To Share or Not To Share

My mother died nearly 30 years ago. The anniversary of her death and the brief series of events frozen in time leading up to that moment haunts me every year. Her passing was a sudden and total surprise that confronted me one warm spring evening when I was 20 and away at college.

10 years ago I wrote an essay about that day and what I felt. I never shared it.


The huge age gap between my mother and me was always evident. She had me at 45. I always knew she was much older than the other moms – I’m sure that would bother her if she knew I felt that – but not so old that she would die before I was fully grown and on my own. Don’t ask me for a definition of grown. I had assumed she would be around for my wedding and the birth of my kids and pass on at a ripe old age when I myself was much older. My being grown up and her dying was so far off in the distance, it never once crossed my mind. So her sudden death was shocking, yet it really shouldn’t have been. Many of her siblings had already died young. I should have thought about the odds, the risk of it happening, but I suppose that’s the ignorance of youth…

Over time I subsequently came to learn it’s a major shock to the system for pretty much everyone when their mother dies, no matter the circumstances, no matter the age of the parent or child. There are few relationships as monumental as that, of parent and child. So my story isn’t all that special, really. It’s just part of my life story.

I don’t know, I guess I thought my circumstances were different. Mom was so much older than me, and my older siblings were of another generation altogether. I was the baby of the family by far, my parents’ 20th anniversary surprise: along for the ride for many years, but not a highly contributing or significant member of the family. My family of origin didn’t converse much, certainly not parent to child and I suppose due to our age differences, not really sibling to sibling either, at least that was my experience growing up. We never talked about feelings.

No, the communication dynamic in my family growing up was pragmatic and direct. You were scolded if you said or did something wrong, and that was mostly it. You quickly learned that keeping quiet was better than saying anything. Because of this I had some difficulty communicating and connecting with my feelings as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. I kept to myself and became a deep thinker.

To make matters worse, Mom and I had a difficult relationship when I was a teenager. Our generational differences felt extreme. My parents were very conservative, and actually so was I but they didn’t see me that way. I didn’t really fight with anyone in life but I fought with Mom daily for the better part of seven years. Only in the last six months of our lives together did the ice begin to melt. I say “together” figuratively because being away at college seemed to help mend our relationship.


Thanks to Aunt Nancy, I was given a diary as a young girl, so I kept a journal from about age 9 through my late twenties or so. It is so painful to read the early volumes now. Painful to read the stilted thoughts running through my head and the situations I was dealing with. Painful to know I didn’t have anyone to turn to to process any of it or that I should go find people or places to talk. My parents didn’t know they were fostering that kind of home or that it had real consequences on me. Don’t get me wrong: I know they did the best they could. It seems their beliefs were not unusual for their generation, education and soci-economic class. Nevertheless, this the family I was born into and it was a very tough time growing up.

Through the years and perhaps because my mother died, I slowly learned to connect with my emotions, process them, move beyond them. I did this all on my own, by reading my journals years later. Over years I learned words to describe my emotions. I learned to share them, say them out loud. And with this expression comes healing, a dialogue and perspective, something I crave to this day.

So I wrote this essay about my mother’s death 20 years after the fact, and for the longest time, I had a need to share it yet I never did.

At first I thought about posting it to this new online community called Facebook, since I had some friends on there at the time who were very good at connecting and commenting on my writing but two things held me back.

One, I feared that my sisters would freak out over me sharing intimate details about our family story. I don’t characterize anyone poorly in the essay, at least I don’t think I do, but what I wrote is most certainly intimate. My sisters are far more private individuals. Maybe they prefer to keep this memory to themselves or feel no need to share their feelings because they had a spouse to help them through it. Maybe they simply never felt the need as I do to sort through their feelings then or now. Maybe they strongly prefer to forget the events of the time. In the nearly 30 years since it happened, the subject of Mom’s death doesn’t come up, ever.

But me, at that time? I didn’t have a spouse or a boyfriend to talk to. I didn’t marry for another 14 years to come, even though I had a smattering of serious boyfriends up until then. Even my long-term roommate at the time was emotionally unavailable. And unless you want to scare people off, you just don’t randomly open up about this stuff with strangers. Therapy didn’t occur to me as an option because it wasn’t like I couldn’t function. I graduated school without missing a beat, held and thrived in a professional job.  I functioned just fine, I just wanted to be known. I needed to grieve. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to keep something like that bottled up for 20 years? This event, this monumentally life-changing event for me? Well…I wanted someone to know what it was like.

And mind you this is just one small example of the events that have shaped me.

So I put words to paper in an attempt to explain what it was like. Being unmarried, I didn’t understand the point of my life without sharing what it was like to lose my mom. You’ve heard the saying: if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If a life-altering event happens to someone but there is no one to witness it, did it happen at all?

That makes me sad. It makes me feel just as alone today as it did then.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve told the story to my husband, but for whatever reason that didn’t give me closure. It’s not his fault. It’s not his problem, it’s mine. He actually cares a great deal about me and can relate to this story quite well as he himself lost his father when he was young. But in the verbal retelling of my story to him, I may have glossed over details that are nevertheless important to me. It’s not like he knows those details well enough that he’ll retell it to our kids one day. No, me telling him that story was temporal. It was shared for the moment and nothing more.

That isn’t enough. It’s still as if I desperately want somebody to go back in time to April 1988 and stand with me while it was happening and to be there for the grieving that followed. I never had that.

I can’t help but think of other people who never had that either. It’s an endless, gaping, invisible wound that some of us walk around with.

The second thing holding me back from sharing was my husband’s opinion that my story was far too intimate and valuable for Facebook; sharing it there would be TMI and cheapen the event. I had to agree with him: nothing about my mother’s passing is cheap or sensational.

Yet I’m struggling with this idea that what I wrote could be too personal. Yes, people can and do share yucky, too-much-information detail that can be ugly and vicious….but that isn’t my story at all.  And it isn’t like I’m going to send my story to a magazine and get it published as that feels exploitive. Neither am I blogging for the sole purpose of sharing this one story. Facebook seemed like a logical forum several years ago because I knew that my close friends would comment and help me through it, and the possibility was that even an acquaintance might have just the right thing to say, some insight to share, and I would feel less alone.


That essay I penned nearly 10 years ago is lost somewhere in my house, and life has gotten in the way since then. The need to share feels slightly less acute than it once did.

Never mind what was written: the actual story is really what is at stake. Will my kids ever know what it was like for me, will it resonate with them? They’re way too young to understand it now. Maybe when they’re in their 30s they’ll be old enough to recognize me at that time as just another human on this planet dealing with life the same as they do…when they recognize me to know no more or less than they do…when they realize we truly are peers in the big scheme of things. Maybe they will want to know my story then.

What if that day never comes? What if I don’t live long enough to tell it to them then? What if they never ask?

My husband recognizes that I have a need to share on a deep level that he simply doesn’t have, that most people don’t have. But when you dig deep into someone’s life, you discover their humanity, what makes them tick. That’s the stuff that intrigues me. I can’t handle small talk. I’d rather talk about deep, mystical, life-changing events.

But my husband the musician also told me years ago that you don’t choose your art – it chooses you. Your art is the stuff you are compelled to create….and it may not be all sunshine and flowers and butterflies. It may not be the things people love, but you just might find a small intersection of people with whom your art reverberates.

So here I am, sharing without really sharing. That’s about as satisfying as you might imagine for someone like me. I have a right to share my story. It’s mine, after all, and no one else’s.

And I still really want to tell the story of what it was like when my Mom died.  Whether I do, who knows?


I woke up this morning a little earlier than usual, trying to get a jump on my day. I’m not much of morning person. But I’ve learned that how you start your morning is how you set your intention for the day, and today I was ready to rock my world.

Sitting down at the home office desk, I checked email, returned a couple of messages and shot out a few more, then my husband turned on the TV in the kitchen and asked, “Did you see this?” Popped over to CNN and boom. And just like that, our world has changed again.

“Worst Mass Shooting in US History”. At least 50 dead and I think it was 200 injured as of eastern time this morning.  As of this writing, the number has grown to at least 58 dead and over 500 injured. All by one man. One man inflicting evil from the 32nd floor of a hotel on concert goers below. One man with a stockpile of weapons and ammunition that, of course, we allow to happen in country because the 2nd amendment and the NRA protect his rights.

That familiar, sickening feeling deep in my core returns once again. But this time I’ll be honest, my first thought was: “Worst mass shooting in US history? Only until the next time.” As appalling as this horror is  – and the scale of it is surreal – at this rate, a “next time” is inevitable. It’s like the Evil Loser Club of America has a bunch of members who are playing a vicious game, trying to outdo one another by scoring a greater number of kills on the leaderboard, the leaderboard being any news headline in the US.

I’ve been to Las Vegas. It’s not my favorite place to go, but I appreciate the draw. Even if you’re not a gambler, there is something you can find to enjoy there, unless you are among the most religiously conservative of types. Anyway, I know a whole group of people heading there for a conference and I immediately shot one my friends a text hoping to GOD she was not already there, and possibly among the crowd. She’s ok….she hasn’t left yet. Whew. I suspect I will end up knowing someone who was touched in some way.

And then this is where I am at a loss what to say and do next. Pray? Yes. That’s a given. Rail against the 2nd amendment? I’m not sure what good that would do. As I heard others say regarding Sandy Hook, when we as a country decided that mass violence against children was OK, it was “game over.”

Except those evil losers? They’re still in the game, trying to outdo each other.

Look, I don’t own a gun. I didn’t grow up with a gun culture, and I will tell you that I’m uneasy around them, period. I get that people have one, maybe more, for protection. To each his own. Some of my HS classmates would miss school during hunting season. Ok. Not my thing, but ok.

And I understand the spirit and environment under which the 2nd amendment was written, but I don’t get how we let people acquire an arsenal with the ammunition to match. These angry people are waging a war in their head until one day they snap for reasons often unknown. Are you telling me we are powerless to stop it? There is NOTHING we will do? What does it take, America?

I suppose we don’t need Hollywood types to dream up the next God-awful scenario…they will play out before our eyes. What’s next? Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? New Year’s Eve in Times Square? The next high school or college graduation gathering thousands in an open air arena? Brace yourselves folks, it’s coming. You know the next one is coming. What you don’t know is if you or someone you love will be in that crowd.

You gotta love Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

America: I beg of you, on behalf of those killed and injured and the loved ones they leave behind in Vegas, the Pulse in Orlando, Virginia Tech, San Bernadino, Aurora, and our beloved children at Sandy Hook: DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT GUNS IF YOU WANT DIFFERENT RESULTS.

God grant peace to your servants who have fallen asleep and comfort to those they leave behind.

Mrs. Burns, it’s really not what you think…

This weekend I was going through school papers for my 2nd grader.  They are learning the elements of a story as follows: beginning, detail, detail, detail, ending. It looks like his teacher has a template with five boxes and the kids are to put one sentence in each to create story.  My youngest comes home with his first one, and his teacher put a big star
“Wow!” and star in the upper right hand corner. That familiar burst of pride overtakes my heart…but this time it’s a teeny bit different because he’s a writer! I dig in for the deep read.

First box: he explains that he goes to sleep in his closet come bedtime. Second box: he introduces how he really wants to swing an axe at me and chop off my arms. Third box?  He clarifies that the object is to kill me, and the fourth and fifth box continues the story along the same lines.

Oooooohhhhhhkaaaaaaaay.  Um, Mrs. Burns? About that writing assignment….

Let’s be clear: I know exactly what he’s talking about but ya know….this little story of his is a smidge out of context for your average 2nd grade teacher.  I can’t wait for this month’s parent teacher conference!  They always save the best examples to share with you when you meet, right? Uh huh.

Plus, I’m looking at the “Wow! and the great big star she put on his work and wonder,  “Wait: did she read this? And if she read this, how is it child protective services hasn’t rung my doorbell by now?”

Let me explain: my youngest pulled a couple of big pillows into his closet, with some propped up and others like a mattress. He goes in there with a blanket, closes the doors, and plays on his mini iPad. It’s totally cozy in there. He asked if he could have a little light so he could read books in there too. Off to Target I go to get a little battery-operated light. Pop it on the wall and voila! Now he hangs out in there with his stuffed animals and books as if it were a little clubhouse. It’s so cozy, he choses to sleep in there sometimes. Ok, many times.  Ok, fine: most times, alright? He sleeps in there now.  He’s abandoned his own bed for the closet.

It really is so stinking cute. Pretty soon he will outgrow his closet but for now it’s just right like Goldilocks and the third of everything.

I used to do the same thing too when I was little. I had to share bedrooms growing up so I always found small places to play like big closets and little corners….but seeing that first line in his story? It felt so Harry Potter-banished-to-live-in-the-cupboard-under-the-stairs so I chuckled and thought, oh, I better explain that one to Mrs. Burns.

Little did I know how my son’s story would unfold. See? Karma’s already paying a visit to Louie Lodge.

The next part, well…  See, my son has downloaded a game called Bowmasters onto his iPad.  It’s a little like Angry Birds but so cartoonishly gruesome it’s funny. At least I can’t stop laughing. He BEGGED me to play it with him so I did and now I’m HOOKED.

Two characters face off, and your choices are a lumberjack, biker, evil scientist, ninja, etc. Each takes turns hurling a characteristic weapon at the other and if you hit your foe, cartoon blood quirts everywhere, and the foe loses a limb or whatever, yet he gets back up, injured as he is, and then takes his turn hurling his weapon back at his opponent. You gotta get the angle and the speed just right to hit your target. When you’ve battered your foe to near death, a big message appears on the screen “Finish him!” (We use our movie announcer voice for that.) And you get one more shot to put a glorious end to your foe.  We break down in a fit of giggles when we play it. My son is way better at the game than me. It’s just funny to watch my character hobble along trying to fight back. It’s so bad, it’s good.

So here, in his school story my son’s talking about Bowmasters but he doesn’t make it clear it’s just a silly game.

Yep, just another one of those OMG moments raising kids. I know teachers hear it all, but um….yeah. This is gonna be an interesting parent teacher conference in a few weeks.

So my dear Mrs. Burns, rest assured my youngest and I really do love each other but let’s be clear: I hurl axes and ninja stars and try to finish him off every chance I get. And then we giggle some more.

On Turning 50

In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


50! I can’t believe it. I turned 50 this year. What happened to me being the youngest? I’ve always been the youngest, in my family, among my classmates, at work…. Needless to say, a lot has changed.

I’ve been looking forward to this milestone all year. It sounds so cliched but I can’t believe I’m at this point in my life. As people often say, I don’t feel 50 in my head or my heart. Sure, I feel a lot wiser. I’m still a pretty feisty chick but I grasp motives a whole lot better and don’t overreact as I may have in the past. I feel a little bit of 50 physically, as in I seriously walked around like a little old lady yesterday as my Achilles’ tendons were so tight. Need to stretch those puppies! And other than being plump (humor me!), I’m in pretty good health.

I told my husband I wanted to go to a favorite vineyard on my birthday as it is hands down one of my favorite places. The weather was perfect for it Sunday, and we were taking the kids for the first time to show them how pretty it is, not to mention the good food and wine! Little did I know that my sisters, brothers-in-law, two nieces and their families, and our friends the Hires had gathered there to surprise me. It worked. I burst into tears at the sight of them and had extended family and friends sing to me for the first time since I was 16. What a gift.

Perhaps it is needless to say, 50 is a point of reckoning. It seems funny to me now that I had a quarter-life crisis but it’s what prompted me to take stock of what mattered, and family mattered so I moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to them and I LOVED how my life changed for the better with that move. I gained so much more with that change. While I’m not planning a change of address any time soon, I am taking stock of a lot of things.

I believe in God, in a higher power that is a force for good…and I believe every single one of us is the means to manifest that force, so the power of every one of us to focus on love and on the care of our earth, its creatures, and our brothers and sisters, is how God’s love becomes real.

My first priority will always be my immediate family and raising them to be happy, kind, brave, generous, productive young adults. They will get my time and attention before anyone else.

Then again, they say to put your own oxygen mask on first before tending to others so I realize my own health needs to be prioritized higher than it’s been. I love yoga, biking, and hiking so there will be more of that in the future.

Work is tougher to assess. I’ve always been driven to do my best, so I know there is no slacking off there. Plus the reality is I’m the breadwinner so I will do nothing to jeopardize that. But I’ve learned that some things are out of your control despite your best efforts. And right or wrong I throw SO much of myself into work that my self esteem not to mention my health takes a hit when things happen beyond my control. So my challenge moving forward is to do my best always but not put all my eggs in that basket. Time to diversify the use of my talents.

I’m not gonna talk about what there will be less of…it’s not even worth mentioning.

There will be…

  • More writing. I have a book in me for sure. And this blog is a step in that direction.
  • More travel. I love travel anyway, but I really took it to another level this year. I am rejuvenated and enriched every time I go, junkie that I am, and I want my kids to see the places I’ve been…relive each venue through their eyes and discover new places together.
  • More photos to capture the precious people in my life.
  • More charity: we give in small ways but I want to find ways to expand what and how we give.
  • More flowers. Ready to stick my hands in dirt.
  • More friends. Hopefully a season of loneliness that has gripped me for more than a decade is over. I’m a friendly introvert who has kept things pretty close to the chest for a while now but it’s time for a different tact.
  • More growth. Spiritually for sure but really every kind. Growth is hard-wired into me.
  • More hiking and biking with fresh air and trees.
  • More meditation and prayer. It calms me and gives me perspective…helps me set my intention for how I move through and love in this world.
  • More yoga: stretching ought to be the theme for the next decade. I’ve already made good on that as a new, beautiful yoga studio has opened in town.
  • More love and laughter. Everyone can use more love and laughter. And celebrations, even little ones.

Making every moment from here out matter.

What does it mean to be beautifully broken?

The Japanese have a word: Japanese_technique_of_kintsugi_gold_leaf1-e1470131248721kinsugi. Wikipedia describes it as the art and philosophy of repairing a broken object with elegance and grace using gold or silver, not hiding the imperfection but honoring and embracing it as part of the history of the object. This “golden joinery” turns the flaw into something unique and quite more beautiful than before because now, something precious shines through the cracks.

It’s a useful metaphor for so many of us, isn’t it? Some strive for perfection but find it unattainable or maybe unsustainable. Some of us desperately want others to believe we lead perfect lives despite the shame we feel over our flaws. Some of us lived charmed lives that were shattered by fastballs from nowhere. Sometimes our pain remains buried because we have no way to tell our story. Some of us bring it on ourselves because we think we’re not worthy, regardless of where that idea sprouted. Some of us awaken to the realization that we are held back: quieted, stifled. And yet there are some among us who are startled to discover we have outgrown our own skin. The cracks form from within and burst forth with a blinding light, as you see in the photo of Expansion, the mesmerizing sculpture by Paige Bradley.

No matter how or where you are broken, the choice is yours whether to be the artist and apply the gold. It’s so easy to stay broken. It’s so incredibly easy to dwell in the negative, and focus on anger, on what’s not fair, or what went wrong, or what’s wrong with you, and let it define you, as if this is fundamentally who you are.  I know how easy it is to stay broken.

It’s not to say things don’t go awry. There isn’t a human alive who has escaped disappointment, injustice, or trauma…  Grief is real and necessary and cleansing, but the question is whether you dwell there and let it crush you or channel it to lift yourself and others. They tell us that life isn’t what happens to us but how we respond to it. No matter what: deliberately work toward creating beauty in those fissures, large or small, that now exist in yourself, your loved ones, or your community.

It is a noble way to live, weaving gold through whatever empty spaces we find and let it shine. I try to live with a perspective that is all about the gold, the art of finding positivity, grace, humor, and beauty no matter what happens. We’re all broken but do you see, do you create, beauty in it?

If that resonates with you, welcome to the club.

Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Thanks to Facebook, I discovered I really am a writer.  I’ve had numerous friends and family implore me to start a blog, start writing for real, based on the stuff I have posted online, so here goes. It’s a new dawn.  post

This is actually take three (three!) as far as blogs go. The first one began a few years ago but then I felt self-conscious and pulled it down. The second one started about 18 months ago, and I never told anyone about it. So, yeah….

What will it be about? Anything and everything… Ah, being an older first-time mom raising a family. Raising that family by deliberately and actively sharing our values with them. Navigating self-doubt as a professional woman. Travel. Trying to figure out what I want to be when I “grow up”. Overcoming naivety having been sheltered growing up. The battle of the introvert and extrovert inside of me. Love in all its many forms. Our consumer culture. What it means to cultivate beauty. Losing both parents relatively young. Friendship. Picking up and moving, and trying to get settled in a new town time and again. Loneliness. Getting married for the first time in my mid-30s. Melanoma. The state of our country. God and church and spirituality. Life is gym class. Personal growth. Various nerd alerts. Happiness. Race. Priorities. My love of everything Pittsburgh. Tough lessons learned. Daily gratitude. Overcoming depression and battling stress. Finances. Hopes and dreams for my kids. Artistry. Homemaking. Legacy.

You know…the every day stuff. Did I forget anything? lol

Thanks for coming along for the ride.


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