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Pond Water: Learning to Weather the Storm of Grief

We flushed the toilet using pond water and we took turns in a vigil by the gas stove, our only source of heat. In this way, we survived a power outage one winter during my childhood.

I didn’t imagine my parents were teaching me how to weather a crisis, a physical one. Many years later, I’d need this skill for an emotional crisis, for their deaths. For separation from them.

All my life, my parents placed building blocks in my life on crisis management. The utility outages sort of run together in my mind as though they happened singularly. In truth, we faced a handful of times together as a family, braving the cold after ice storms and utility malfunctions. I learned self-reliance, perseverance and ingenuity.

These incidents came to mind after Memphis experienced high winds last week that knocked out electricity to thousands of homes. We didn’t have power overnight, for more than eight hours. At this writing, about 30,000 customers continue to be sitting in the heat with no power for the a/c.TreeDownCopy (2)

I grew up outside of Memphis. There in the country where trees flourished beside power lines, we experienced electrical outages quite regularly. And so I know just what to do.

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Facing Fear to Follow Father’s Footsteps

I squealed and talked into the camera. A selfie video. I was going to take the calculated risk of being drowned in an endless ocean to do what my father had done. To follow his footsteps.CharlesIsland3 (2)

Are you afraid? I am sometimes. I was afraid after my father died. I was afraid of a life without him, an ever-present anchor. A friend. A fan. A guide. Grief generates fear. How would I manage?

Honestly, I was always a person of fear. As a child, I feared the dark. Now I fear the water. Not so much that I won’t go into a pool that’s over my head, but I don’t venture far from the edge. I’ve never been on a cruise. The Titanic comes to mind. Read more

Keepsake Keeper Resolves to Latch Onto Memories & Hope of Heaven

I want to share a poem with you that I heard again just before Mother’s Day. I first read it in 2011 at a memorial service for a teenager. She had died “out of order,” before her parents.

Jessica was very much loved. Her family and friends crafted a garden at the church she attended and put the poem in concrete. A particular word stood out for me. It felt like that poem was mine. Maybe it will be “yours,” too.


A beach on the shore of Connecticut, where Dad grew up. When I go here, I think that I might be walking in his footsteps. He visited the beach as a boy and then with me.

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Two Thoughts to Keep You Sane on Motherless Mother’s Day

I discovered the homemade Mother’s Day card inside a box of her things and read what I’d written at the bottom as a young teenager.

“If I didn’t have you what could I do?”

Indeed, I told myself, sitting in her house among her things, This is the question I’ve lived with since she died.

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My mother and father on their 40th wedding anniversary in 1998. They marked the day by renewing their vows.

This is my 8th Mother’s Day without Mom. Among my friends are those who face their first Mother’s Day without their mamas. For others, it’s been many years.

We all manage to get through it, but not so easily. I hope by the end of this post, you can personalize my ideas and cope more easily.

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How Do We Survive Grief?

How do we survive grief? A major component is embracing new things. New routines. New relationships. But we stubbornly resist. We want things the way they’ve always been.

Must we discard the old to make way for the new?

Sometimes perhaps, but not always. Healing is at its best in the memories that contain both the old and new. And so we come to my father’s desk lamp.

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My husband using my Dad’s lamp.

The lamp reminds me of the aliens in the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds. Perched on two slender posts, the convex head beams light below – like an alien head.

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Can You Hear Me Now? Dusty Phone Reveals Dead Parents’ Message

I received a message from my parents on their phone the other day. Dad has been dead for more than a decade, and the eighth anniversary of Mom’s death is in July. But I got a message.


My parents’ phone. The number is blacked out in this photo to protect privacy, but the message to me was loud and clear.

I’m not talking about a message from beyond. I do not believe we should seek to communicate with the dead. At best, the purveyors of such messages are misled. At worst, they conjure evil spirits that pose as dead loved ones. However, I sympathize with mourners who seek connection.

I wanted connection. I especially wanted to talk to my mother about her death. I wanted to tell her I was sorry that I’d left angry. I wanted to tell her how much I love her.

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Daddy’s Filing Cabinet: When Parents’ Possessions Walk Us Thru Grief

Where do daddies keep their daughter’s handmade birthday cards? Or brochures of sports games they attended together at her college? May I suggest they keep them in their filing cabinets.toni2017-2

That’s where I found the ones my father kept. He stashed old utility receipts there, too, and appliance manuals and sermon notes and photo copies of funny cartoons.

I found my dad in the filing cabinet after he died. That’s the way I put it. I discovered and rediscovered small details of his life. Of him. Of us.

One thing I found in the filing cabinet after both my parents were gone was a draft of the note Dad wrote on my college scrapbook. With him dead, it took on new meaning.

“I love you so much – You may be out of my sight, but never out of my heart.”

You better believe I cried.

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My Enemy Parkinson’s: Dad’s Last Words To Me

The last day of his life, my father sat in the passenger seat of his van and struggled to control the muscles of his mouth. I listened carefully for words I’d recognize. He told me he was proud of me.

Dad died of a heart attack a couple of hours later, but it was Parkinson’s disease that robbed him of the ability to fluidly communicate. It effected his gait and caused his hands to tremble but it was losing his ability to get a word out that really hurt him.


Dad and me with our dog in happier times, before Parkinson’s disease.

Today is World Parkinson’s Day, and April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Parkinson’s is a progressive condition of the nervous system.

The first sign of Dad’s problem was sluggish legs and a tremor in his right hand. Drinking from a glass became an impossibility. The liquid sloshed out. He used straws, and then a baby cup.

Parkinson’s is one of my enemies. It twisted the last few years of my dad’s life. He suffered.

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One Great Thing I Learned

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” ~ Mitch Albom

This quote sums up one great thing I learned about death. I cannot hear my parents anymore, nor my Uncle Karl, whom I lost one year ago tomorrow, but they speak into my life. I must listen with my heart.

I’ve got a lifetime of memories. A lifetime of lessons they put into me. I “hear” these. And the things they wrote down – oh goodness, a treasure. I can’t possibly remember everything. It helps when I see what they thought and felt on paper.

I will probably write about that more another time. I just wanted to pop in, give you a word, and let you know I accidentally published my last blog early. I hope I didn’t wake anyone last night!

Here’s the link to that post:

Have a great rest of the week. Thanks for following my blog. I’ll be back next week.




Uncle’s Letter Leaves Indelible Mark

He called me “doll.” He took me to see the Empire State Building when I was 16. He introduced me to art at the Peabody Museum at Yale. Years later, lying in a hospital bed at a rehab hospital, he told me I was like a daughter to him. But I was his niece. He was my last surviving uncle.

I wailed when I learned he’d died. It wasn’t just that he was dead. It was that I’d missed seeing him once more. Missed helping him into eternity. Missed saying goodbye.


My Uncle Karl and me at age 16 during my first visit to his and Dad’s hometown in Connecticut.

The first anniversary of his death is Friday the 7th. He lived to be 85. Society doesn’t make much of the loss of uncles and aunts. They don’t typically live in the same home with us. They aren’t in that tight family circle. Not a spouse. Not a child. Not a parent.

But like a parent. That gets overlooked sometimes. After we lose our mothers and fathers, they stand in the gap. They know all the good stories about our parents. They remember our early childhoods, too. They’re like mini-parents, especially after we lose mom and dad.

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