Life is full of so many things

Her shadow grows 6 ft tall as we stand before the rising sun, watching hot air balloons drift in the west, farther and farther south, out of our view.

Hot air balloons

This was on the heels of a day at the hospital where I sat with a friend whose husband lies unconscious. He’s only 45 years old.

Life is full of so many things, I think to myself as I gaze up into the sky at those hot air balloons and feel the sheer joy of a little kid and the magic of these colorful things floating off into the sky carrying wizards to Oz and eccentric millionaires around the world in 80 days.

Life is full of so many things.

When grief hits us, the world blurs as our ability to process things around us pauses, and our minds sit in the shock of what just happened. All we can do is try to wrap our minds around the world as it is now.

And then, in time, we may experience a shift. If we keep our eyes open, the depth of grief we experience will begin to correspond with a strange depth of joy. It is as if the grief dug into our hearts, drilling deeper and deeper until we thought we would break. We felt pain that seemed like it would break us, pain that was unbearable.

It’s so important to keep living at this time.

It’s so important to keep looking, watching, observing, and being part of the world so that we can see the hot air balloons.

Hot air balloons

These thoughts pass through my mind as I wake up the morning after I took the “Introduction to Bookbinding Workshop” at the San Francisco Center for the Book. I discovered the Center for the Book during a midday walk, part of my regular routine when my son is in the hospital. For years, I watched their website, noted the dates of their workshops, poured over descriptions, and wished I could participate in one.

I made my plans, reserved my spot, and put it on the calendar. I made additional plans to wander the city, visit its bookstores, and visit the old spots, those spots of beauty I found in the midst of grief that I wrote about in my memoir.

But plans changed.

Instead of recapturing those past emotions of wonder in the midst of grief, I went and sat by the side of my friend in the hospital. This was the better place to be, where I now hold and treasure moments and memories in my heart, things I feel utterly unworthy of having witnessed, that are so much bigger than me or her or all the world, where something greater is at work, however devastatingly sad it is.

And then, I left for the workshop.

It seems so strange and inappropriate to go and do something light-hearted, fun, and without gravitas after such depth and weight and seriousness. The last time I attended a workshop in San Francisco, my son was in the hospital, and there was that strange feeling again.

But as much as it feels like to do justice to the situation, we must always be grieving, we are not built that way.

So I see the hot air balloons, I make paper notebooks in a 3-hour workshop, and I can well understand the motivation behind a Superintendent who wants to unify a mascot across schools when there’s more “serious business” going on and Hughson city staff who want to implement sidewalk art for a bit of whimsy on our downtown streets.

But I can also understand the temptation to stay in that place of the hard things, the drudgery, and the sadness and seriousness of life. We’re facing inflation, international tensions, wars abroad and political wars at home, pressures left and right from never-ending politics and election cycles, personal tragedies, financial stresses, and the hardship of just having relationships in an ever-changing world that pulls us and distracts us for profit. It can be hard to stop, look, and think about how in the midst of this, I can make the world a more beautiful place.

The first step

I think the first step is for us to take those walks, to see the beauty, to indulge in it a little. To stop and smell the roses, as the old saying goes. And then, once we have begun to do that, then it becomes easier to see what little I could do to be part of this. Plant to seed, offer a smile, visit the sick or elderly, and read a book to a child.

The city didn’t receive any submissions for that sidewalk art project. So if you have some artistic bent or even just some good ideas of the way that our shadows can take shape in our imaginations, maybe consider sending a sketch on paper or a digital drawing, and see if there’s something you can do to add to someone else’s walk. You don’t know what kind of smile it might bring in the midst of great sadness. That is the beauty of these little offerings, these short workshops, these flower gardens, and a hot air balloon festival.

Hot air balloon

Life is full of so many things.

I hope we have eyes open enough to see them.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

A Poem from Point Lobos

The Black and White of Grief

June 5, 2023

I wrote this poem in the days following our adventure at Point Lobos. When grief hits us, it can feel like the color has drained from our world. After our daughter Celeste died during birth from anencephaly and as we adjusted our son Peter’s medical world, motherhood was fundamentally changed for me.

As we walk through life as it is now, we begin to see things here and there, whether a moment or a memory, some things in color. Those things become the moments in which we feel we can breathe again, in which we feel the presence of God, in which we know that somehow, it is going to be okay.

That is what I see when I look at my Stella.

You are in color
Let them go ahead
With you, I will stay
Your hand in mine
Let them run up stairs
Up compact sandy trails
Up Spyglass Hill
They scatter along
Hunt for hermit crabs
Just beyond hearing
When you say, “Let’s run”
I walk a little faster
Every three steps
You gently pet 
the yarrow, the aster
Like the legs of a honeybee
Your forefingers brush
They grow brighter at your touch
We name each flower
When I let go
You slipped in the tidepool
Sea water drips down
Your arm
You clasp my neck
Along the avenue of Monterey Cypress
On the path to China Cove
Those drops are my permission
Not to let you go
To hold you fast
And the moment 
as it lasts

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?, the 1960 children’s book written by P.D. Eastman, was only of the earliest books I read to my children. After his mother flies away from the nest to find some food, a baby bird hatches and searches for his mother. Without a sense of who or what he is, the baby bird asked animals and machines of various stripes if they are his mother. In a moment of harrowing adventure, the baby bird cries to go home, to be with his mother, and is put back in the nest. The moment she arrives, he recognizes and knows her to be the one he has sought, his mother.

He knows her because it is his nature to know her.

And while it would have been more perfect had she been there all along, she comes to him as motherly as she can, with food and comfort and familiarity.

How have I recognized mothers of late?

On a Thursday morning, with the May sun shining down on us, I watched as a mother dressed in black spread dirt on the coffin of her miscarried child. She invited her other children to come and do the same. Soon, she backed away and wept in the arms of her husband, her parents, her neighbors and friends. Miscarriage is a hidden loss, but with her courage to bury her child in the presence of family and friends, she shows her empty hands and broken heart.

And of the children surrounding the tiny grave, only the eldest carried the weight of sorrow. It was sadness about the burying itself. “It’s dirty work,” she said to me, with a little smirk, before she told my children they could help if they wanted to. (They did).

A common impulse of adults is to want to shield and protect children from all that could distress them.

By allowing these children to see how much a part of life death is, and to be a part of the picture by participating in a physical and meaningful way, this mother did more than give life to those she was privileged to bear all the way through a pregnancy. She does more than educate their minds by teaching them to read and name their colors, by handing on her faith. She helps to form them to face the world, to know that even in the dark times of life, that she is there, family, neighbors and friends are there, who will join alongside them to bury the loves they can no longer hold close to them.

A mother has the power to teach

A mother has the power to teach, kneeling down in the dirt, absorbed in the moment and yet aware of her surroundings. On a different day entirely, my daughter, the same age as my friend’s daughter, commented on how she saw me move through the garden, walking slowly, examining the plants lovingly, gently brushing against them with my open hands. I plant the roots, press down the soil, pull the week and, in time, harvest the flowers and arrange them to take to the cemetery today.

I cannot carry the weight of grief for my friend.

But standing there in the cemetery, present with our hearts and mind, providing unasked-for flowers, I show my children another lesson. In times when our hands are empty, we could hide that emptiness in the name of being strong or holding it together. But when we know and live our lives knowing that weakness is a perfectly acceptable part of being human, then others can come to fill us up, in their own way. So a woman made a rosary. Another gifted a piece of memorial art. The woman who works at the cemetery gave her an angel carved from stone. And I gave her flowers.

Thus we show our children both that community could be there, and how to be part of a community for others. We show how to comfort, that it is safe and acceptable to need comfort. In a way unlike any other relationship, the mother has the power to show the child that when he or she cries out, someone will be there.

Like that mother bird, we may not do it perfectly.

Our children will face times of sorrow. But when we do the best we can, there is hope that this accumulation of lessons, both oral and by example, will do more than we could possibly imagine for the ones entrusted to our care.

We cannot control the past or the ways in which our mothers might have missed a thing or two, but we can choose what we do with those who live in our world. We can choose to be a safe haven for those who are vulnerable enough to express their need.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

No Holiday without Ghosts

In San Francisco

I park by valet now. It took a while to get used to it, but since they built the Chase Center across the street from the hospital, valet became the only option for parking during our routine UCSF appointments. That means, a drive around the hospital and clinic building to get to the correct entrance to drop off our car and, yesterday, that meant seeing the enormous Chase Center Christmas tree through the back window.

“Do you want to see it?” I asked him. Eagerly, he said, “yes.”

The air was crisp and cool.

We walked along the pavement darkened by morning rain and felt the breeze cut through our inadequate clothing. After half a block I asserted my motherly authority and made him put his coat over his thin cotton sleeves.

As we walked up to the corner, his brisk steps quickened. “There it is!” I pointed, smiling with delight as he jumped up and down.

I walked faster to keep up with him as we crossed the street. He grinned and squealed as only six -almost- seven-year-old boys can. “It’s so big!” he gushed.

After a look and a couple of photos, he was ready to escape the cold and we walked back. Waiting on the street corner to cross, my mind flashed back to the many times I stood on that corner alone, walking from Family House each morning to see my son at the hospital.

It was cold in those days, too.

Each time this year, vivid memories return of the days of December passing, counting down, wondering how long we would stay, seeing the floors empty out as staff began their holiday vacations. I bought a small Christmas tree and a set of ornaments for the hospital room; I wove finger garland to decorate his crib. My parents purchased battery-operated lights. His room was decorated, in case we stayed two days longer.

Those memories don’t leave me.

The sadness, grief and fear all associated with the past and the reality of the present do not leave me. This season of Advent, I am reading “Seeking God’s Face,” a collection of homilies from Pope Benedict XVI for the year, and “Healing Through Dark Emotions” by Miriam Greenspan, a book recommended me to by a counselor I met through palliative care, six, almost, seven years ago.

Both invite the reader to turn towards the difficulty of sadness or grief, the silence of Advent, the forced stop of illness. Both say, there is something here to be discovered. Within these weeks leading us to Christmas, lighting one candle at a time, dispelling darkness gradually as the nights themselves grow darker and colder, I recall the last line of Dana Gioia’s poem, “Tinsel, Frankincense and Myrrh.”

“No holiday is holy without ghosts.”

Dana Gioia from “Tinsel, Frankincense and Myrrh”

My counselor taught me we only can keep going in life when we make space for both the dark and light emotions, or as Greenspan says when we invite grief to pull up a chair.

When we crossed the street, the breeze whipping our cheeks to a healthy pink, I felt not only the moment before me but the depth within me of how far back that moment reaches to those lonely mornings, those mornings with a sort of agonizing hope that we would soon go home and be reunited. It reaches all the way back into my broken heart and comes out again in the immensity of that Christmas tree and utter delight at my child jumping around it, who once lay listless on a hospital bed.

This is the holiday season for those who have known sadness and come out on the other side able to share its story.

We may not frolic on own, we may grow quiet in reflection, we may step away for a moment to cry. The joy is there, it just looks different, but we feel it, deeper than we could imagine as it comes to us wrapped in the trimmings of gratitude and a prayer that the good times may continue, tied with an understanding that they may not.

Be merciful to those who suffer this holiday season.

Pull up a chair for the ghosts they carry with them. Sit with them and hear their stories. I thank you for listening to mine.

A Tour of Jessica’s House

Children’s Grief Awareness Day

As I write this, it is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Our family has had our share of grief, as many families have, some monumentally more than others. 

Grief never really goes away. Like a companion, we learn to live with it. Just as your love for your child never really goes away. It only changes. 

In an interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert on the podcast “All There Is” Cooper plays a clip from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” with Andrew Garfield. On it, Garfield discussed his grief, “So if I cry, it’s only a beautiful thing. I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her.”

A teen room at Jessica's House

Grief is unexpressed love. 

The new companion does not come into our lives easily. But if we are willing to make a space, and allow it to pull up a chair at the table, grief becomes the mode through which we stay close to those who have died, through which we feel the nearness of those lost.

Often children grieve when their caregivers are also grieving. I first toured Jessica’s House in 2018, when the grief around my heart was still raw. The mission of Jessica’s House is to provide “support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults, and their families, at no cost, because no child should ever grieve alone.”

The volcano room at at Jessica's House

No child should ever grieve alone. 

In that same interview, Colbert referenced this act of “going down with that person into their grief.” 

Cooper said, “the loneliness of grief is extraordinary. And just someone acknowledging that you’re going through it is a consolation.”

Jessica’s House began in 2012 to bring grief support to the community through peer support groups for children grieving a loss.

In 2021, Jessica’s House opened its new permanent home in Turlock in 2021. Jessica’s House currently supports more than 800 individuals from 38 surrounding cities through nine specialized peer support groups as well as a school group program at various school sites in Stanislaus and Merced counties, including in Hughson Unified School District.

Grief Support Groups include parent loss, sibling loss, hope after suicide, hope after homicide, hope after accidental overdose, COVID-19 loss, grandparent loss, HeartStrings (pregnancy loss, infant loss and stillbirth), and groups offered in Spanish. 

A sensory room at Jessica's House

A tour of Jessica’s House

Approaching Jessica’s House, one walks up to an expansive wraparound porch, a welcome open door and seasonal decor. Inside the door, a wall of hearts dresses the wall. On the other side of that wall stands the circular talking room, the heart of Jessica’s House where groups open and close their evenings, inviting attendees into a vulnerable safe place where they can share without judgment or stigma about the loved one who has died. 

I took a tour with Natalie and Colleen. At the mention of a loss, they pause, make space, and ask the name of the person to whom I referred. The tone is loving, respectful and makes room for conversation to go where it will, but still with a gentle plan in mind and guidance in place.

The tour began with that Circular Talking Room, where the roundedness of the space creates an architectural challenge and wonder in how it affects those sitting in the room. It feels safe, somehow, where even I on duty felt free to participate honestly in the check-in they modeled for me. 

After the Circular Talking room, which feels a bit like a hug, they showed me the many play spaces, art spaces, dramatic spaces, outdoor spaces, music spaces and so much more. Each room is designed intentionally from its colors to the objects that inhabit it and how they are stored to create stability, beauty and predictability for children whose home life may be caught up in the chaos of grief. 

Groups begin with checking in.

But beyond the spaces is the philosophy that acts as the structure of this house. Jessica’s House approaches grief with a companioning model. “It’s an invitation for them to share about their person and for them to honor their person and keep their memory alive by being here and having that safe place to share about,” Colleen said. As peers facilitators and staff reflect back the words said by children and parents during group sessions and activities. “There’s a lot of healing power and having a witness,” Natalie explained. 

We grieve in community

I can do hard things poster at Jessica's House

We grieve community, they explained, and so many activities are designed to act as a metaphor that help teach these lessons, in a place where the children and families know someone will hear them and walk with them.

To learn more about these resources, contact us at (209) 250-5395 or

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is the fourth book of our Literary Lenten Book Club. In this process of exploring literature during Lent, we’ll ask ourselves first, how did Ivan Illyich encounter transcendence? and second, how did he respond?
Cover of The Death of Ivan Illyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia and his sufferings and death from a terminal illness. It was published in 1886 by Leo Tolstoy, written shortly after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

There is no question what this story is about. Tolstoy gives us the full portrait of the life Ivan Illych led and the world he left behind, connecting the dots of how he arrived at that point. 

Those he left behind feel entirely superficial feelings about the thing. 

Tolstoy shows us the trajectory of his life, spelling out the increasing superficiality in Ivan Illych’s relations with those around him, the superficial nature of all that he takes pleasure in. In fact, Ivan Illych’s goal in life before this point was a pleasant life, free from disruption or disquietude.

Literary commentary links his illness to this lifestyle and a symbolic demise. It is a reality he sees himself in his final weeks. “It’s as though I had been going steadily downhill while I imagined I was going up,” he thinks.

Three Revelations Before Death

The first revelation

The first revelation is the realization that he is mortal and will die. This illness, though linked in Ivan Illyich’s mind to his fall, was most likely pancreatic cancer, and at the time, incurable and most often uncommunicated to patients by their doctors.

The second revelation

The second is that human connection alone brings some relief. Those in his life will not look at his suffering in the face. They look away. Gerasim, the butler’s assistant, “was the only one who understood and pitied him. And for that reason, Ivan Illyich felt comfortable only with Gerasim.”

The third revelation

The third revelation is about his life, whether or not he lived well. “Perhaps I did not live as I should have, it suddenly occurred to him. But how could that be when I did everything one is supposed to do? He replied and immediately dismissed the one solution to the whole enigma of life and death, considering it utterly impossible.”

This question continues to present itself to him. Ivan Illyich defends himself against the accusation. “And there was nothing left to defend. But if that is the case, he asked himself, and I am taking leave of life with the awareness that I squandered all I was given and have no possibility of rectifying matters, what then?”

It acts as revelation, it comes to him as he wrestles with it. He approaches but does not grasp it.

He receives the Sacrament. 

Ivan Illyich pities those he leaves behind, finding peace and a willingness to accept death in the love of his son and sympathy for his family.

And he dies.

Much of the reflection on death itself, the superficiality of a life spent doing what one thought was expected of him socially, Tolstoy lays out for the reader. 

It’s clear that Ivan Illyich encounters something transcendent because he is facing the end of life as he has lived it. 

But does it change him? 

Does he respond to it? I do not know. I find the ending unsatisfying, but probably quite realistic.

Ivan Illyich can never answer this question, “what then?” 

The issue is one of facing reality. He could never go back to being the person he was, never enjoy the things he enjoyed as freely as he enjoyed them. He is now too aware of what is real. 

But alas, as Ivan Illyich discovers the truth he does not discover Him who is Truth. He does not begin to think about God. The Sacrament is just what one does. Rather than encounter the one presenting in the Sacrament, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he hopes again for physical recovery and falls back into the same despair.

The only plane then that God can reach him is through the natural, paternal love of the child who loves him, too, whose childlike honesty does not hide from suffering but instead would examine it dwell over it and remain so entirely present to it. Ivan Illyich’s last act is to feel a little love and a little pity for perhaps the first time since he was the age of the son before him. 

In this brief glimpse, he sees that he squandered what he had, including those chances at love, so he desires to say “forgive.”

Perhaps this is the moment of power, to look at another’s suffering and not look away. To experience one’s gaze, when one is suffering, and to feel seen.

The novella remains a personal and social commentary. Instead of “forgive,” Ivan Illyich says “forget.” Inwardly, he knows, and he knows that God knows. This is is what matters most now. In this he can rest.

Head of an Angel, after Rembrandt
Vincent van Gogh
Date: 1889; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France

Someone knows him and sees him. Someone understands.

Ivan Illyich dies with little more understanding of that Someone then he set out with, but he knows something, and with this knowledge, he can stop fighting.

Outwardly, his wife will forget, his children will forget. They may not dwell long enough on his life or actions to even consider the need to forgive. 

It was just what’s done.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have another thought to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Check back next week for our discussion on the poem, “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne.
For more information about our Literary Lenten Book Club and the schedule of readings click here.

To explore reflections from the first and second week, click the links below: 

Love in The Gifts of the Christ Child

“The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald is the third book of our Literary Lenten Book Club. In this process of exploring literature during Lent, we’ll ask ourselves first, how did the main character(s) encounter transcendence? and second, how did he respond?

To chasten, according to Merriam-Webster, means to discipline, to correct by punishment or suffering; to purify, to prune of excess, pretense, or falsity, to refine; and to cause to be more humble or restrained. In “The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald, this word become an important foundation to the entire story. Sophy, who calls herself Phosy, and the purity of her love will be the mechanisms on which the action pivots. 

In her childlike logic, she prayers that the Lord would chasten her, for whomever He loves, He chastens. MacDonald tells us right away her life has held suffering and lament, if she only knew how she had suffered. 

MacDonald steps back to tell us the story. 

Sophy is pure, innocent, and neglected. Her virtues and attributes go unseen. It is not she who will change in this story but those whose lives work around hers in the periphery. She is neglected and she sees them move in and out of view, but they never see her.

Her mother died, but her father did not grieve too terribly. He remarried an immature woman for the odd selfish end of forming her character to be as his , to make her in his own image. Augustus’ fall from an interesting man to a man who has given up on life is summed up thus,

“He had given up reading poetry.”

The man who once read poetry and stops has stopped living. The interest in business, the disbelief in an ideal, takes away his ability to be present and delight in the moment. This, of course, is exactly what we encounter in children. Good material and fortune, in the absence of delight, erodes the spiritual side of himself.

Then we have their servant, Alice, whose poetry is John, the man she loves. In the face of good fortune, she wholeheartedly embraces the pride of position and rejects John, who appears to us a good man, in all respects.

This is the story. 

George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) was a Scottish author, poet and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of modern fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. In addition to his fairy tales, MacDonald wrote several works of Christian theology, including several collections of sermons. He influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein for his ability to make real both the physical world and the spiritual or phantasmic world.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis wrote,

“I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow.”

It is on this plane that Macdonald brings us the transcendent. 

Rather than a goblin or a fairy, we enter into the imagination of a lonely child who longs for love.

Modern readers often shudder at reading stories that involve the death of an infant. They are indeed the most heartbreaking. I recognize that. It is a common theme for MacDonald. The infant is innocent, an undeveloped character in the story of life, and yet our complexities and stories swirl around the loss of life, our hopes and dreams, our past traumas, and for the mother, the most primitive, integral love she can offer is intimately bound up in that child. When a mother loses a baby, she loses part of herself. When a father loses a baby, he loses part of himself. And so there may be no clearer way to see who we are than to see ourselves as broken open as we are in the sight of an infant who has died.

Macdonald, who himself knew sorrow in fatherhood, explores the power of redemption not just through suffering, but grief. The utter purity of Sophy’s love is a revelation of the love of God. She is almost not a true character at all, but some incarnation of God to reveal himself to Augustus and Alice, according to Jessica W. H. Lim, who explores Sophy’s role in “Sacramental Grief: Embracing the dead infant in George MacDonald’s short stories.” 

The reader is carried along Sophy’s steps and actions. We know who she resembles as her halo and mantle are identified. We gasp with horror, the sobbing, revelatory horror of death when she cries, “Jesus is dead!” And if we have allowed our hearts this far into the story, we feel the light shine into the heart of Augustus as he folds Sophy into his arms. The moment of transcendence is neither remote, nor obscure, it comes brazenly into the lonely and longing hearts, hearts dulled by a life that seems to never change nor promise the ideals we once had, and a life of humility that idolizes prestige. 

Through this, on this vertical plane, God makes himself known. 

God is Love. Through this incarnate image of himself, this image of love in Sophy’s tender care and her unspeakable grief to discover the child is not alive, God reveals his father’s love for us. With a violent love, it breaks into the hearts of Augustus and Alice. Suffering and pain already exist in the world. The Lord need not send those. But it is through love itself, through the sight of love, the through love that burns in their hearts, that they know Him.

The scales drop from their eyes. They are transformed, loving and repentant. 

It is an act of God, a miracle; it is the answer to a prayer.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have another thought to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Check back next week for our discussion on “The Death of Ivan Illych” by Leo Tolstoy.
For more information about our Literary Lenten Book Club and the schedule of readings click here.
For explore reflections from the first and second week, clink the links below: 
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “The Enduring Chill” by Flannery O’Connor

It’s Advent! What do you have to wait for?

The season begins with its rich sounds, smells, flavors and traditions. Now comes the change, with stores and social media working overtime to sell us on the holiday spirit. Now comes the new flavor of excitement for children. Christmas excitement. Winter break excitement. The excitement of getting and hopefully, at least a little, the excitement of giving. Now comes the overloaded schedules, the to-do lists, the decades of collected recipes that make the familiar holiday meal what it is.

With the passing of Thanksgiving, we begin a season of anticipation and preparation. The almost-here but the not-quite-yet season.

And we call it Advent.

The word “Advent” means arrival or appearance. It is a season of waiting. They told me as a child, “it’s good for you to wait. Patience is a virtue.”

On the farm, expectation comes with the territory. Our little one-acre plot has flowers at one end. I plant the seed, wait for it to sprout, transplant and nurture the little seedling into full growth. What I did not know until this year is that it can take a full 25 days from when I first spied the dahlia bud for it to bloom. We wait.

At the other end of the farm are the birds. My husband came home in spring with a chirping cardboard box nestling five little chicken chicks and two turkey chicks. The turkeys grew and grew, waddling this way and that. The children introduce the turkeys to all our friends. This one is called “Thanksgiving” and this one is called “Christmas” indicating the holiday on which we would thank the Lord for their life and our bounty. Only the female remains now. The male, in its 39.2 lb glory met its Thanksgiving fate. We waited.

Three years ago we first parked our car beside this house and fell in love with its decorative trim and many buildings. We moved in three months later and got to work. A project here, a project there, some requiring expert assistance, others in the DIY realm. There are so many dreams and ideas, but we can tackle them just one at a time with minimal overlap. So we wait.

The expectant mother.

The parent at their child’s hospital bedside.

The quarantined relative.

We wait.

How full of waiting life is. How many times do we look ahead, full of excitement or full of dread, and allow that anticipation to rob us of the moment in front of us right now? Or how caught up we can be in the moment that we forget to wait at all. We grow anxious, impatient, and want it not now. Or we forget to look ahead at all. The big moments of life come and go, but our hearts are not stirred like they might have been. We did not wait. We merely went with the flow, unaffected, caught in the current.

Life is meant to be a gentle balance of attention to the present moment of anticipation, that is, hope, in what is to come. We wait well when we grow a little when we take a deep breath and stay calm. We wait well when we look ahead and allow ourselves the excitement that children live by.

But what have we to wait for?

What is Christmas but so much sadness when the ones you love are in the grave or far away or relationships are fractured and traditions reevaluated in light of so many changes?

Even if you have lost something this year or last year or the year before that, even if you are broken in heart and spirit, there is something worth waiting for. It may be the small, quiet moment of joy. It may be kindness from a stranger or the thoughtfulness of an old friend. It may be the cheerfulness of others less worn down by the storms of life. It might be the unadulterated happiness of a child. It might be heaven. It might be resurrection, coming to life again, a time when things will be healed and made new. It might be the gift that you are to others. It might be the friend you haven’t yet met, the conversation you haven’t yet had, the reconciliation you never thought would happen, the forgiveness you are not ready to give.

There is something worth waiting for.

And so we wait.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Name Your Grief: Miscarriage and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

gray textile hanging on brown wicker basket

My Theology 101 professor, Dr. John Boyle has a lecture that can be summarized by this, “when you name something you have power over it.” The power in a name, “it has the power to stop someone dead in their tracks across the quad.” Names matter and they have power.

One of the greatest lessons I learned is the importance of naming my grief. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Ronald Reagan designated it so in 1988. October 15 was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

There are three common types of grief involved in pregnancy and infant loss. These represent a common experience. Individual experiences will naturally differ.


The first is the loss of the dream or expectations. With a positive pregnancy test comes a vision of the future. A girl or a boy? Nursery decor may be picked out. Names were chosen. Plans made. This loss varies depending on how hoped for the pregnancy was.


The second is the loss of the particular child. It is this child whom the parents grieve, the child who can never be replaced because any other child is not this child. They may never have had the opportunity to see him or her, but the deep awareness between mother and child builds the connection. Here, she feels her arms or belly empty where it once felt full.


The third is the loss of security and fear for the future. What does this mean in relation to the woman’s ability to bear children, to bear healthy children? Could she have done anything differently? Will there be children in the future? Is this her lot in life? Scientific knowledge does not always assuage these fears.

For each other these, the power of the name can come and facilitate healing.


Identifying and naming what the dreams were, no matter how small or petty or cliche they might seem. I wanted to dress a little girl. I wanted my name carried forward with a boy. Giving voice to these hopes can help us identify those that might still be possible, or to find other ways to fulfill our dreams. No matter how unimportant they seem in the face of the other types of loss, they matter and should be named.


To give the child a name. Even when the situation is complicated, grief can be felt and to be able to identify the child you lost by name can help carve a place for that child in your memory and the memory of your family. It need not be announced publicly, but there is value in having to a name you can call this child when you allow yourself to say, “I wish you were here.”


Name the fear. I’m afraid I’ll never have children. I’m afraid I can’t carry a child. I’m afraid I’ll never be a mother or a father. Sometimes there are medical answers, in the case of late-term pregnancy or infant loss. There may be progesterone shots or folic acid supplements that will help in the future. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes, the answers are worse than we imagined. But we cannot learn to work out the problem, help prevent the problem, or accept the reality of things as they are if we do not first name those fears. “Let’s put away the ‘shoulds,’” my counselor said to me, “maybe the fact that this is on your mind tells you this is something you need to think about.”

If you are not the one who experienced the loss but want to reach out, I encourage you to be aware of these different types of loss involved in the grief. Phrases like, “you’re young, you’ll have more in the future,” might speak to the third type but insults the second.

The power of a name. For those on the outside of the experience, using the name reminds the person in grief you have not forgotten. It helps us to know, to contain in some small way the idea of the thing in our mind, and in this case, help us take a step in the path to healing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Can we still find refuge in the Catholic Church?


The image is a pelican, a mother whose children will starve, so with her beak, she opens her breast and allows them to drink from her blood, that they may survive.


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In the selflessness of a mother, Christ’s heart is pierced on the cross and, pouring his blood out for us, he saves our lives.


Image result for christ cross blood chalice


This sacrifice continues in the mass. “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…Do this in memory of memory…” We must not ignore those words.


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Since July, I have felt at odds with the men on the altar. I heard nothing. From across the country, priests were speaking out. Women in Facebook groups shared how their priests preached on the crisis. Hours of reparation were scheduled. But not here. One parish here, but not where I attend.

We are split between two parishes. One did not even include the statements from the bishop in their bulletin. No mention. No words. Happy-go-lucky music. Was it even happening? Is it business as usual while the faithful who are up on Church news feel broken, alone, lost, abandoned by their shepherds to the thieves who disguise themselves as shepherds?

I heard a priest could choose to dress in black on such an occasion as this. Sackcloth and ashes.

Fed up, I contacted a priest who I knew had preached on the crisis. And by preaching, I don’t mean a passing comment for a few words connecting what he is preaching on to the news and back to the topic at hand.


No, I mean it was the focus.


They have no excuse because the readings have been all about the failure of the shepherds who choose to shepherd themselves. Even now, Augustine’s sermons on pastors fill the Office of Readings.

We left town for the day to the hills of Sonora, to mass at St. Patrick’s were a pipe organ fills the back wall, a few miles from Indgeny reserve, our destination for the afternoon. There were saw Fr. Sam. He looked deeply into the eyes of those he passed by. He bends down a little to do so. As his gaze grazes the congregation, he stops from time to time. He sees them.

And he preaches to them, to us.

In the reading, he said Christ exposes a great error we fall into, to think we can adapt God’s will to our will. He points out Peter being rebuked publicly by Christ, “get behind me Satan.” It wasn’t private, it wasn’t soft, it was public, it was telling. He pointed out that Peter went onto become Pope. The pope is infallible on the teachings of morals and doctrine, but he can still make mistakes, still make grave errors. We have seen it in history, we are seeing it now.

It doesn’t mean the Church has failed.

The exposure to the light is good. We need that.

He said all that…and more.


I felt seen. I felt heard. For over two months I’ve put my heart into the effort to feel it is not us (the laypeople) against them (the establishment of men either committing crimes or men afraid to rock the boat by speaking the truth, by preaching God’s word). I have felt desperate to hear this word, desperate to hear from the representatives of Christ, in person.

Last week reeling, this week refuge.