Dear Dr. C,

Dear Dr. C,

Eight years ago, I sat in your office trembling…  Because I was going to have to ask for help.  I was going to have to talk about things I didn’t want to talk about.  I was going to have to say the word ‘depression’ out loud.

And I did.  And I promptly ran away from it and denied that it could have anything to do with me.

You didn’t run away from it.  Or from me and my tears and my over-talking and my telling you about a few years worth of grief and challenge.

You listened.  You handed me a tissue.  And then you helped me want to get better.

There are these holy moments that happen during our ordinary days.  Both of us thought that visit would be pretty ordinary.  I mean, I knew it would be uncomfortable and that it was a big step to ask for help…  but I also knew that it was a 15 minute appointment in the middle of your day that was crammed full of appointments.

You couldn’t have known that the words that you would say that day would be words I called up continually 8 years later.  Or that you shared such wisdom and such insight into my life that day that I would use the same wisdom and insight to unpack events that would happen far into the future.

I must have seemed like a tea pot just hissing and spitting out water uncontrollably at you that day.  I cried.  I recounted the two years prior–the deployments.  Losing my Mom. Her illness. Being pregnant and all the memories it stirred up.

As much as I didn’t want it to be depression, I didn’t want it to be grief even more.  And you called me out on it.

You watched my body language.  You said you saw me actually try to push the words down and away from me as I told you that it wasn’t grief I was dealing with.

I was so angry that my body betrayed me to you.

But I have always felt a sense of grateful awe that you paid such close attention.

You said the word “bereavement,” and I recoiled…

I was supposed to be over the grief by then, I thought.  Only two years out from losing my Mama and I wanted it to be “over.”

You told me there was no finish line….  and that it was ok that I wasn’t through this yet.  You said it wasn’t a race and that there was all the time in the world to feel what I needed and get to the other side.

And then you cast a vision for me….  You helped me look forward in a place where all I could do was look back…  and then see where I was in that moment and feel stuck.  Just so very stuck in depression and sadness and things I just couldn’t seem to get over.

You helped me believe that it could be better and that happier moments were coming.

You told me that day, “Val.  You have faced a lot of challenges.  I can see that.  And I believe that in the not too distant future, you are going to look back at this time and say, ‘I got through that too.'”

I have echoed those words more times than I can count.  I have said it to women who were battling with postpartum illnesses.  I have said it to friends who were overwhelmed with challenges.

I have said it to myself when the mountains loomed high and my fear felt even higher.

I have gone over and over those words that happened in that one simple office visit for eight years now.  But I have also referenced those words in conversations with others, in speeches, and at retreats.

Holy moments that echoed deeply into the future that came out of you just doing your job.  Listening.  Paying attention.  Taking the time to be compassionate.

8 years later, and you no longer practice medicine here.  In fact, I heard through the grapevine that you aren’t even in the state anymore.

But tonight as I reference your wisdom yet again and think about that day and how deeply caught and cared for I felt, gratitude springs up in me.  And I desperately want the chance to just say THANK YOU.

Thank you for showing up.  Thank you for doing your job well.  Thank you for practicing the kind of medicine that sees people–even in a system that tends to push people through like an assembly line of illness.

You did cast a vision for me that day, and I grabbed on and held tight for dear life.  Your words stayed with me and have reverberated into other challenges.  You helped me get through cancer with those words–and that was years before I’d even feel a lump.  You gave me those words to call on during deployments, and other bouts of depression.

You reminded me that life would be a string of “I got through that too,” and that rather than that meaning that life was a string of challenges, it would mean that life was a string of triumphs.

Dr. C, wherever you are I hope you know that you make a difference.  I hope you are still showing up with compassion and really listening.  I hope your detective skills and your perceptiveness of body language is still just as keen.

It was an ordinary moment on what, I assume, was a very ordinary day of office visits for you.

But it changed my life in ways that continue to echo on.

It was the definition of the holy ordinary.

That’s what real healing looks like.  That’s good medicine.

With gratefulness,


The Power of Moms

Moms are amazing.

Over the last few months I have had occasion more than once to worry about things going on with my kids.  My worry radar got so loud a few times that it was deafening and I started casting it out hoping to get any signal back in return.
I checked in with experts, and some of them have been very helpful.  They gave me information and systems to try and some of them even worked.
But it’s been the Moms in my life who have come through.  Who heard the blipping of my signal and listened to me pour out my worries and fears and insecurities and instead of glancing over them, helped me to know I wasn’t alone in them.  Then they told me what worked for THEM.  They told me their story.  They told me about the times that they felt hopeless, and then the progress that they made from that point.  They told me about times that things went well and times that they really didn’t.
It’s been the Moms in my life who have said, “You know, I don’t have the answer to that, but let me connect you to someone who does,” and invariably the person that they connected me to was ANOTHER MOM.
Moms research tirelessly, they get fierce when something is hurting their babies and they strike back not with claws and teeth (well, sometimes with claws and teeth too), but with information sought out and hard-won.  They fight with trial and error.  They fight with their guts and intuition.

And then they are willing to invite other Moms paddling in the same boat into their own experience.

The thing is, there is nothing that will move you to action more than seeing your kid struggle and not knowing what to do about it.  And there is no one who can understand how that breaks your heart for your child and brings up core questions about who you are as a parent, like another Mom.

So thank you Moms in my life.  Some of you are people who I barely know, or know only because we were both stumbling around for help for our kids and ourselves and ran into one another.  Some of you are friends who have walked with me a long time and who have helped me know time and time again that I am not alone in this journey of raising kids–I hope I’ve been able to tell you the same a time or two.

Thank you for loving your kids with fire and passion and a desire to move mountains when they get in the way of your kids health and happiness.

And thank you for hearing the blips of another Mom’s worry radar and sitting with her until she feels ready to stand up and say “I got this.”

We do got this.  Because we do it together.

A Proposal for Mother’s Day

History of Mother’s Day

As I am wont to do every year at this time, I have been pondering Mother’s Day.

Since my Mom died….  almost ten years ago (how is that possible?) the day has been a hard one for me.  When I look for cards for the other people in my life who have mothered me or my family, I can’t help but feel socked in the gut by mising her.  It’s a hole that I feel all the time, even though I funcion well around it most of the time  But when this day on the calendar comes around I stub my toe on what I am missing over and over and over again.

Pain almost always opens the doorway to empathy for others if we let it.  Feeling the pain of missing my Mom on Mother’s Day opened my eyes to others for whom the day was less than celebratory.  Before long I realized that my friends who were dealing with infertility felt their own empty arms more acutely on this day.  That my friends who had lost babies missed the hand-made cards with crayon and backward letters.  My friends who had chosen not to be mother’s felt de-valued and were reminded again that society inflates motherhood in a way that can make a woman feel invisible if she doesn’t have a child.

I have friends who had difficult relationships with their mothers or who were abandoned by them.  This day stings for them too.  I have friends whose husband’s are deployed and the person who would normally lead the charge in celebrating them isn’t there.

I’ve come to believe that almost any holiday is a double-edged sword for some people, but Mother’s Day seems to be a day which can cut especially deep.

But….  BUT…  Mother’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of women who deserve to be celebrated.  And each year when I’ve felt mopey or expressed the difficulties of the day there was another voice that whispered, “Lighten up!  It’s just a day about appreciating people!  Should the amazing mother’s of the world not be appreciated simply because a Hallmark Holiday is painful for several subgroups of people?”

In fact, proposing to do anything but happily celebrate Mother’s Day can actually be pretty controversial.  And that makes sense I guess.  There is a reason “Your Momma” jokes end in fist-fights so often, right?  I learned this the hard way this year when a sharing of my favorite Author’s sentiments on the subject of the difficulty of Mother’s Day rapid cycled into name-calling and anger and “I’ll celebrate Mom’s if I want!” type sentiments.

It took me a while to pinpoint why it was that the defensiveness bothered me so, but finally I did.  I realized that what that communicated to me was that in the name of clinging to the celebration of the day, people were deliberately choosing to overlook the expressed pain of others who struggled with the day.

And that led me to the idea of Support.  Because I don’t know a woman in the world who isn’t in need of support in one way or another.

What if the day wasn’t just a day of Celebration but also a day of Support?

This is what I’m proposing…  for myself at least.

For this Mother’s Day and the ones that follow, I want to focus on honoring and supporting the women in my life.  In my mind, and on my calendars I am going to cross off ‘Mother’s Day’ and make it ‘Support All the Women!’ day.

And to celebrate this auspiciously and personally re-named holiday I am going to do things like…  Bring Ice Cream to the daughters of my dear friend who passed away this year.  Because I know this Mother’s Day is going to hit them hard.

I am going to send cards and flowers and gifts to the women in my family who love me and my babies so well as Mothers and Grammas.

I am going to listen to my friend who speaks out about her choice to be childless and how she finds her highest happiness and feels the most herself because of, not in spite of, that choice.

I am going to celebrate and thank the women around me who give birth to ideas, and beauty, and the affecting of change in the world around me each and every day….  whether or not they have also birthed children.

I am going to enjoy the cards that my babies make and the flowers that they pick for me.  When my husband is home, I will revel in that, and when he isn’t I’ll revel in the love he sends me across the miles.

I am going to reach out to those, who like me, are missing their mother’s.

I am going to reach out to those who I know are battling infertility.  Or who have been pierced by the loss of a child.

I am going to choose to see all the facets of the women in my life and all the ways in which a day focused on the role of Motherhood impacts them.  Because let’s face it, Motherhood is as often villainized as it is venerated.

And I am just going to simply choose love on this day, which has been historically hard for me.  And in doing so, I think I will find the feelings of celebration that I’ve felt so guilty for overshadowing for the last several years.

Women in My Life:  Know this.  I see you.  I appreciate and celebrate you.  I love you.  I want to hear the hard of this day–and others.  I want to celebrate with you the joys that this day brings!  I want to shout out loud all the ways you birth life and ideas and creativity into the world.  I want to weep with you, and laugh with you, and be with you, and SUPPORT you.

Because above all else.  Regardless of choices or life circumstances, we ALL need support, and love, and to be seen right where we are.

Mrs. S’s Opus

Recently, my high school PE teacher came onto the Facebook scene.  She was THAT teacher.  The one that everybody loved not because she was lenient or “fun” but because she just cared that much.  And she was a PE teacher who made you feel good about yourself even when you sucked at PE  (ask me how I know).  She would wade right into the awkward and hard discussions that you needed to have in High School, but most adults wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole.  Everybody wanted her as a confidante and confessor.  And I think that was largely why during my junior year when her co-teacher died (and he could be a whole other post ) , she left teaching and didn’t come back.  It wasn’t just his death, but it was all of the brokeness that she held for all the students who came into her office.  It clean broke her open and she wasn’t sure she could recover from it.  I remember her sitting in the vestibule between the locker room and the gym just weeping the morning after we found out the news.  I remember the vacantness in her eyes and the feeling that something was irreparably shattered.  She kept showing up for us the rest of the year…. but the next year she didn’t come back.

So anyway, she is on Facebook after all of these years and a bunch of us found her immediately–most likely because we’ve all been searching her name and doing low-level stalking to touch base with her.   It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on the vapid landscape of Facebook, to watch her interacting with former students.  She posted  a profile photo last week in which she is still looking so lovely and young.  And when people said so and someone asked her secret she said, “Well, my dear G, it is the opportunity to choose the outfit, pose, lighting etc. that helps a bunch. It also doesn’t hurt to move early and often, hydrate, sunscreen, have the luxury of working half time, yoga, looking for the good, prayer, hubby that keeps me sane, writing notes to lift others up, give legit compliments, have lovely children and family, oh, and Oil of Olay twice a day. I bet you are sorry you asked, eh?” which I just so stinking loved.

I’m watching all of these people from my past say the same thing, “You have no idea how you changed my life.  You were so kind.  I am different because you cared about me.”  And it’s the poor kids and the kids who had plenty.  It’s the band geeks and the FFA kids.  It’s the special ed. kids and the honor students.  The nerds and the popular kids.  There are names there of people who I have long put on my ‘chronically mean, don’t look back’ list, because they were the villains in my story of high school, that are saying all the same things as the rest of us.   I’m fascinated by that because they needed her just as much (probably more) than the rest of us and she SAW that and GOT it and didn’t put labels on them like I did, and have retained to this day.

That makes me challenge some of those labels and question why I’ve held onto them so long.  Truly those people who were the villains in my high school story were also just awkward teenagers, trying to make sense of the world with hormones and acne and heartache and the margins of our small town crashing in against us all.  My eyes are softer this evening even just considering that.

When she left teaching she went on to work in the university setting doing wellness programs for faculty, I think.  She found a way to balance passion with taking care of herself.  I suspect part of her felt guilty for going.  I suspect that maybe things she went on to pursue never quite lit her up as much as her years in teaching did….  But I also suspect her heart was given the chance to heal and she found gracious space as a result.   She is the kind of person who would push back the darkness in any setting and I have no doubt that she continued to change lives with her authentic and radical kindness.

Mind-blowing really, what kindness can do and how lasting the effects of it can be.  It doesn’t seem to be a power house.  It’s easy to blow off and brush by, but when a person just plain chooses to like you without reservations or labels or judgement, amazing transformation can begin to take place.

I’m watching Mrs. S’s Opus unfold on Facebook, and it’s a glorious melody.  Would that we could all change our corners of the world as she has.

Coming Home

I need to come back to something.

To myself.  To my own voice.  To steadiness.

I feel like I’ve spent the last couple of years thinking that I was finding myself, only to lose myself in something else altogether.  Which sounds really over dramatic, but probably just comes down to the fact that I let myself work too much.

I don’t know how to push the words around right now.  So much of the stories that I am living and walking through aren’t mine to tell.  So much sticks in my throat.

I’m sifting through pieces of me that are less than flattering.  A desire to feel important.  This tendency to unbalance.  Flaws in the ways I relate to people I care about.

And so I find myself coming back to this space where I have thought and wrestled and processed.

I don’t know how to push the words around.  But I hope that maybe this might again be a space where through my words, I will find my way home.

I get broken

I haven’t blogged in ages, but I couldn’t not join in with today’s prompt.

Because well…  Broken is a thing that I get.

And it’s a thing that I am.

Quite literally in fact….  You see, on Tuesday I was being a fun Mom and helping my girls put on a ball in the garage.  And then there were some shenanigans and I was playing chase with A.  I turned quickly, stepped down wrong on my foot and crashed to the ground.  My knee was pretty banged up and the girls were impressed with the blood.  But I’d heard a snap when I landed and my foot felt pretty Rotten.

I watched it that evening hoping against hope that it was just a bad sprain.  The next morning I still couldn’t put any weight on it so in to the ER we went.

Yep.  It’s broken.

And the best part is…  my hubby heads out to sea for a month this weekend.


I want to tell you that I’m taking it all in a stride.  I want to tell you that we’ve seen worse than this so I know I can get through this.  You know…  tumors, depression, a year of debilitating back pain.  I mean, we’ve got this right?

But I’m kind of undone with the thought of  facing down three girls and a month on my own while I hobble around on crutches.

So broken is something that I get.  And it’s something that I am so much more often than I want to be.

I will hold my own some how or another.  I will ask for help from friends.  I will pray that nothing happens that requires driving until I have a boot cast and am able to.

And I guess I’ll have to lean in again and trust that God’s abundance will meet me here too.

Wish I hads

I wish I’d understood that my mother was dying much sooner than I did.

Words like ‘terminal’ are hard to wrap your hands around.  I was furious with the word ‘palliative’ that preceded all the treatment options that she had.  “Palliative radiation, palliative chemotherapy, palliative pain control.”

I’d seen enough Lifetime and made-for-TV movies that I thought I knew how the script should go.  I’d read enough blurbs in TV Guide to know how the story should play you.  There would be words like, “Beat incredible odds,” and “Triumphed over a desperate diagnosis.”  I was just sure of it.

My mom knew, I think, from the start that those movies weren’t going to be made about her.  I thought this was depression.  I remember putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to ‘bring her hope,’ as she grappled with her reality.  And this was not a bad choice.  To maintain hope in the face of stage IV cancer is always a good thing, and as things went downhill and Mom was on hospice I can remember clearly understanding that “hope” just looked different now.

Just the same, I think in my fog of denial I missed a lot of opportunities to hear my mother voice exactly where she was.  I think I missed the chance to better prepare myself for what was going to happen.

I remember retorting to her when she was in a particularly foul mood, “Mom, just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you get to be snippy.”  She answered back in characteristic fashion, “Well when the hell do I get to be snippy or whatever the hell I want to be, if NOT when I have cancer?”

I remember when she would brave the topic of her funeral and arrangements–a topic that I remember handling with calm that I didn’t know I could muster–that I would always tie things up with, “But remember we don’t want to have to use these plans anytime soon.”

I thought I was being helpful and positive and showing her that we weren’t going down without a fight.

Now I wonder if I only denied her a safe place to talk about what was coming.  I wonder if I cheated us both out of the chance to connect  there.

To be fair we were all protecting ourselves with a fair dose of denial.  The doctor kept cranking out options and possibilities and Mom lit up at the idea of our spending Christmas with her (God how we both wanted that Christmas).

The weekend before Mom was signed into hospice was when it truly hit me that this was a battle we weren’t going to win.  My Aunt was there and we’d started the downward spiral of waking up to some new horror every day.  Mom’s mobility was lost–she couldn’t leave the house without a wheel-chair.  The pain worsened.  She became frail.  Her body couldn’t keep up with the fluid that was building up and she puffed up, and then she quit taking in fluids and her skin sunk in. Things had changed in increments and I didn’t fully see them.  My Aunt was there at that point and I’m so grateful she was there to talk me through the reality that my Mom was dying and it would be soon.

I was only 24 and my husband was on a boat far away and I had a new born baby to take care of and the thought of my Mom not being in the world anymore and not being there to walk me forward into adulthood was too much for me to bear.

And so I hid from reality.  And I chirped platitudes and perkiness.  No, not always (because really when have I ever been perky?).  There were nights of lying on the bed with her rubbing her back as she cried and tried to writhe away from the pain, and nights sitting with her in the living room listening to whatever came into her head…  The delicious breeze coming through the door, baseball games and chewing gum when she was a kid, taking her younger brother and sister to see Mary Poppins, how adorable her sweet grand-daughter’s toes were.  I showed up the best I could and those memories for me are priceless.  I continue to count being with her and helping to care for her at the end of her life as one of my life’s greatest privileges.

I know that I did the best I could with the information and resources I had at the time.  I know I held up remarkably well.  I had the wisdom of a 24-year-old who had never been through something so devastatingly massive and now I have the wisdom of a 32-year-old and hindsight to school me.

But I desperately wish I could have the memory of meeting her there in the fear and the sadness and the finality and the acceptance of it.  I wish I could have loved her in that way.  She needed someone to meet her there.  How lonely it must have been to be surrounded by people denying the reality that was staring them plain in the face.

Hindsight is 20/20 and this isn’t exactly one of those lessons that you can learn from and go out and immediately apply to the next situation.  To be honest, it’s not a lesson I *want* to apply anywhere, anytime soon.  We didn’t get our Lifetime TV movie ending.  Not by a long-shot and almost 8 years later all I can do is offer myself grace for the ‘Wish I hads’ that I still have lingering in my heart.

I have no pithy wrap up to this post or ‘bring it around and spin it’ that I can do. We all have our own ‘Wish I hads’ and today, when I look back, these are just a few of mine.