Friday, May 27, 2011


Today my mom brought me out for a mani-pedi, a major indulgence that I was looking forward to all week.
My manicurist named Irish was such a joyful woman - she did her work super thoroughly and was really excited about the bright nail polish I brought in (a nifty OPI set I purchased in the middle of Vinnie's fight with cancer). We started talking about her kids, and her face lit up as she told me about them (including one set of twins) and how her 5 month old daughter now sleeps through the night. I said something to the effect of "wow, that's such a blessing."  She paused while filing my nails and her face clouded over.  That's when she told me.  Her six year old son has leukemia.

Leukemia? What kind? AML? ALL?

He has AML. Diagnosed at the age of six months, he's fought it this long with the help of the local pediatric state-run hospital. Unfortunately, the state hospitals in the Philippines tend to be woefully inadequate (they have decent private hospitals, but those are out of the financial reach of most people). You have to buy all the "extras" at state hospitals - food, medications, (chemo??) the cost of keeping you there... in the end it's quite expensive.

Plus she has five other children to look after.
To recover, her son needs a bone marrow transplant. It was unclear to me whether they can't find a donor, whether the hospital doesn't do transplants, or whether they just can't afford it. Either way, it looks bad. He's at home now to stay. She told me all this in bits and pieces and then I told her our story as well. We talked about feeding tubes, nausea, picky appetites, and low blood counts. We held back our tears, but just barely.
Her son sees angels now. I told her mine is with the angels. And when I gave her the tip, she literally fell to her knees in astonishment.  It was only around 50 bucks, small beans when you need tens of thousands.

I hope it helps. And I hope she knows that when we come to the end of our rope in the valley of the shadow of death, there's a hand reaching out to help us cross to the other side.

Monday, May 23, 2011


On our second night here in the Philippines I woke up feeling rather warm. Our a/c was blasting, but the door was open and so the cold air was leaking out into the hall.

This is the same door I securely latched and locked from the inside before being the last person to get into bed. I even wondered to myself while I was locking the door about what kind of metal the latch was comprised of. For the record, the latch is out of Theo's reach (designed that way so he can't get out and climb on the not-childproof stairs.)

I wasn't freaked out at first. After a few minutes I began to wonder how the heck it became unlocked from the inside with no wind and nobody opening it (neither Dan or I sleepwalk, and we were safely ensconced underneath the covers when I woke up) and so I looked in all closets, verified that all our stuff and persons were present, and then promptly went back to sleep.

The next morning I found out that Theo dreamt he and Vincent were playing together with a big white balloon. Theo said he felt "happy and proud" and that Vincent was "getting bigger" and he can "almost" walk.

So I think that Vincent and his baby-sitting angel came to see us. I know he didn't need to physically unlock the door, but I think it was a message letting us know that something special happened, that someone was there.

I know, it sounds weird. But Vincent's as real as you or me, and of course he's going to visit us. Night is a perfect time since I'm usually not raging or crying in my sleep, so he can visit me without seeing my pain. In fact, I'm told by my hubby that I look rather happy as I sleep. I'd love for Vincent to see me at my best, even if it's when I'm sleeping.

Maybe next time I can even join in the balloon game.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Good Morning!

It's a beautiful day. I'm feeling one with God and the world.
Later this morning we are going to a spa.
Please don't hate me too much!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Faith Academy

Today Dan and I visited our alma mater, Faith Academy, where we graduated from high school back in 1999.  It's an awesome school, swarming with students from around the world, and the campus itself has been drastically remodeled in recent years. It was exciting to walk around, chatting with old teachers and friends.  Here's Dan and I in their new Fine Arts building.... it's huge, air-conditioned, and equipped with state-of-the-art acoustics.  Awesome!
I also felt sort of crazy. (Those of you who know me are probably thinking, "She finally figured it out!")

As I've mentioned before, one of the most difficult aspects of grief work is the sudden wash of emotions, the kind that take me from being a friendly, caring person to being a sobbing mess within moments, though not usually in public.  I can turn on a dime from acting like a "normal" person (whatever that is) to being pretty scary.

No, there were no crazy blow-ups today.  I didn't do anything nutty.  I don't have any new tattoos.  Instead, I felt really cheerful and happy up on campus, as if I were a carefree 17 year old again.  But I'm not.  I wonder how I can be doing "so well" and yet feel so crappy.  How is this possible?  How am I still functional?

Perhaps I shouldn't ask "how" I'm still functional and just be thankful that I am.  I can get up in the morning, I can cook food for my family.  I can smile and chat, at least some of the time.
Part of the problem is that when I do feel fine, (like today) I experience such guilt afterwards.  How can I be so cheerful (and even happy) when I've lost the apple of my eye, my beautiful baby Vincent?  How can I act as if life has been favorable to us when I've seen my child slowly die before my eyes, the cancer literally eating him away?  After valiantly fighting the aggressive cancer cells for months, he lost the war, exhausted from his chemo treatments, engorged with tumors.  I remember bringing him home from the hospital for the last time. I can still see his little body slowly shrinking for 11 horrible freaking days on hospice, living quietly without food or water, surviving solely on love and morphine.  How in God's name do I "get over" that?  That is NOT OK.

And yet, somehow inside, I find myself still loving God, experiencing feelings of hope and evendare I say it joy.  I should be excited about that, but I'm not.  It makes me feel that somehow I'm cheating Vincent as well as the deepest part of me which seems to be locked in a very long primal scream.

What's difficult too is that there are no visible signs of grieving in our culture. We don't wear black or put sackcloth and ashes on our heads.  There is no immediate way for people to know when something horrible has happened to you.  You look somewhat normal on the outside.  And if you talk to me for a few minutes, you might think I'm fine.

And sometimes I am.  I would call that a small miracle.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I've been in the Philippines now for less than 48 hours, and already I've seen beautiful sunsets, bustling shopping centers, half-starved begging children and cardboard-shack houses.  My parents' Bible School is on a gorgeous compound nestled against a low-income neighborhood.  To get to their place, we drive on a winding road weaving between open sewers and little kids playing without shoes.  It's been a while since I've seen poverty like this.  We have desperately poor people in the United States too - there are huge amounts of American children considered to be going hungry every year, but that's simply no comparison to what it is like in more developing countries.

As we were loading our luggage into the car at the Philippine airport, we were accosted by a sweet little boy about the size of Theo.  I would estimate he was probably around 6-7 years old, perhaps even older.  His breastbones were jutting out of his too-large shirt, and as he held out his hand, he asked us for food. Not for money, but for food.  He looked hungry.  Really hungry.

I got out Theo's puffed rice cereal from the plane and gave it to the boy. When Theo saw this happening, he started crying because HE wanted to eat the cereal.  And then the boy asked for more.  A local guard noticed the commotion and came to gently shoo the child away, and as we got into the car I tried to get Theo to stop crying as I explained why we gave his cereal away. I told Theo how I could buy or make him food when he was hungry, but some kids don't have any food because their parents don't have money to buy any, or the kids simply don't have any parents at all.  Upon hearing this, Theo cried harder, wanting to buy more food and give it to all the hungry kids.

But first he wanted his cereal back.

I think sometimes we're all a bit like Theo.  We want to help when we see people who are hungry or in need of medicine or shelter, but we also don't want to have to give up what we already have.  We're more than happy to buy lunch for someone who needs it, but who wants to give up the lunch they've been planning on eating themselves?  We're fine with donating money when we have a little surplus in our budget, but what about when it's something we've been counting on personally using?  We're a bit more reluctant.  That kind of giving often costs us more than we're willing to part with.

One of the things I love so much about the Christian story is that God is shown throughout human history to be a generous giver.  He doesn't just give us a small minutiae out of his surplus.  Instead, God gives us his all.  He offers us His wounds for our healing, His death for our resurrection, His life for our life.  And when we finally come home after a lifetime in a faraway land, He kills the fatted calf he's been saving to throw us a party. That's some kind of God.

I'm logging off now to buy some cereal and snacks.  A LOT of them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crying into my beer: a prayer when feeling miserable

God, right now I think that my wounds hurt
more than everyone else's.

I hurt more than you
I need more help than has been given 
I deserve a better life
I've worked hard but reaped little 
I've lost more than I've found

In these dark self-pitying moments
help me to see through my trauma
to the promised healing,
past the darkness to the coming light,
and beyond this death to the coming Resurrection.


Saturday, May 14, 2011


For Mother's Day my wonderful hubby hung up a bunch of pictures of our family, all blown up into different sizes and placed in various white frames in our living room.  It looks beautiful.

Up until now we've not had any family photos framed, much less hung up.  For some reason we're not picture people.  Our house still looks nice, (so I think!) and filled with carefully collected items from around the world.  Nothing is very valuable, but it's all worth a lot to me - carved lion bookends from Africa, a painting from Myanmar, bedspreads from Singapore, vintage signs, plates from South America, crocheted animals from Australia.

My spiritual director who I mentioned here is an Episcopalian.  Her house is crammed full of icons, religious art, sculptures, paintings, and crosses.  I love walking into her living room and immediately feeling connected to something larger than myself, something deeper than my personal style and tastes. Most of the paintings in her house are Byzantine icons.  The paintings themselves are rather bare, almost ugly by some standards, yet symbolically speak of deep spiritual truths. Through looking at them I find myself connecting to the other largely unseen world of the spirit.

I have other friends as well who have lovely pictures of Jesus hung on their walls. My favorite is our Aunty Mary's "Laughing Jesus," beautifully sketched in pencil and charcoal.  I helped her move a few months ago, and as she picked up the picture she said, "Let's bring Jesus!"  I knew I liked this lady.

In these past few months I've become rather dissatisfied with what our house looks like inside.  It doesn't need another paint color on the walls or different furniture.  Instead, what it needs are a few windows to the spirit.  I would like at least a few items around the house to help remind me of what's really important, to draw me into the deeper life, the life of the spirit within. I could really use some art (even homemade!) that invites me to see past the clutter of my life to the Life that speaks everlasting.  The life of God.  I used to think "religious art" was cheesy.  Now I know better.  I need it.

I need to see pictures of Jesus our shepherd, reminding me of the qualities of God's care.  I want to see Jesus laughing, reminding me of his humanity.  I need to see Jesus on the cross where I am struck by his sacrifice, Jesus as a baby held by Mary, where I find his vulnerability... I want to see pictures of the empty tomb, of Mary Magdelene, of the Emmaus Road.

On Monday afternoon, Dan, Theo and I are leaving for a six-week trip to visit the Philippines, the place where  I grew up.  We'll be staying at my parents' place, and I'll still be blogging for the duration of the trip.  I'm excited.  I hope to accomplish several things while we're there.  One is to make sure Theo has a great time.  Another is to not go crazy shopping.  The last one is to make it a priority to "look" more.  To try to gaze at stuff that calls me deeper - whether it be a rock, a picture of Jesus, a flower, or the starry night sky.  To see.  To allow my inner self be called home.  And to follow the invitation.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Hi Vincent!  Today is your 2nd birthday.

I know you don't age in heaven the way we do here, but I do know that you still mature, that your mind and heart gradually fill and expand with knowledge and love.

As you continue to grow in heaven, know that our love for you here on earth keeps expanding and growing as well.

And tonight when we blow the candles out on your birthday cake, I'll be counting down another year until we can be together again.  Forever.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Search Engines

Being a somewhat neurotic person, I like to check my stats from time to time (read: every day) on how many hits this blog is receiving.  I check which posts get the most reads and how people find my blog from keying in various phrases into search engines.  A fair amount of people find me from googling "grief sermons" or "sermons i never preached."  That makes sense to me, I can see those folks finding this blog pretty quickly.

But the other day I got a hit from someone keying in "self absorbed grief."
Hmmmm, I guess I can see that.

Someone else found this blog by searching for "sermons the mother of the year."  Whaaaat?  I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Sometimes I feel like that when I read the Bible.  

I type in "help" to God, and then he in response gives me something totally unexpected, something different than what I was asking for.  Sometimes it's a scripture, a story, a song, or an obscure passage, but usually I find later that it sorta helped. Or I search for "why" and in response get a long narration that talks about the new heavens and earth.  Not exactly what I was looking for.  

So although I'm not super happy with my current conversations with God, I'll keep doing my searches and checking out what God sends my way.  Because every now and then it's really worth the read.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Mother's Day Prayer

This Mother's Day help me remember the good moments
where we laughed, hugged, smiled,
moments where pain, fear, and anger were far away.
Help me remember my best parenting as well,
when I was patient, fair, encouraging, hopeful.
Forgive my failings.
Let guilt be far from my door.
Let me celebrate instead all the things done right.
The joyous time we shared,
the wrinkly smiles given
the love received.
Help me feel close to my kids - all of them -

even the ones not here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Weeds and Wheat (A prayer from Matthew 24)

This growing soul seeded liberally
with weeds and wheat intermingled, entwined,
sprouting up towards the sun.
take both my anger and my love,
my resentment and my thankfulness,
my best self and my worst.
Shine your lightful presence,
rain your Spirit down.
In Your time harvest the good,
pull out the bad,
feed the hungry with what I've grown
and fill the empty ground with your new seed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day for the Not-OK

It's that time of year again.  Endless jewelry commercials on TV.  Flowers featured prominently in grocery stores. Greeting cards, teddy bears, and giant balloons all remind us that May is here.  Specifically, Mother's Day is upon us.

I did not want this day to come.

Not because I don't have a wonderful mom, (and mother-in-law!) which I do, but because two years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy we named Vincent.  This year his birthday falls on a Tuesday.  But in 2009 he was born smack dab on Mother's Day, the best Mom's day gift I ever got.  And then lost.

Ever since Vincent was diagnosed with and then passed away from an extremely rare form of liver cancer, I have met many other families who have also lost children.  Cancer, car accidents, homicides, miscarriages, premature births and stillbirths - there are so many ways kids die.  And there are many bereaved parents out there, more than I ever deemed likely in our first-world country.  I found out that every year, between 80,000 and 100,000 children under 19 die in the U.S. (depending on the source).  That's a lot of bereaved parents, a lot of devastated moms.  I know one absolutely wonderful family that has lost three children, all shortly after birth.

Needless to say, Mother's Day is a difficult holiday for many women.  Some women have tried for years to have a baby, going through endless and expensive fertility treatments only to be continually disappointed.  Other families have faced tragic developments while attempting to adopt.  Still others have raised healthy children, only to see the relationship fracture over time.  I even have a few friends who for various painful reasons elected to have abortions early in their child-bearing years.

So as you celebrate Mother's Day this year, think about the friends you know who have experienced the loss of a child, the loss of fertility, the loss of an adoption.  If you know of a family in your church, workplace or community who has lost a child, please, let them know that you remember.  That you care.  Send them flowers or a card.  Write them a note or online message.  Whatever you do, don't tell them that their child is in a better place, or that it will all work out in the end.  Don't tell them to be happy.  Just let them know that you care, that you are honoring their child, that you remember what happened to their child.  Parents never forget.  So try to remember, for their sake.

And then they'll remember that you remembered.


These past few weeks our three and a half year old, Theo, has been having a difficult time.  I might have mentioned recently how he talks about Vincent all throughout the day, how he wants to be in heaven too, and how he wants to see Vincent and play with him.  He's been very lonely.

Then he asks me if I can have a baby in my tummy like Aunty Marti (one of our very-pregnant friends!) Or he'll point at pregnant people at the store and say, "I want you to have a baby like them." He really, really wants another sibling.

Or a pet. 

Since the pet is out of the question (seriously folks, we're awful, awful pet people!) that doesn't leave many other options. 

Dan and I have been talking about trying to have another baby for quite some time now.  I'm finally ready to start trying, fully knowing that this potential baby will in no way ever be able to replace the ache of losing Vincent.  In fact, I know that having another child could in fact make us miss Vincent more, if that's even possible.  But it could be healing as well, holding and loving another child, knowing that our family will be less empty as our nest fills up.  We'd be able to watch the kiddies interact with each other.  And once again we would have the pleasure of squeezing two car seats into the back of our Nissan Altima.     

Our family has had many things taken from it.  First we lost Vincent, then we lost our captured memories of him on our computers and cameras.  

Perhaps it's time we started adding to our family.  

...But first I have to have a darn mammogram.  

Turns out my body has refused to accept that Vincent is dead, and each month around the anniversary of his death it starts acting crazy.  My doctor ordered a mammogram for May 9th just to be sure everything's OK.  Woohoo.  I'm 11 years away from the age of 40 and never thought I'd be undergoing uncomfortable medical procedures like mammograms at this age! 

Then again, I'm sure there are many things in each of our journeys we never thought we'd be doing.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grief Journal, Night Owl

These days I've been staying up way too late.  Sometimes I sew or work on writing.  Mostly I read or occasionally watch TV.

Even when Vincent was alive I was a night owl.  I'd put him and Theo to sleep, then sneak out to read, study, or sew, usually until the wee hours of the morning.

The day before Vincent went into surgery I stayed up the entire night sewing a bag.  It seems so ironic that I can, at this moment, see it through the open closet door in our room, hanging next to articles of clothing I've owned for years.  How can I still have the same clothes as last year, the same ipod, the same hardly-functioning cell phone, and not have my child?  Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Right now I'm sick again.  Coughing, swollen glands, sore throat.  I'm exhausted.  But I just cannot get to bed.  It's not that I can't sleep.  Sleep usually comes pretty quickly, and when it doesn't, I play solitaire on the ipad until my eyes blur.  Falling asleep isn't a huge issue for me.  What is incredibly difficult is simply the act of getting to bed.  I. just. can't. seem. to. do. it.

Perhaps what I am afraid of is that Vincent will somehow come back, but I'll be sleeping when he knocks at the door. Or perhaps I'm subconsciously dreading the advent of the next day, so I'm staying up super late to prevent it from coming?  Maybe I don't want to have nightmares about his last moments.  Or perhaps I enjoy staying up late and want to have some fun before the next day arrives with all its responsibilities.  Maybe the real reason I find it so difficult to go to bed is a little bit of all of the above.

So I'm off.  To bed.  Before I cough up a lung.

Or maybe I'll watch The Amazing Race instead.  Hmmm....

Monday, May 2, 2011


Here are a few short phrases reverberating in my deepest self having to do with transitions, calling, hope, and rebirth.  (For any photographers reading this out there, please accept my apologies for decidedly less-than-professional photos!)  

At every turn in the road a new illumining is needed to find the way and a new kindling is needed to follow the way.
- John S. Dunne

We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.
 - Mother Teresa

A woman in childbirth suffers because her time has come: but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a child has been born into the world. So it is with you: You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.
- John 16:21-22 
(i who have died am alive again today,
-  E. E. Cummings