Saturday, August 5, 2017

Finding the Silver Lining

Today is August 5—the most painful anniversary in the world. For me there is no escaping the memory from that night in 2009 when I sat in a field next to my daughter, her body covered by a stark white sheet. She was returning home from watching Michael Phelps compete in Federal Way when a father coming home from work T-boned the car carrying my daughter. Sitting in the back seat, she bore the brunt of the impact and was killed instantly. 

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Eight years later, my life has changed so much. What began as a personal journey through the belly of hell ended with the birth of myself as a new person—a better person—and a female CEO. An entrepreneur driven not by profit margins and business plans, but by the need to use my pain to help others find hope. 

Over the years I’ve learned that nearly everyone in the world carries some kind of internal pain, and simple kindness, compassion and love are all they need to turn their pain into a life worth living.

In looking back on my own journey through the belly of hell, I experienced many moments when I wasn’t sure I would—or could—survive. Some days I didn’t want to. But I held on to the belief that there had to be a bigger picture, a silver lining of some sort. And there was. 

The loss of my daughter led to the birth of me as a new woman, one with passion to teach, lead, and educate. And inspire hope.

As I drink my morning coffee on this eighth anniversary of Aly's death, I reflect on how life ended that night eight years ago, and a new one was born. A 1983 graduate from Sehome High School, I wasn’t voted Most Likely to Succeed. Nor did I set out to teach, lead, and inspire. But since my painful rebirth and discovering that manure is a powerful fertilizer, I’ve learned a powerful lesson: she who heals others heals herself.

To read about the night I found myself at the door of hell click here.

What I didn't know then is that I would emerge a much better version of myself. 

That's the best silver lining of all. XOXO


Saturday, July 22, 2017

I love this article published in Little Things about how a nursing student who died visited her sister in a dream to tell her about a missing cell phone.


When Aly's accident happened, I so badly wanted to find her phone, too. It's such an intimate part of a teenager's life, and was a connection to her I couldn't bear to live without. Kind friends and even strangers searched the crash site a few times without luck. I hung on to every bit and piece of debris they found, but still no phone.

Losing a loved one leaves us scrambling to collect every scribble, crumb, bandage and thread they ever touched, wore, held, or was in someway connected to. But a phone holds so much more.

It holds snapshots of our loved one's life . . . every text message, silly game, or funny photo. Even the screen, buttons, and phone case leave behind fingerprints of energy that weave into an invisible string of love our heart feels deeply.

After the crash, as family, friends, and teammates surrounded our family and held vigil on our patio, every new person who came down our driveway represented hope that maybe Aly's phone had finally been found.

And then against the odds, on day 10, it had. By then both cars had been removed from the crash site and towed to be investigated, and that's when they found Aly's phone....in the engine under the hood.

I've often wondered how a phone can go from the hand of a 15-year-old girl sitting in the backseat to the car's engine, and be discovered 10 days later after it had been towed 10 miles away. What are the chances?

Some might find nothing strange about that. But I know my girl.

Aly knew how badly her mama wanted her cellphone to hold, hug, and cry over. To read and reread every text message, silly game, and funny photo. And I did . . . for years.

We still have Aly's phone, and every so often I still look at it, hold it, and cry over the fingerprints and energy she left behind. In those moments is when I feel the familiar tug of the invisible string of love that is now anchored permanently in my heart.

Aly's phone was found 10 days later in the engine of the car after it had been towed from the crash site in a rural field 10 miles away.

I now believe t was her final gift to me.

Thank you, Lovey. I love you. XOXO

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why I accepted health award nominations for grief

Dear friends,

To the kind soul(s) who nominated me for these awards, thank you! When I received the two emails from WEGO Health this morning congratulating me on my nominations, I was asked to create a nominee profile. I paused . . . because these nominations don't belong to me—they belong to every person I've ever connected with. Every kind, broken, loving and compassionate soul who became part of my world since losing Aly . . . these nominations belong to you.

I thought about this long and hard before proceeding. Was this for real? Did I want to take time to fill out a profile? It was worth investigating. This is when it got sensitive. The profile asked me to complete my areas of expertise. It listed all kinds of health conditions, none of which involved death or grief.

So I asked to create a new condition: grief. Why not? Grief is indeed a condition that impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health.

It's also a life experience that changes us in profound ways. Aly's death changed the trajectory of my life and opened the doors to serving in ways I never dreamed. It also brought these nominations for a Lifetime Achievement award and a Best Team Performance award, neither of which belong to me. They both belong to every kind, broken, loving and compassionate soul who became part of my world since losing Aly. These nominations belongs to you.

Before I accepted the nominations, grief didn't exist as a health condition in their database. Now it does.

Should we win either award on the wing of a prayer, it will represent everyone who shared my path, and future generations who haven't yet started their own journey to finding peace after losing someone they love. #Grateful #Blessed

https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/13314



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dear Grieving Gracie

Dear Grieving Gracie,
As I read through yesterday's comments, I heard a lot about feeling shunned by someone's behavior toward them. Is it possible that awkwardness, sadness and not knowing what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, silence even, may be mistaken as shunning? -Betty
Dear Betty,
You bring up an excellent thought. I do believe that many people feel deep sadness for our loss, and don't know what to say or do, causing them to stay silent or hold back. This is easily mistaken for shunning. The problem lies in that bereaved people can't tell the difference. The wound of an emotional heartbreak isn't visible and has nowhere to go, so it just stays there as an indescribable rawness with no mobility.
As an analogy, a broken leg is a visible wound. Although immobilized by a cast, when it hurts the patient can move about in an effort to find a comfortable position. With a broken heart, there are no muscles or surrounding joints to flex that will bring relief.
Further, visible wounds trigger instant compassion, but invisible wounds do not. We don't know what we don't know, right? If I can't see your pain, how do I know you're not just seeking sympathy (says Pastor Osteen)?
Some people in society play the victim card because it's a manipulation tactic they were taught as a child. But that victim card has nothing to do with grief. It isn't a light switch we use to manipulate those around us. We have no control over our profound sadness, nor do we have a date to look forward to when the cast is removed and life returns to normal.
Going back to the bereaved's inability to tell the difference between shunning or someone who shares our deep sadness but doesn't know what to say, my recommendation is to hug. Give a hug. Receive a hug. No words are necessary. If the recipient recoils from the hug, shrug it off and find a hug somewhere else. Hugs are a sign of true friendship. 

Warm regards and big hugs,
Grieving Gracie XOXO

Dear Grieving Gracie

Dear Grieving Gracie,
Do you ever have trouble with people once you tell them you have a child who died? I don't know if it is the way I say it, but it has happened enough where people I meet start talking with me and I tell them about me and my family. At some point I tell them I had a son who passed and almost immediately they walk away or lose interest in getting to know me any further. I am hurt and angered at the fact that most people push us away because they don't want to know what it is like to lose a child. I understand that what we are going through is inconceivable by people who have never experienced losing a child but shunning us is like pouring salt in my wound. Please help me understand this? -Kim, bereaved mother

Dear Kim,
Being shunned is a common problem all bereaved mothers face, no matter how long it's been. It really hurts to be shunned but it comes from a place of people simply not knowing what to say coupled with deep fear.
They don't mean to hurt us, I truly believe that. But the pendulum has swung so far the other way that those of us who mourn the loss of someone we love are accused of indulging in self pity. This notion is far from truth, and why we're working so hard to bring the pendulum back to a level of compassion where it belongs. It's an uphill battle, but I refuse to allow this way of thinking to be passed along to future generations.
My honest opinion is that you should never deny your loved one’s existence at the expense of someone else's comfort. That would be denying who you are, because your loved one is part of you. No matter how lovely someone is, if he or she doesn't want to get to know the whole you, that is a flaw in their character you can't fix. Sad, but true.
Our circles of friends are determined by how accepting they are of us as a bereaved mother. Our inner circle is comprised of those who are capable of holding that sacred space when we are experiencing a sad moment. They love us in spite of our fetal position on the floor.
The second circle sits outside the inner circle, and is comprised of dear friends who love us, and we love them, but they aren't capable of holding that sacred space in our time of need. They're the ones who suddenly need to get home to water the flowers when we mention our child. They love every part about us, except our grief.
The third circle are those friends who know and like us, interact with us and our families, but aren't comfortable being alone with us out of fear that we might mention our child.
The outer circle is everyone else we engage with, and are gracious to, but aren't part of our intimate lives and likely don't know our story.
Shunning happens in every circle except our sacred inner circle. Only there will we find true compassion and comfort in our time of need. For those in the other circles, they'll learn soon enough when their time comes, and although they weren't capable of being there for us, we'll be there for them. We lead by example.
This is a problem faced by many, and isn't limited to bereaved mothers or spouses. My belief is that you don't have to understand something to have compassion. I truly hope that through our collective efforts to bring that pendulum back down where it belongs, future generations will find better support.
Warm regards and big hugs,
Grieving Gracie XOXO

Friday, May 5, 2017

Joy in a Box

Joy is a gift, and treasured gifts usually come in a box. But can a box hold the gift of joy?

Right now, this very minute while you're reading this post, a very special box is making its way around the country. This isn't any box, nor is it an empty box. It is an extraordinary box that contains 22 books.

But they aren't just any books. They are books about love and loss. Between the covers are stories that contain more questions than answers. And disturbing secrets of the most heinous kind.

This very special box contains books featuring true stories about unsolved crimes. By 22 writers.

But they aren't just any writers. They're mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers who are writing in heart-wrenching detail that pivotal moment when their very own loved one was kidnapped or murdered—or both.

Over the past few weeks that extraordinary box has been quietly making its way from writer to writer. At each stop, the box is opened, tears are shed, the books are signed and repacked—along with a little piece of each writer's heart—and tenderly handed off to UPS to be delivered to the next address on the list.

This incredible project was set in motion by Ryan Backmann, founder of the nonprofit Project Cold Case in Florida, who took it upon himself to pay for the #TravelingBooks to make their way one stop at a time to all 22 writers who contributed to the book.

The goal? Simply to have all 22 sign each book.

When the box's journey comes to an end back at its starting point, Ryan Backmann will then send one book containing all 22 signatures to each writer as a cherished keepsake.

To watch this box containing stories of love and loss, stories containing more questions than answers and disturbing secrets of the most heinous kind travel the country from writer to writer just so each mother, father, sister, brother, husband and wife can—in the end—hold a book that has been touched by all 22— is an incredible gift they've given each other.

And to me.

When I help people use their voice to bring comfort to others by sharing their own story, they become the balm for someone else's wound, the sun in another’s cloud, the light in someone’s darkness. Not only is that a gift to those in need, it is a gift to me because it fills my heart with joy.

"I received our Grief Diaries: Project Cold Case #TravelingBooks today, and from the moment that I opened the box, I felt like all twenty-two of us were all together in one room. What an amazing feeling of love and strength that overwhelmed me. The contents of the box delivered to me not only signifies the battles we have all been through, and the genuine and undying love we all have for our loved ones, but it signifies a delivery of hope that our stories will be heard near and far and all around the world." -Lisa Sanchez, Michael Sanchez' sister

Yes, joy does indeed come in a box.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A giant dog, two BFFs, and the value of life

Two weeks ago today we embarked on a journey that might seem insignificant to others, but taught me a great deal about life and love. It was Saturday afternoon, the day before Easter. The whole family was home when we noticed Capo, our large 9-year-old Maremma sheepdog, suddenly listing to the right and falling when he walked. He was in no obvious pain, but something was clearly wrong. Was he poisoned by a wayward mushroom that popped up overnight? Did he have ear infection-induced dizziness? What was going on? Come Monday morning, testing at the vet concluded a working diagnosis of a stroke. We brought Capo home with medication and hydration to support the storm and began watchful waiting to see if he would pull through.

But at age 9, we were at crossroads. Should we put him down? Or do what we could to save him? 

I thought back to when my dear sweet hubby had a stroke nearly five years ago. At age 46, he was quite young and yet his stroke was devastating. Would he pull through? If so, what kind of life did we face? I couldn't help but compare man to dog, and I wondered what kind of message we might send to our 9-year-old grandson, Capo's best friend, if we chose euthanasia (for our dog, not my hubby). 

As the damage from the stroke swelled Capo's brain, he lost all ability to walk. He slept round the clock and had no interest in food, so we force fed via oral syringe as a vehicle for medication and to provide energy for his body. We carried his giant size outside and supported him while he urinated. We cared for him, wondering whether it was the right thing to do. 

And here was the deciding factor in our story. Just because Capo's role as the family guard dog might be over and he could no longer earn his keep, does that mean his life wasn't worth something?

What about the laughter and joy he brought to our day? And the love he brought to our hearts? What about the BFF he shared with our grandson? 

Life can be rough, and as a family we deeply cherished the laughter, joy, and love Capo brought to our world. Wasn't that enough?

Yes. It was enough. As long as Capo wasn't in pain, we would do what we could to sustain him for as long as we could. Because even in his limited state, Capo still filled our hearts with laughter, joy and love. We forged on, caring for this giant dog in the face of an uncertain future.

The first week was rough. The second week brought little daily improvements. Capo surprised us by standing on his own one day. The next, he started drinking water and seemed more alert. Goodbye IV bag. He began walking without falling. And wagged his tail. Goodbye medical harness. Capo showing interest in food. Capo eating on his own! Goodbye oral syringe. Capo walking about with better strength. Capo trotting. Capo barking at a neighborhood noise. Hallelujah!

Two weeks ago we didn't know whether our gentle giant would live, and yet we couldn't put him down just because his life held no seeming value. That first week when we repeatedly questioned whether we were doing the right thing, our hearts reminded us that Capo does hold value in a way that is far more precious than carrying his weight as family guard dog. He brings unconditional love, laughter and joy.

Today marks two weeks from the starting gate of this journey, and Capo is running, eating like a lion, and has resumed his place at the helm of our property (when he's not inside at our feet).

Lesson learned: The value of life is something far beyond a role. It is the ability to give love, laughter and joy. Some might argue that Capo is just a dog, and therefore not comparable to people. But even dogs can teach us lessons. Isn't that worth something?