When Mother's Day is Just A Day

 It's an odd feeling, really.

The day used to take up so much space in my life. There were plans to be made and coordinated. When my brother lived nearby he and his wife hosted both sets of parents for events like Mother's Day so I focused on bringing my part of the lunch.

And, of course finding the right gift and card.  

After my brother and sister-in-law moved out of state, the hosting duties became mine. I enjoyed planning the lunch. Cleaning the house to Geraldine standards? Not so much.

Odd that a day that took up so much space in my life is now just a day.

Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe your mom has died, or maybe dementia has steadily slipped her away from the life you shared together. And Sunday will be oddly empty.

For other women there's more pain than emptiness. It's the first year without your mom. Or the first year since the terrible reality became real to you, and you know that you will never have a son or daughter making macaroni jewelry (is that still a...

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Wasting Your Time Looking For Closure

closure grief healing loss May 03, 2019

The article title on Facebook caught my eye:

When Closure Eludes You

You knew I was going to have to say something, didn't you. And you were right.

Over and over again I get asked about closure. How long before I reach it? When will I know that I have it?

Here's the truth, folks. There is no such thing.

Closure implies that we can tie things up with a neat bow (finally.) The case is closed. We pack up the notes into the file box and store it in the closet. Only it doesn't happen that way.

We never reach closure when we lose someone in our lives whom we loved, whether it was the child whom we carried but never held or the loved one whose hand we would gladly hold forever. But that doesn't mean that we don't heal.

Our lives will never be as they were had we not had this loss. As a hospital chaplain I often talk with patients in their seventies and eighties. It's striking to me how often the conversation is about their parents. They want to tell me about who they were and how they...

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When People Aren't Exceptions

It seemed innocuous enough.

It was one of those internet articles shared in a Facebook group I’m in. The article focused on emotional changes that happen in your life when your parents are gone. Having buried both of my parents, I was interested in what the author had to say.

Some of it was just plain malarkey, like “You no longer feel like your accomplishments matter.” Yes, I miss being able to share accomplishments with my parents, especially my dad who was easily impressed.

 (As my mom declined I started taking meals to them more often. One night I brought roast beef and potatoes that I’d cooked in the Crockpot. My father said it was delicious and asked where I’d gotten it. I told him that I’d made it. “You know how to do that?” he asked, his voice full of wonder that I could accomplish such a thing.)

Even without my parents, though, I’m proud of what I do. I have friends and other family members with whom I celebrate. My...

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Grieving for Half a Minute

Like many others around the world, I watched in horror this week as the Cathedral of Nature Dame in Paris burned.

It was inconceivable to me that the church that had stood for 900 years might not be standing any more. Of course, the French firefighters did an amazing job, and the cathedral builders - being well aware of the dangers of fire - had done an amazing job as well, so more was saved than we once thought possible.

As we watched the flames consume the roof, we didn't know that something good was going to be part of the ending. Like many people,  I reached out online to express both my shock and my sadness. Many friends posted pictures of Notre Dame from their visits to Paris, and I lamented that I'd ever have the same experience.

Friends were quick to reassure me, just as people around the world had been quick to reassure each other. They'll rebuild it. You'll still see it. It will rise from the ashes.

Because, you see, that's what we do with grief. We don't want people...

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Grief creeps into the cracks

Grief finds shape in absence...

the lack of dressing made just so, 

of sweet potato casseroles 

and broccoli casseroles

and a square of Jell-o salad.


Grief finds expression in silence,

missing the sounds of voices stilled or too far distant,

the silence too orderly without the chaos of children,

a dog's collar no longer jingling.


Grief creeps into the cracks

where tradition and ritual used to be...

Christmas morning.

Thanksgiving afternoon.

Broken and maybe even mended

yet as grief is wont to nag,

never again the same.


We think of grief as big and bold

announcing itself on a timetable

and fitting itself into schedule.


But sometimes it comes


tumbling into our moments.

And what else can we do

but hold our suddenly tender hearts

and breathe.





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She's not crazy; she's just sad

After the fire, no one quite knew what to do with her. Madonna Badger lost her three children and both of her parents in that home fire, and it seemed like she'd lost herself as well. 

She was shuffled from treatment center to treatment center, all of them trying to fight a mental illness they couldn't quite get their hands around. Nothing got better for her.

No one knew what to do with her.

Until a doctor in Arkansas spoke up.

"She's not crazy. She's just sad."

Well, of course she was. She had to be unimaginably sad. We understand that the grief of a parent burying a child is beyond all expected experience. Badger buried all three of hers. Along with her parents.

The generation before her and the generation her after both gone in an instant. She's not crazy. She's just sad.

I don't know why all of those other doctors and nurses missed it. I'm glad someone finally noticed.

For all of the brilliance to the Inside Out movie, a lot of folks (including professionals) are still...

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When Your Fear is Stronger Than Your Faith

We make it harder on ourselves.

I do it; I suspect you do it as well.

It's not enough that we're facing something that has our hearts beating a little faster and our nights a little more restless. It's not enough that life has opened the door and fear has sauntered in.

Nope, we have to add to it. Once the door is open we ask Fear to bring a cousin or two along. We're afraid, and we're afraid that being afraid means that we're not really that great of a Christian.

And if we can't pas this test, well then, what good are we? Maybe we're just lukewarm Christians or backsliders or whatever name you want to call yourself when you feel like you're not measuring up.

Look, I'll tell you this as true as I know it.

Some things in life are just plain scary. Getting the call that something just wasn't quite right with that test and can you come back in for more tests? Oh, and make it as soon as you can. We have an opening  tomorrow.

Or you blinked and that person you thought was going to be...

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How to Fire Your Grief Grader

depression feelings grief loss Oct 31, 2017

"I think I'm doing it wrong," he says to me.

He's had a loss in his life, and he's grieving. That means that sometimes he feels lost. Or sad. Or angry and frustrated. Or numb.

'Cause, you know... he's grieving.

But he's worried that he's not doing it right. Surely things would be more orderly. Or his brain wouldn't be so mushy and unreliable. Or he'd just be done by now 'cause you know, it's been five whole months.

He's not only suffering from grief. He's suffering from the grief grader. It's that little voice in your head (and sometimes not so little) that says that You Are Doing It Wrong.

I tell my clients that no one I know has ever flunked grief. There are days in which we march bravely into the abyss, allowing ourselves to feel every heartbreaking, soul shattering feeling. And there are times in which  we cushion ourselves against such feelings with ice cream and Netflix marathons.

The former doesn't mean we are flunking the latter. It just means that sometimes we need a...

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How Steel Magnolias Transformed a Family's Grief

Imagine you've had a loss and come to me asking how you should find your way through the grief. I have my answer ready for you.

"Take the next ten days and write a record breaking play about your experience, which will then be made into a much beloved movie."

Rightly, you might not come back again.

And yet, that's precisely what Robert Harling did, writing Steel Magnolias a few months after the death of his sister, Susan, from complications from diabetes.

Harlin's grief was complicated by the fact that Susan's husband remarried a few months after her death. Harling feared their young son wouldn't know the story of his mother and her courage.

A playwright friend suggested that he write about it.

Such a saga of strength and tolerance had gone on, and I kept saying, “This kid won’t know anything about it.” I wasn’t a writer, so I fought that demon for a while and then one day I said, “Why not?” I’d planned to write a short story, and I was a...

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When Your Mother's Day Is Empty: Getting through the day

"When's Mother's Day?" he asked me and I had to think. I wasn't sure.

It used to be a day circled on my calendar. I used to spend my time searching for the right present and cleaning the house and dreaming up a menu for lunch.

Now it slips up on me.

My mother is gone, this year marking nine years since we last celebrated Mother's Day. I have no children of my own. Nothing is circled on my calendar.

Maybe you know the feeling.

  • Your mom has died, either recently or a lifetime ago.
  • Or you never had the kind of mom you want to honor or can bring yourself to love.
  • Or you struggle with infertility and are tired of the questions about when you guys are going to get with the program and start your family.
  • Or you never had a chance to have children.
  • Or you lost a child before that child was born.
  • Or you lost a child after holding them in your arms.

If any of these things are true for you, Mother's Day can be tough. Here are some tips for navigating the holiday.

Number One and the Thing You...

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