I remember walking between Mom’s room and Carolyn’s listening to the sound of their breathing during those precious last weeks.

You know those moments as a mother when you tiptoe up to the corner of your baby’s bed just to make sure that the next breath comes…

I would see the rise and fall of Carolyn’s chest, listen to that sweet baby breath…


I would stand in the doorframe of my mother’s room doing the same thing and knowing that at some point in the near future the next breath wouldn’t come.

I split time between the newness of my baby girls’ life

And the expiration of my mother’s drawing ever closer.

If I stood in just the right spot I could hear them both breathing…  The fresh intake of breath into the new lungs of my babe.

The labored exhales of my mother fighting for each moment

Each in their own rhythm.

I held my breath to hear theirs.

The very air of that house utterly sacred.


The baby and I lay on her bed one night—the three of us snuggled close together, breath mingling.

She said, “Oh Val.  This is perfect.  Just perfect.  To have you both here next to me.”

Perfection indeed.  I don’t know that I have tasted sweeter perfection since.


I lay on her grave two nights ago thinking of all she’s missed in seven years.  The delight she would take in Lainey stump-stump stumping around with a look of happy innocence perpetually on her face.  The way she would giggle at her closing her eyes to shut out the world when she gets angry.

I wonder at the ways she’d have seen my children and taught me to see them.

I ache at the tally of milestones that she missed.

I consider the woman I have become in her absence and muse that I wouldn’t be who I am in her presence.

Seven years later life is what it is without her.  There are pieces of it that exist only because of her absence.

It is still sweet.  Still full of goodness.  Still so beautiful.

But it is markedly changed.


It is the job of all daughters to separate from their mothers.  To become other and distinct.

I cook her recipes.  I say the F-word enough to keep it comfortable on my tongue.  I watch her TV shows to keep her at the surface of me.

But I emerge still my own person.  An amalgam of who I was with her and who I have become without her.

I think of her when an evening breeze cools me in the evening.  When a good old-timey country song comes on the radio.  When I hear people ranting about politics or when someone tells me the answer to a problem is just to tell ‘em to fuck off.

I am like her and unlike her.  More confident and less confident.  Unsure of myself in the same ways and comfortable in who I am in different ones.

She made me but she is not all that made me.


Seven.  Such a long time to have passed for me to still feel that I have only just kissed her good night.


Happy Continuings

It’s been a while since I’ve written here even for a Five Minute Friday, but when I saw the prompt sitting here bleary-eyed in a hotel room( after driving for hours last night trying to find one that had an open room) on our way back to the NIH for testing, I knew I had to write this one.

I’m sitting at a desk in a hotel three-quarters of the way through the state of Ohio headed back to the NIH for testing and a general ‘check-up.’  I have not been thrilled about this trip. But I write the script of this story and instead of ‘trip to the NIH for testing’ I can frame it as ‘Road trip with my husband with time in an MRI tube as bonus.’

Before going this direction I returned to my home town to drop my kiddos off with their grandparents.  As I was driving the back roads home from the grocery store watching the glory of a hot and humid Illinois sunset–a Glowing Red Orb hovering over the horizon which is flat as the lines on a piece of notebook paper–It occurred to me:

Things have been hard.  Yes, they have.  My story has been one with twists and turns I never imagined, with plot lines that stretched me to near bursting.  With words that were hard to pronounce.  Deployment and grief and unexpected illness.

But right now–here–in this part of the story.  I am happy.  I am!  Happy!  Happy to have gotten through what I have.  Happy for the growth God has wrought in me as a result.  Happy that I continue to learn how to persevere even in the midst of challenges and uncertainties.  And happy that because these challenges have knocked at my door, life feels richer, I am stronger, and with halting steps and stumbles I continue living this story, learning to co-author it with God with my own flair and trust in His sometimes breath-stealing plot lines.  I continue to learn how to see.