the mundane tasks of daily life.

All this while their hearts break.

All this while they reconstruct a new life without their child.

Many of them would disagree with the word I would choose for them, but only one comes to mind…HERO.

Do you know anyone who has had to say “good-bye” to their child?  In what way do you see them as a hero?  If you have lost a child, what is the most important thing you would want to share about your experience? 







Posted in Bereavement, death, Grief, grieving, Loss of a child, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Looking Death in the Face – The Story of a Naïve Nurse

I draw the shortest straw among the three night nurses on my unit. Despite that I have less than six-months on the job, I’m the one floating to another floor (going to a different unit that you aren’t usually assigned to) that is short-staffed. When I arrive, I am assigned to the patient with the red X on the front of his thick chart.

Walking into his room, I am overwhelmed by the tubes and medical equipment that pack the small space. I thought I was ready for this new career, for my new title, “R.N.” until now. I pray the patient can’t read my face as I tinker with his intravenous tubing, read labels and assess the daunting task at hand.

Now I understand why this nursing unit is short-staffed, why nurses who usually don’t work on this floor are being asked to take their turn. It is 1984, and this emaciated man clinging to life in his hospital bed is dying of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

This morning, I read David Koon’s article in the Arkansas Times newspaper entitled, “Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel.” I am sobbing by the time I finish, thinking back to the sunken eyes and frightened look on the face of the young man I cared for many years ago.

Ruth’s words resonate with me when she talks about how many men she came in contact with who never had any visitors, were abandoned by their families and died alone.

It sickens me to think about the way those of us in the medical profession in general, responded out of our own fear and lack of knowledge in the early days of the disease.

I am grateful for the medical advances we have discovered since that time, that treatments have improved, and that homophobia is less rampant.

Personally, I am thankful that I took the time while I was working in that young man’s hospital room years ago, to talk to him and to hold his hand while he was grimacing in pain.

I learned a lot that night as a young, naïve nurse – things that I could never learn in a book.

I learned that life can throw things at you that are unexplainable and devastating.

Our race, sexual orientation, religion and diagnosis don’t matter.

All that matters is if we have been seen and heard.

Broken. Wounded.

One heart, touching another.

Posted in caregiving, death, Grief, grief at work, growth, Lessons from others, My story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Forever Young – Grieving the Passage of Time

I see the picture of the three of us. Framed in silver, it sits on the marble-top console table that had been my grandmother’s. I mention the picture when it catches my eye as I sit in my mother’s living room during my weekday visit.

She smiles and says, “When I see it I think, who is the old woman in that picture?”

Since the picture includes me, my husband and mom, I ask, “Which one?” Both laughing, the conversation continues as we talk about how quickly the years pass, how subtle the changes are, and how our physical bodies age.

Hearing the depressive tone in her voice and seeing tears gathering, I shift our talk to the ways of the Spirit being timeless, how our soul is always young. Eyes widen and her smile broadens as she says, “Yes, that’s how I feel! That old woman in that picture is just getting tired. My body just can’t keep up with my mind.”

Driving home, my eyes are the next ones swelling up with tears.  I think of all the conversations recently that seem to show mom is beginning to comprehend her mortality. Like each of us, it will be her last challenge. How she prepares and accepts its reality will influence all of us.

What do I want to do?

I want to avoid the subject. I would prefer to play games, laugh and pretend our time together is limitless. But then I would ask a question that might haunt me for the rest of my life – “What did I do to help her with the transition?”

This woman brought me forth into the world and has given me many things and meaningful lessons. But the greatest gift she gave was introducing me to God. She gave me the seeds to grow my faith and to understand the promise of Eternal Life.

I am not a scholar who has answers to all her questions. I am not a saint with unwavering faith. But I am a Christian. Because of that, I hope the greatest gift I give mom or any ageing parent or friend is my assurance through faith, that they too will conquer death.

I will be brave enough to hold their hand. I will let them wrestle with their fears and not turn away, and I will assure them there is a place where their body and mind will be –


I love the song Forever Young originally written by Bob Dylan – you can read the words here.  I am grateful that some of the elders I know are blessed with many of the attributes Dylan sings about in this song.  And we are all thankful when they have remain Forever Young in their mind.  What about your ageing loved ones?  I’d love to hear your story?









Posted in Aging, death, Faith, family, Grief, grieving, My story, parents, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wearing a “W” Back to Work

 I feel like everyone sees the big, bold-letter ‘W’ painted on my forehead as I enter the hospital this morning.  Looking at my feet as much as possible, I put on my scrubs. In my numbed state of grief, I walk through the locker room to my work station, to get report on the baby I will care for today.

I am a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a large urban hospital. Nothing has changed about my job. But everything has changed in my life as of three weeks ago, when I unexpectedly became a Widow.

Everyone around me at work has also changed. The once talkative, lively group of adrenaline-driven doctors and nurses are now reserved, quickly looking away when we make eye contact.

Some approach me offering a two-second hug, others mumble “we’re glad you’re back” but most retreat to their work stations, turning their thoughts back to tasks.

Then the night nurse gives me the detailed report of the child to whom I am assigned.

Looking down into the isolette as she begins, I recognize the appearance and the inevitable diagnosis of the fragile baby clinging to life.  

DEATH is coming, and it will almost certainly come on my shift.

And all I can think, all I can say in my mind is – “Are you kidding! Who the hell assigned ME to this on my first day back?”

I’m not sure if it’s panic, or my first attempt at self-care, but whatever is leading me to do it, I rush out of the room and find the head nurse. Telling her, “I will either go home or you will reassign me to a baby that won’t die today!”

As a matter of fact, I continue to tell her that for several months. I tell them I won’t go to high-risk deliveries, on ambulance transfers or anything else that requires extra brain power. It is hard enough to do my job, showing up fully present and pushing the grief aside for eight hours.

I learn that I am in charge of education. Educating the people around me about what I am feeling and needing at any given time. Telling them it’s okay to talk about Chris and his death, but that it’s not okay to talk behind my back, or assume what I am feeling.  

I teach them that when I’m around it’s not okay for them to bitch about their husbands not making dinner or complain that they don’t put the toilet seat down – my perspective is different now.

But the most important lesson I end up teaching all of us, is that it is still okay to use the best stress reliever – Laughter – so that I will remember how it sounds.

When my husband Chris died in 1990, I was not aware of any attempts by the Human Resource Department or the leadership team to educate my fellow-workers on grief before my arrival back to work.

Writing this, I find myself thinking about things that hadn’t occurred to me before. I don’t know if I got paid for a certain amount of days off. Frankly, I don’t think I cared. My priority was to grieve, take time off to be with my son, and come back to work only when I knew I wouldn’t be at risk of killing someone! Working with neonates, lives were in my hands and despite the fog, I knew this.

There is a great article on one of my favorite blogs “What’s Your Grief?” that is all about going back to work. You can read it here.  It provides a lot of questions to ponder before you enter back into the work force.

One statement in the article I disagree with is, “Help your coworkers to understand grief. Don’t worry this doesn’t have to be your job!” Actually, I think it does become a part of your job and that’s another reason going back to work can be extremely difficult.

YOU are the best option for communicating your needs and feelings and to give your co-workers specific instructions on how they can help.

I wish this weren’t so, but in talking with many people about their grief journey; they did the job, often in subtle ways – like leaving a pamphlet in the break room about how to help someone after a loss. Others left the grief book they were reading out for their co-workers to see, or spoke to another worker who experienced a loss to find out what was helpful to them.

As with all things related to GRIEF, everyone approaches things differently, including how and when to go back to work. What is the right time for you? What is the worst thing that can happen? Do you have a contingency plan? Then go for it and WORK your way back into life…


You can read a previous blog post related to this topic entitled, Grieve And Now Go Back To Work.  I’d also love to hear whether you had to educate your co-workers about grief when you went back to work, or if you were lucky enough to have a HR department that helped educate those around you?  Leave your comments…

Posted in death, Education, employers and grief, Grief, grief at work, grieving, Lessons from others, My story, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments