Three Tattoos

Those of you who have read Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude know the story of my first two tattoos. To be clear, prior to 2013, the only time I had ever thought of getting a tattoo was after a night of too many martinis while living in Madrid. I also planned on getting my nose pierced at the same time. While I didn’t go forward with the tattoo, I did make an appointment to get my nose pierced but cancelled it when my mother (over the phone) told me that it was fine for me to get my nose pierced as long as I also planned on paying my own college tuition…

Fast forward to late 2013, after Sam’s death. We knew that Sam had planned on getting a tattoo of his favorite tree of life emblem on his 21st birthday. As Sam didn’t live to see that birthday, we (my husband and I) decided to get that tree in his honor, with a star above it because we talk to Sam looking at the stars. That appointment to get our tattoos was one of the most profound, spiritual and emotionally fulfilling events of my life. I learned more about the human spirit, relentless and unconditional love, and generosity that afternoon than I ever did attending church services.

Later, after the birth of our first grandchild, we each got a second tattoo. This time, we both were getting them as a way of symbolizing why we keep going each day, but the actual tattoos differed. For me, that second tattoo was on the top of my foot, symbolizing putting one foot in front of the other. It symbolizes our four children, Sam’s favorite place, our grandchildren, and our place in the universe.

This past spring, after my husband’s diagnosis of ALS, we each got one more tattoo. Mine is an infinity symbol, with a note written by my husband, recognizing that at some point, he will no longer be able to write. It is a daily reminder of the infinite power of our love.

Each of the tattoos has been done by the same artist. He makes us laugh, he cries with us, he makes us think about life and death with blazing honesty and openness. He has been part of this journey in a very unique way, and again as I say so often, Sam brought the most amazing people into our lives. Without Sam wanting that particular tattoo, we would never have gone to get one in his honor, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have new people teach us so much about stereotypes and finding love and support in the most unusual places.

Musings…

It has been an interesting and busy week for us. Some medical appointments, endless paperwork, time with family, iffy weather, and lots of interesting conversations.

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I know I will spend more time thinking of the joy and excitement Sam felt about the holiday. There was nothing he loved more than people he loved sitting together at a table, sharing a meal. Add mashed potatoes, and he was in his element. I miss hearing him insist that I recite the planned menu over and over. I miss him good-naturedly complaining about watching a documentary about the Pilgrims. I miss hearing him plan the annual weigh-in with his friend Brian. I miss him grinning in joy as he looked around the family table.

This past week, we were showered (as we always are) with the most incredible love. Friends drove long distances to join us, we had family time, we clarified future goals, set plans in motion, and in all of that, we had people cheering us on and supporting us.

In the end, what I realized anew is that love is all that matters. Not weather, not wealth, not professional accomplishments. At the end of the day, what matters most is that I have left the world a better place than I found it that morning. Did I treat people with respect and dignity? Did I hold firm to my moral beliefs? Did I open my heart and mind to new experiences? If I did all of those, it was a good day.

It’s Time!!!!!!

I am so very proud to share the front cover and full-wrap cover of my soon-to-be-released novel, Tomorrow and Yesterday!

Tomorrow and Yesterday will be released in January 2020 by Between the Lines Publishing. In a change from prior novels, this one is being published under my name instead of my pen name. I am thrilled with the book, and can’t wait for you all to read it.

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Let’s welcome Matt Taylor!

Today I am thrilled to welcome author Matt Taylor to the site. Matt writes:

Greetings!  I’m Timothy Matthew Taylor, but do call me “Matt” to better avoid the “Toolman” jokes.  My apologies if you were born AFTER that shows popularity, and don’t get the joke.  It’s part of me getting old, I guess.  Anyways, I’m honored to be featured on this blog!  I was asked to write a little about who I am, and why I write.  So, let’s get to it, shall we?

I’m a writer for various mediums: stage, screen and now books!  I was born in the deep south of the great state of Alabama.  I’m a die-hard fan of Alabama football, as well as the states beauty.  Yes, it’s true a lot of the history of my home state is anything BUT beautiful, yet it is the heart of dixie, and so many people there have nothing BUT heart, and love in it.  I grew up in Mobile, Alabama on the gulf.  Graduated high school in Mississippi.  Went to college in Tennessee.   Worked for a decade in Florida.  I guess I got a lot of the south covered.  I’m married to my beautiful wife, Jennifer, and have 3 amazing (and troublesome) boys: Jackson, Jacob and Jameson.

History is a HUGE passion and part of my life.  I’m a certified genealogist, where I consistently get to look through historical records to help people find more about who they are, and where they came from.  I also live near Boston, the city where American history was practically born, and for 5 years I served as a historic guide in that beautiful (and traffic-filled) city.  History, however, is not why I write.  I write for the flip-side of that coin: fantasy and fun.

Before I came to the North, I spent 10 years at the Most Magical place on Earth, Walt Disney World, working to entertain millions of patrons from around the world every year.  I loved every second of it, especially all the time I got to spend with my dear friend, Goofy.  Disney is without a doubt the greatest storyteller on Earth, and they were able to fine tune my love, and passion, for writing and telling stories.  They gave me the tools, the knowledge, and ultimately, taught me how to think outside the box, that would one day lead to the creation of my first childrens book, “Carol, The Ancient Yuletide Troll.”

So, how did Carol come about?  I’m a Christmas baby, born December 22nd, so Christmas is WAY up there in my passions.  I’m also a HUGE fan of wordplay and puzzles, always switching words around, and always looking for a new perspective to see things.  Well, one day the song “Deck The Halls” was playing.  The lyric, “troll the ancient yuletide carol,” was sung.  This time, however, I heard it differently, thanks to my passion for wordplay.  I thought, “What if there was an ancient Christmas troll named Carol?”  What’s her story?  That was the beginning that ultimately led to writing her story, the first of many more to come.  One for each major holiday in her world. 

This story, along with the beautiful illustrations done by my dear friend, Allison Cain (you can find more of her work through her handle: hatterandholmes), has really opened doors, with more talks to move her to a new medium in the near future, who knows what’s going to be in store?  Well, Carol is currently IN stores.  She can be found in any major online bookstore worldwide, and through the website of my publisher: Morgan James Publishing.

Thank you so much for your time!  Carol and I hope to see ya’ll soon!

#1 Release

Please check out Matt’s book!

My Comfort Zone

Today I had several conversations about my comfort zone. The conversations were with different people, but all were centered around the same idea — that I haven’t been in my comfort zone in more than six years.

Before Sam died, we seemed to be on an upswing. He was in therapy, on medication for his bipolar disorder, and had a great job, and was about to move into a new apartment. I was in my comfort zone. My kids were (seemingly) doing well, I had a job I loved, our first grandchild on the way, a great marriage — life was good, and I was completely comfortable in it.

Then Sam died, and even after the immediate pain and shock wore off, I realized that I would never be the same person I was before. I’d never be as comfortable in my own skin as I had been before losing him.

More than six years have passed. There have been great moments of joy and celebration, often celebrated with tears running down our faces. We have welcomed three grandchildren, seen our children grow and flourish, published books, traveled, and achieved so many things that we had wanted to do, but still, it is not the same comfortable feeling of before October 2013.

Then we have faced this ALS diagnosis. Everything is new. Medical tests. Appointments with doctors and other providers. Discussion of things to come. Truly invasive (and sometimes offensive) questions. Uncertainty. Fear. Humor. Figuring out how to eat Keto while traveling. Making house renovation plans. Being told at least ten times a day that self-care is important. Yes, all of those bits and pieces are part of our new life.

Facing the future of unknowns is exhausting and at times, can be overwhelming. Good friends and family who will look unflinchingly into that future with us make all the difference.

So, yes, I am still fully out of my comfort zone. Maybe this uncomfortable zone is my new comfort zone…

Six

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Tomorrow will be six years since Sam died. Six years. How can that much time have passed? Some days it feels like it was yesterday…

As we come on another anniversary, I have been reflecting on how much my grief has changed over these six years. Now, I can go days, weeks sometimes, without sitting sobbing in my missing of him. I laugh and smile when I talk about him, or think of him, more than cry when that happens. I can now remember him better in my mind (picture him) alive rather than dead. But the grief is still there. It still hits like a freight train, sometimes when I expect it, and more often, when I least expect it.

I also have been reflecting on what I miss most. I miss Sam walking through the front door and slamming it so hard the handle on the shade would fall off every single time — he never slammed it in anger, it was always in enthusiasm. I miss hearing him yell, “I’m home, what’s for dinner?” I miss him running in to tell us about a new song he’d heard. I miss the muddy footprints on the bathroom floor that he’d leave because he was always barefoot. I miss the hugs that seemed to not end, and how he put his whole heart and soul into each hug. I miss the recap every single Sunday morning of what had been on SNL the night before. I miss hearing his “I love you.” I miss the text messages, the messes, the hair in the bathroom sink. I miss hearing his opinions. I miss seeing his devotion to those he loved.

I also have come to understand how much I grieve for what was taken from us in terms of future memories. I grieve for the fact that we never got to see Sam hold his first niece, who he was so excited to meet. I grieve for not getting to see him dance at friends’ weddings. I grieve that we never got to hear Twiddle live together. I grieve that he is not here to help us on our journey with ALS.

Six years. The last time we saw him alive was on the bleachers at Otter Valley six years ago today. The last time we talked to him was six years ago tonight, when he called to say good-night. Six years ago tonight, he told us he loved us for the last time.

How much I wish I could hear him say it one more time…

 

Author Mark Gunther

Recently, I posted a review of the book Without Jenny by Mark Gunther. I invited Mark to share a piece with us about his writing, which is included below:

Twenty-two years ago I watched my twelve-year-old daughter Eva get killed by a drunk driver. For several months, I lived two lives. One life looked normal. I worked, worked out, ate, slept, lived with my wife and daughter. In the other, I wandered alone through the valley of the shadow of death, guilt and despair my companions, an uncompromising rigidity my face to the world. After a few months, when I could think again, I thought that I maybe could write myself out of the trauma. Despite having never done a single piece of creative writing in my life, I wanted to write a book about that day, that hour, that minute, those few seconds. I’d write from the point of view of everyone involved in it: The driver of the car. His passenger. The cop. The Good Samaritan passerby. But I never even touched the keyboard. It turned out that I couldn’t tell the story of everyone else while my own story, obscured by the froth of my two lives, remained untold.

Thirteen years passed. I turned sixty. On a lark I enrolled in a creative writing workshop. And there, in a twenty-minute exercise, I wrote six paragraphs that went back and forth between a husband and wife, the mother and the father of a dead daughter. It was fiction; it was true. I was hooked. After the workshop was over, I kept writing. The words were there, and they just kept coming. After fifteen months I had nearly 90,000 of them, ones and zeros stacked haphazardly in a file I called “Living With Jenny.”

As weak as that draft was, the words had power. They forced me into an MFA program to try and learn how to manage them. It worked; 65,000 of those words have become a novel, Without Jenny, a deeply emotional story of loss and despair, of suffering, of love and hope and forgiveness. It’s nothing like the book I had imagined; but it’s the book I wrote. The story it tells is true. I’m proud of it.

But as this story was being channeled through my fingers something else was happening to me. Books started to make a different kind of sense. I read more fiction. I saw the structure as well as the content in those New Yorker essays I’d been reading my entire adult life. I read the book reviews. I began to observe my life differently. I became a writer.

It was never something I imagined for myself, when I was young, yet it is so. I am changed. Most weekday afternoons I sit with the keyboard, and on some of those afternoons new words are there. I write stories of my past, of choices made or not made, of my years of ultra-cycling, of the constancy of love and the thoughtlessly fickle nature of living. One wall of my study  is covered with a profusion of Post-it Notes outlining my next novel. Even my emails, my business writing, the birthday cards I write; all my words have acquired specificity, color, and intention. It’s all story.

Eva’s absence grows larger with the passing of the years, rippling outward endlessly in all the moments lived without her, in the markers that pass without acknowledgement; no graduation, no career, no wedding, no grandchildren. Yet oddly enough, the corollary of grief is gratitude. Sometimes loss and love are quilted so tightly that I can’t tell one from the other.  This is what I learned from those days at my keyboard, and is what informs my writing: These dichotomies are dynamic, and it is between these dichotomies that the story lies. Their mysteries tease and entice me; my writing practice is to seek out the words that bring them into the light.

To learn more about Mark and his work, please visit his website at: Author Mark Gunther

A Book Review

Several years after I started my teaching career in the mid-1990s, I returned to graduate school to earn a degree in counseling psychology. As part of that program, I read many books about grief and thought that I had a pretty detailed understanding of grief and how to respond to it as a clinician.

Then, as a parent, we lost our middle son to an accidental overdose almost six years ago. While I had lost other loved ones before his death and thought I knew how to handle my own grief, I was not prepared to grieve for my beloved son. So I read books about parental grief, trying to find help to survive our reality. There were many books that talked about nutrition, religion, therapy, and other ways to handle grief, but none of them resonated with me. While we read those books, we also listened to the well-meaning comments on how his death would destroy our marriage and our family, and had to figure out how to make our own new reality with our family intact.

This past month, I picked up the novel Without Jenny by Mark Gunther. The book was suggested by a writer who knows my work as well as Gunther’s work. A novel about grief? I was intrigued. When it arrived, the gorgeous cover pulled me right in, and I didn’t even bother to read the “about the author,” which I usually do before starting a book.

Within pages, I was holding back sobs as I read about the main character’s pain and anguish as her beloved daughter was killed in a freak accident. I could feel her loneliness, the guilt, the uncertainty, the not wanting to eat, wanting to or not being able to sleep, the feeling that life would never be the same again. I read each page of the struggles Joy’s family endured trying to figure out their new lives, and how to keep their family together, rooting for them, but also knowing how hard just surviving on a daily basis can be. I relished the depiction of grief within the Jewish community of faith and wished for a moment that my religious community had such simple but beautiful rituals for grief. I felt her absolute devotion to her living son, and her desire to figure out how to keep their family together, even as their lives were so completely changed with Jenny’s death.

Beyond it being a truly beautiful story of love, healing, and hope, Without Jenny is exquisitely written. Gunther’s use of descriptive language is tight and lyrical, clear but not overwhelming. I am amazed at his ability to write from a woman’s point of view. I marveled at his ability to depict a parent’s grief, and his ability to explain the complexities of family life after the death of a child, and to do so in a work of fiction.

Later, as I finished the book, I read the acknowledgments and Gunther’s biography. Reading that he too is a grieving parent (something I hadn’t known until then) made me reflect on how writers often wrestle with their own demons as they write fiction. Without Jenny is a beautiful book that is uplifting even if you aren’t grieving yourself.

The book can be found on Amazon at Without Jenny

Acceptance, Courage, Wisdom, and Living

What is acceptance, and what is courage?
 
As a child of an alcoholic, I had heard of the Serenity Prayer long before my father got sober. Then, as he entered recovery, and joined AA, we had a lot of things around with the Serenity Prayer on it. And I thought I a lot about accepting what I could not change and finding the courage to change what I could. And I hoped that I would always have the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
 
Then one night, a friend and colleague sent me the original (full-length) version of the prayer. In the full version, there is this:
 
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.
 
I had never seen the full version, and this new piece helped immensely as I grieved Sam’s death.
 
Now we are in our new journey, and I am once again back to thinking about acceptance, courage, wisdom, and living and enjoying one moment at a time.
 
Accepting? How do you accept that your best friend, love-of-your-life, father of your children, partner-in-everything has a terminal illness where even the doctors don’t pretend to give you any hope? How do you accept that not only did you not get the future you dreamed of for your child but that you may not get the future you dreamed of as a couple? I admit that I am not at acceptance yet. I am trying, but I am also still struggling to not want to scream at the universe.
 
Courage to change the things I can? Yup, that I can do. I can look for any possible hope out there. Nutritional, holistic medicine, love? I can research it and pursue it. A high-fat therapeutic keto diet helps the brain and nerves? I can cook spinach and add a poached egg for his breakfast every day for the rest of my life if it helps. Giving up carbs to keep him company on this road? You bet I can. Questioning medical authorities to look at options? No sweat. Pushing for the supports he needs and we need? I can do that.
 
The wisdom to know the difference? That will be a work in progress. I know that I will need guidance from others who have walked this road before us. I will need them to help me understand when I am acting like Don Quijote and just going at windmills.
 
Then I go back to that verse that I didn’t know of until after Sam’s death. We are working hard at living each moment to the fullest, living instead of acting like we are dying.
 
I don’t know if I will ever reach a point of acceptance of these two journeys being thrust upon us as a family. I do know that I will continue to strive for courage, wisdom and living life making the most of every single moment.

Let’s welcome author Paige Etheridge!

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome author Paige Etheridge to my blog!
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Paige writes:
Thank you so much!
I’ve been driven to tell stories since long before I could remember. They were just there in my mind and I had this compulsion to release them. Before I knew how to write, I would use stickers and drawings to create narratives. Lisa Frank styled cave paintings on the page. As an adult, I get about half of my book ideas from dreams and the other half come like a lightning strike randomly as I go through my waking life. I generally deal with obscure topics around mythology, culture, and sexuality. My first book “Kissing Stars Over the Rising Sun” deals with the Pan Pan women who were erased from Japanese history for being too sexual and wild. While their lives were controversial, they made a huge splash and I don’t believe anyone deserves to be forgotten. Since my Greek ancestors were also involved with the Occupation of Japan, in which the Pan Pan came about, I felt an even deeper obligation to them. The idea came from a dream, a history of a teacher of mine told me to look at a specific street in Japan during the 1940s. During my research of that area, I found the Pan Pan. My second book “Cyber Knot” deals with the concept of cyborg not currently covered under the current definition in the dictionary as well as religious and environmental trends. At the moment I am finishing a book about the Amazon River Dolphins which also deals with the mythology surrounding them as Boto/Encantado aka Pink Weredolphins. The stories around these dolphins deal with the cultural aspects of Brazil I want to bring into the light. After that, I’ve been dreaming about a woman waiting for me at the border of Pakistan in India, so I know her book is coming up next. I’ve been cooking up Indian food like a storm as a result. Though I’m still committed to the dolphins until that book is done. After, I’ll dive into more serious research to find the woman I’ve been dreaming about.
Personally, I’m an outdoorsy type. I love organic gardening. My Thai Pink Tomatoes I grew during the summer were quite popular on social media! I also cook international foods from scratch. I go hiking in the woods and near the beach a lot. I’m a gamer too; at the moment I’ve been replaying Metal Gear Solid 3 and Pokemon Go. I’m a sushi fanatic. I get around great art as much as I can. I feel what I do is a wonderful reset to prepare me to dive back into my books.

 

To learn more about Paige’s works, please visit her links below!