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!

My New Learning

This week has been full of new learning for us. My husband has been undergoing infusion treatments, and this is a brand new world for us. Hours of treatment, side effects, getting to know the infusion community, adjusting to what he/we can do with the non-infusion time — all of this is new to us.

What have I learned? I have learned that if you put two humans together in a room, and stick IVs in them, they will start talking to each other. By twenty minutes in, they will have found common friends or relatives, talk about frustrations, and talk about making the most of life. I have found that people staring full-on at terminal illness like to laugh, and will try to make others feel supported and connected.

I have learned that people that are coming in day after day to go through harsh treatments for their health, in some cases for their survival, live fully even with limited energy and time. I have heard less complaining from people in the infusion center than I do just walking around the grocery store. Frankly, every person I have met there this week has every right to complain and whine, and they aren’t.

They have a lot to teach the rest of us!

Let’s Welcome KJ Moullen!

Today, I am thrilled to welcome author KJ Moullen to the site! KJ writes YA fiction, and shares about her writing journey below.

 

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Writing and reading have always been passions of mine. I suppose you can say I was born with it. I didn’t have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal growing up, my necessity at bedtime was a Mother Goose book. From the time I was about nine months old, I needed to have this book with me to sleep. I did eventually outgrow the Mother Goose book phase; however, it was quickly supplemented by a growing love for books of all kinds. My imagination was always on hyperdrive, fueled by the likes of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Star Wars. The idea of writing didn’t fully take root until reading A wrinkle in time. Wow! the joys of being able to create stories that whisk you away too far off worlds for adventures, how could I resist.

Writing became my escape. I wrote as much as I could and filled in the other time with reading and outdoor adventures to keep the imagination charged. Living in exotic places such as Hawaii and Alaska created a perfect backdrop for these adventures. Pursuing many classes in creative writing in school my works received a very positive reception from my teachers and peers. But it wouldn’t be until my later years that I choose to take the leap to share my writing with the world.

The publishing piece has been an experience in its self. I had heard that writing the novel was the easy part. Oh boy, were they not kidding. I took an unconventional way of being published on the advice of a dear friend that was in the textbook publishing field and I ran a campaign on Publishizer. For those not familiar with Publishizer it is a crowdsource fundraising platform with a twist. They cater to authors only and work with several publishing houses from self-publishing to traditional and everything in between. By the end of my campaign, I had fourteen publishers including traditional, interested in my manuscript.  After in-depth research on which route to take, I eventually opted to hybrid publish.  I keep all the rights to my work and have a major say in how the whole process goes. It was the option that just seemed to make sense to me. I feel very blessed to have been presented this opportunity. The whole adventure of becoming a published author has been a roller coaster of emotions but defiantly worth the ride.

My first published novel is a YA fantasy, The Spinner Sagas: The Telling, released in May of 2018. The second in the series, The Spinner Sagas: The Heir, is currently with the publisher and will be released early 2020. I am currently working on the third book in this series.

The Spinner Sagas: The Telling is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Blaine. She thinks she is an ordinary teenager until she is thrust into Renault, a realm filled with magic and unknown possibilities. She is set upon a pathway that will challenge everything she has ever known. Confronted with dark family secrets and an ancient prophecy, she will have to trust a mysterious ally whose destiny is intertwined with her own. Set in a world plagued with evil, Blaine must face not only her mounting self-doubt but destiny itself. Will her choices be enough to stop the darkness of evil from spreading through the universe?

To order a copy of KJ’s book, please visit the link below:

The Spinner Sagas: The Telling

 

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What is LOVE?

What is LOVE?
 
I think about love a lot. I write about love a lot. As a romance author, I love love.
 
This weekend I thought more about love. We went to a walk to raise funds for ALS research and treatment, and I got to see love in action. Loud, loyal, unquestioning, relentless love.
 
People gathered at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket for the walk. We had a large family/friend group there to support Paul. There were teams there with people in various stages of ALS, and groups there to honor ones lost to ALS. Everywhere you looked, people were hugging. Laughing. Loving, even in the shadow of this horrific disease.
 
Then I looked at our team in specific. Siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins, friends, loves. Ranging in age from 20 to 80+. And we were there together, to walk, to honor, to support.
 
For some members of our team, it was the first time they’d seen someone in the later stages of ALS in person. For others, just being in crowds was stressful. One was struggling with a nasty cold. And no matter what, we were all there for the same reason, love.
As we walked, we laughed, we remembered, we planned. We laughed about one team member finding sunflower seeds in between bench cushions. We laughed again when that one touched the outfield grass. We reminisced about going there to games as a family and talked about Sam. We took tons of pictures. We watched grandsons make sure their Memeres were safe in the crowd. We watched sons and fathers walk together. We smiled as we received text messages of support from around the country.
 
In the end, I realized love is being there, no matter what. Love is caring and expressing that caring, even if you can’t be there in person. It is standing and holding someone’s hand as they look the truth, or the future, in the eye, even as their knees shake. It is putting others before our selves.
How incredibly fortunate we are to be surrounded by such love!
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Finding Peace with the Sheep

Today I had one of those moments when I was reminded of the beauty and wonder surrounding us…

While doing the afternoon chores, I was trying to hurry the sheep back to their pen from the pasture. Neither was interested in moving. Lana wanted to eat grass. Hila wanted to cuddle. Finally, ignoring the ever-present mantra of “I need to do this and this and this,” I sat down in the grass and cuddled with her. This huge, smelly, burdock covered, sweet, loving, intuitive sheep cuddled up next to me. She rubbed her face against mine, then just rested it on my shoulder, breathing her smelly sheep breath on my cheek, letting me know she was there. I talked and talked to her, telling her how beautiful her wool is, and how I want to make a blanket of it when she is sheared next year. I talked to her about glad I am that she recovered from her sheep polio. I thanked her for taking the time to hang out with me.

Later, both humans sat for a long time with both sheep, sitting on the little bench in the barn, and just enjoying their love, energy, silliness, and their devotion to us and their little herd.

In the end, the time I “lost” by sitting in that pasture and on the bench was gained many times over in the peace and joy I felt. Maybe all of us need to take more time to just sit and commune with nature or others.

Gratitude in the Garden

Keeping true to my beliefs of the benefits of gratitude, I have been consistently recognizing what I am grateful for each day. Admittedly, with the stresses right now, sometimes it is hard not to lament at the same time.

Over the last couple of days, I have spent some (not enough) time in the vegetable gardens. We would not have planted such huge gardens if we had known what was coming this spring/summer, but we have them and are doing our best to care for them. Picking cucumbers, basil, lettuce, and summer squash, pulling weeds, picking the first ripe tomatoes reminded me of the wonders of the natural world, and centered me back to myself. The world is full of incredible people, love, natural beauties, bounty, and how thankful I am to take part in it all!