Thursday, March 29, 2012

Joy in the rain

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
-Rabindranath Tagore

File this under made me smile ;-)

A couple of weekends ago, we were driving in downtown Seattle towards Belltown to meet some friends for an early dinner. The weather was pretty typical for March in the Northwest: cold and gray with a soft, relentless rain. Just as we got to 1st and Pike, a wedding party crossed directly in front of us. Thanks to my IPhone (which I'm a little embarrassed to admit is an object I am often grateful for), I was able to capture these two photos!

First came the bride and groom slogging through the streets in the dreary weather, yet still looking so festive and joyful.

Bride and Groom in Seattle-March 2012

Directly behind them came the bridesmaids. Under their clear umbrellas, they bobbed and floated across the wet brick street like a school of jellyfish crossing the sea. The whole procession made me smile as I thought about how the rain will always be a lovely backdrop to their wedding day. It was really a heartwarming sight.

I hope that, despite the weather, they were able to see the beauty in it and not take it as an omen for their future lives together. Like that old country song proclaimed: "Along with the sunshine, there's gotta be a little rain sometimes."

Wouldn't it be great if every married couple knew that up front? If couples understood that it wasn't always going to be clear and sunny, then they'd be better able to weather the storms that are sure to come their way. After being married for 28 years, my husband and I have been caught in more than a few downpours in our marriage (not to mention a big tsunami). But there have also been many rainbows and glorious days of sunshine. For you need the rain and sunshine just like you need laughter and tears. It's just one big balancing act, isn't it?

Stanley Park, Summer 2009

Sunday, March 25, 2012

10 Years Later

These flowering plum trees stand in front of our house. We planted five of them 18 years ago when we first moved in, and for the last ten years they have always reminded us of the weekend of Matthew's bar mitzvah. It was a really special time for us, as our oldest child went through this Jewish rite of passage ceremony. Family and friends gathered from as far away as England and Israel to help us celebrate. The plum trees were in full, magnificent bloom that weekend, and ever since they have always served as a reminder of that special time. This weekend marked ten years since Matthew's bar mitzvah.

Now of course, it's bittersweet. But this year it's also made me think a lot about memory and the role that pictures can play in shaping and keeping it alive. For those of us who no longer have our child with us, the past is all we have. There is no present or future. This makes pictures, cards, e-mails and old school reports even more precious. They continue to connect us to our child and keep them present with us now.

So when I go through the pictures of Matthew's bar mitzvah weekend, I see them with very different eyes. I not only see the young, kind of awkward 13-year-old, but I also see the much more confident young man he became. I am so grateful to our friend Chris who flew over from England with his wife Sue and captured these precious moments from a very special weekend.

Here are a few which I especially love:

Family pics in front of those flowering plums

Reading from the Torah

Havdalah (it's almost over)

Relaxing afterwards with his brother and cousin
From my vantage point now, ten years seems like the blink of an eye.  Yet my kids look so young in these pictures (as do the rest of us!). Of course we had no idea that Matthew wouldn't be with us a decade later, which makes me even more grateful for these pictures and how significant they've become. Since Matthew was our first-born, we have albums of the first three years of his life, and then as life got busier and busier, there are less and less. His high school years in particular are a bit spotty. But luckily, for whatever reason, we seem to have an upsurge of photos of the last three years of his life. And we cherish those more than you can know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Of course, the moment I pressed "publish" on my first post, I felt incredibly nervous. Why did I think I could write a blog on grief and gratitude? Why would anyone be interested in reading my words?  Unlike my previous blog, The Book Nosher,  where I reviewed children's books, this seems so much more difficult and open-ended. In a nutshell, I felt incredibly vulnerable.

So it was quite serendipitous that about an hour later, I came across a brand new Brené Brown TED talk. This one is entitled Listening to Shame. For those of you who don't know who Brené Brown is, she's a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the last decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. She's written a number of books and is a sought after speaker. She poses thought-provoking questions like:

"How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough-that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy."

This newest TED talk of hers spoke directly to me when she said "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." When I heard those words, I realized that I was doing the right thing by starting this blog.  How else can one move forward and create something new if you don't step out of your comfort zone and try and bring your ideas to fruition? By embracing my vulnerability and making my journey public, I hope to find other kindred spirits along the way.

I then decided to go back and watch Brené's first TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability. Wow! I loved it back when I first saw it, and I think I love it even more now. It's all about vulnerability and how whole-hearted people embrace it because they know it's a necessary part of life. She talks about how people who have a strong sense of worthiness,  love and belonging feel connected, and connection is what gives purpose to our lives. I've thought a lot about connection in the months since Matthew died, and hope to do a future post or two about the role it's played in my own life. I think it has to be one of the single most important things that has helped me get through the darkest moment of my life. More on that at a later post. 

My hope with this blog is to share things I come across that fill me with gratitude.  Whether it's a conversation with someone in the grocery store, a poem that hits me just right, an inspiring TED talk, or "beach art," I will try to keep it interesting and hope that you, too, will see the beauty in the small things that make our lives unique. 
Heart-shaped seaweed at the beach in La Push, WA
So today I am very grateful to Brené Brown and her two TED talks. They're each about 20 minutes long, and I think you'll glean much from her wise words (and sharp sense of humor!).  Her first TED talk is called The Power of Vulnerability ,  and her latest TED talk is Listening to Shame.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Starting a new blog

So here it is, the first post of my new blog Grief & Gratitude. I've been mulling this over for months now, and finally decided to take the plunge. It feels a bit overwhelming to have a blog about such weighty subjects as grief and gratitude, and I hope I will be able to convey my thoughts in a meaningful way. It's a far cry from The Book Nosher, my old blog about children's books. But this is where my heart is now, and I hope to share my journey and the many things I am learning along the way.

Some background is probably needed to understand why I have decided to keep a blog that's centered on grief and gratitude. At the end of September of 2010, our oldest son Matthew phoned us from his university up in Bellingham to say that he had been quite sick and had been to the emergency room twice. They had ruled out various things, but he still wasn't feeling well. We decided to go up and get him, and thus began the most difficult three weeks of our lives. What initially masked itself as a severe case of pneumonia, was in fact a virulent form of strep that attacked his bi-cuspid aortic heart valve, necessitating valve replacement surgery. But when they actually went in, they found the damage was far more extensive than they thought. And while Matthew survived the surgery (mostly due to his youth), he never regained consciousness. He spent the last week of his life in a coma, before he died on October 22.

The loss of a child is every parent's worse nightmare. It's simply unnatural. Yet I’ve learned that life does continue on, even when yours appears to have crumbled to rubble. I’ve learned that you do begin to put it back together again, piece by piece. Its form is different, but it is still a life. It continues to have shape and meaning. And part of that new shape is formed by the memory of your loved one. That memory is present all the time, looking over your shoulder helping you restructure this new construct. At least that’s how I feel. I feel Matthew’s presence as we all rebuild our lives without his physical body here.

For the past 17 months I’ve written privately about the journey our family found itself on. In my writings, I became aware that despite our deep, deep loss, every once in a while this sense of gratitude would come bubbling to the surface. It was involuntary (especially in those early months), but I found myself filled with a deep appreciation for the present moment. I realized that no one is guaranteed anything, and that life has many unpredictable twists and turns and dead ends. But by appreciating the small things, we can still live a life of purpose. And that’s what this blog is about. It’s about my gratitude for all of the little things that constitute my life now. I feel so much more aware of this since Matthew’s death, and for that I’m grateful. Would I wish I could lose this knowledge and bring him back?…Of course, in a heartbeat. But like him, I find myself in another place, trying to make sense of it in the best way I can.

My posts won't be long, or even particularly profound. But writing is an outlet for me and I hope through writing about the little things that help keep me afloat, I will show the immense transformational power of grief and loss.