Thursday, October 12, 2017

World Arthritis Day—and why I do what I do

Today is World Arthritis Day and I've been awake since 2:30 a.m. But not because it's a day dedicated to raising awareness about arthritis. While that's very important, today I also reached a personal milestone—the release of my 30th anthology, which just happens to be about living with rheumatic diseases.

Thirty titles in two years.

Who does that?

Me. A bereaved mother from small town America—the girl next door.

Why?

Because I had a dream about my daughter dying in a car accident, leaving behind a book. Two years later, she died in a car accident. 

Also because storytelling is important to humanity. It's how we document history, raise awareness, and foster understanding about the complexities of life.

In spite of my success and the importance of the topics we’ve covered—rheumatic diseases, endometriosis, mental illness, and grief—the stories haven’t always been welcome. Just today a hospital staffer opined that death, illness, and other life challenges are part of life, and people learn to cope on their own—no need for books to tell them how.

While it's true that we all learn to cope eventually, until then many feel misunderstood, invalidated, and become socially isolated. Wouldn't it be so much better if we swapped stories and shared our coping tools? Who better to learn from than those who walked the same path? 

That's why I do what I do.

Take today's release about living with autoimmune disease. What biologic works? Which ones don’t? How do you deal with the need to use motorized grocery carts under scrutiny from others who don't see your pain? How do you pay for expensive medications not covered by insurance?

The writers who contributed to Living with Rheumatic Diseases tackled these issues with candid gusto, and as much as their answers might shock you, they’ll be a lifeline to readers facing the same challenges.

This morning at 2:30 a.m., I laid there reflecting on today’s personal milestone and where my own path has taken me since my daughter died; it's one I certainly never predicted. As a bereaved mother from small town America, the girl next door, I've now sat with historic icons, dined with people who dine with the president, and interviewed notable societal figures. As much as those were memorable moments, at the end of the day it’s the writers who are my heroes. Each one—all 650+ writers who joined me in 30 books over the past two years and willingly revealed all for the benefit of others.

This is why I love sharing stories: they make a difference to those in need. Maybe not to historic icons, those who've dined with the president, and societal figures. But they matter to everyday people searching for understanding, compassion, and most importantly hope. Because that's what we get when we discover we aren't alone—hope.

Which is why I do what I do.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Funeral Profession—Everything You Wanted to Know About the People Who Work There But Too Afraid to Ask

I was born a people person. I've been insatiably curious about what makes people tick for as long as I can remember. It's less about what they do and more about why. What are their thoughts and feelings behind the behavior? Were they born with a particular trait or did it stem from an emotional experience somewhere in childhood? If they could choose a different life path, would they? I love asking questions and listening to their stories.
Since losing my daughter I've often wondered about the men and women who serve the dead. Sounds macabre, and yet I'm curious. Why do people go into the funeral industry? How do they really feel when handling dead bodies? I wanted to know—and so I set my sights on doing a book for funeral directors. Today, I cross that off my bucket list with the release of Through the Eyes of a Funeral Director.
As I do with all my books, I asked the funeral directors 18 questions. This allows me to get to the meat of each story without the superficial fluff.
What I found in their answers was surprising. Shocking, really, but not in a macabre sense. It was quite the opposite actually, and totally unexpected. Today I'm thrilled to satisfy the curiosity of those like me who always wondered about the men and women who serve in the funeral industry.
One of the oldest and most sacred professions in the world, the funeral industry is a different sort of business, and it takes a special sort of person to work there. College educated men and women, each purposely choose a career based around caregiving.
Yes, funeral directors are caregivers at heart. Who knew?
As caregivers, they sacrifice sleep and precious family time to ensure that our need for loving guidance in our darkest hour is met, because death doesn’t always happen during banking hours. By laying loved ones to rest, they offer the living the first steps toward healing without any sort of recognition.
If the funeral industry is based around caregiving, then why do most clients walk away with sticker shock? How can they financially gouge us in our time of need?
When you eat in a restaurant, you pay for the food and the chef who prepared it. When you hire a doctor to tend to your wound, you pay for the care. When you hire a funeral home to help memorialize a loved one, it is no different. Funeral homes have codes to follow, equipment to maintain, staff to pay, and student loans to pay off. They are there around the clock to ensure your every wish is lovingly granted with kid gloves. If you don't pay for services rendered, the funeral equipment loans get behind and staff can't put food on the table.
Death is an inevitable part of life nobody gets to skip. But when you find yourself leaning on a funeral director in your darkest hour, it is comforting to know that he or she chose this career not as a business, but as a calling.
It is a calling that only the finest humanitarians answer.
One they wouldn’t change for the world.
#FuneralDirector #Funeral

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grief in the workplace, a new frontier

Meet my friend, Herb, a 57-year-old financially secure bank executive. In 2008, Herb's wife Michelle died from cancer. Ten days after Michelle's passing, Herb returned to work.

"It was St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Late that first morning, while seated in my corner office on the second floor of our headquarters in San Antonio, the bank officer walked into my office. As I looked up to greet him, he noticed I had tears in my eyes. Not knowing what to say, he simply turned around and walked out of my office, closing the door behind him."

Herb's office encounter isn't unusual. In fact, most bereaved employees find themselves similarly isolated. But the problem is much larger than employees simply not knowing what to do or say.

Meet Kristen. Kristen is the managing editor of Human Resource Executive magazine. On October 20, 2015, she was at her company's own HR Technology Convention in Las Vegas when she received a phone call from her neighbor.

Earlier that day the neighbor had noticed Kristen's cat roaming outside alone. Jim, Kristen's husband, adored their cat, and the neighbor was concerned as she hadn't seen Jim in a few days. Kristen had talked to Jim on the phone just that morning, but asked her neighbor to check on him just in case. The neighbor agreed, and found Jim's lifeless body in his bed, dead from an apparent heart attack.

In a state of shock, Kristen had to return to her hotel, pack her bags, and catch the next flight home—alone.

"Because I had used up all the time I was entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act caring for my father with hospice, I was left with my allotted 3 days of bereavement leave —still the national standard—before returning to the diversion and demands of my job."

Kristen became determined to address the elephant in the room and last September contacted me for an interview about grief in the workplace. We connected on that grief level, a language we both understood, and talked for quite a while. Following our interview, I emailed Kristen some strategies to use in her article.

I had forgotten about my conversation with Kristen until the article was published in Human Resource Executive magazine this past March. Kristen sent me the link.

As I read through Kristen's article, I was surprised to see she highlighted the strategies I had sent her and delighted to see myself cited me as the source. Even more important, I realized I was reading the foundation of a curriculum about handling grief in the workplace.

Over the next 6 months I worked hard to develop the strategies into a full fledged curriculum to be taught from an academia standpoint.

On October 6, 2017, I'm teaching the first Employee Crisis Response Curriculum called Grief in the Workplace at a local college. It outlines step-by-step strategies for HR leaders, managers, administrators, and directors to learn how to respond to an employee's crisis. Further, it offers strategies that minimize disruption and maximize workflow— and along the way improve corporate culture. The class offers 3 solid hours of information and strategies every workplace should have in their procedure manual.

It's important to distinguish that this curriculum isn't about outsourcing the grieving employee to the EAP. It's about employing internal strategies to balance the needs of staff with needs of the shareholders.

Grief isn't limited to a cubicle. When crisis happens to one employee, it affects the whole office.

Which is what this curriculum is all about.

It's about Herb. And Kristen. And the Herbs and Kristens of the world.

"Bereavement in the workplace is still a new frontier."

Yes, it is. But it shouldn't be.

For local companies, click here to find how to register your managers and administrators. Continuing education credits are available for those who need it.

That cool part is that it's all just the beginning. Later next month I'll teach this curriculum around the world via a new global webinar platform to be announced next week. Further, we'll begin training the trainer—people who can teach this curriculum in their own local colleges and corporations.

In today's competitive job marketplace, employees are looking not just at wages and benefit packages. They're looking at corporate culture—how well a corporation takes care of employees. Our curriculum teaches corporations how to do that in times of crisis.

Creating and teaching corporate curriculum is the next step on my journey toward making the world a better place for future generations.

Cheers!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From fire lighter to physics major

Giving a big shout out to our youngest, Shaun Fell. As a physics student at UW, he elected to stay on campus this summer to continue his coursework and research. Finals finished last week and grades were posted last night—he earned a 4.0 across the board in Mathematical Physics and Experimental Physics.

Earning a degree in physics at age 21, Shaun recently decided to apply for a triple major by adding math and astronomy, and the other night he asked me to read over his essay application for the math major. Intrigued to see what he wrote, I agreed. I mean, how much can someone say about math? It's all numbers, letters, and weird symbols you'll never need. Who uses this stuff anyway?

But what I read took my breath away:

"Physics by itself is, of course, a beautiful and elegant window that allows us to glimpse into our very existence. When we intertwine it with the powerful answers that arise from math, we harness a powerful language with which to understand the very nature of reality."

Okay. Maybe moms don't always know best. 

For my Facebook friends who have a child who prefers playing in the neighborhood and balks to open a book between September and June, take heart. Shaun was one of those. 

Really. He was. Until age 13.

First, his 15-year-old sister died in an accident. Less than 3 years later, his dad—his best friend—suffered a life-changing stroke. 

Our world had collapsed and my brain was too clouded by grief to watch what my young teenage son was doing at a critical time in his life. The kid who my neighbor and I once caught trying to light a light an aerosol can on fire "to see what would happen" was left to fend for himself, or so it felt to me.

How, then, did he turn out so well? Did he build his resiliency muscle like Sheryl Sandberg writes in Option B? 

No. I don't believe so. Three key components happened that brought beauty back into Shaun's life. 

First is that our family was surrounded by a circle of love, compassion and prayers. People built a tribe of support around us. They didn't understand, but loved us anyway. That love permeated through the fog, and became the foundation for my work. As a member of our family, Shaun was a recipient of that love, compassion and support.

Second is that Shaun found music. He played the piano and drummed nonstop for 6 solid years. Instead of studying, he drummed. Instead of playing with the neighbor boys, he drummed. While dad learned to walk again and mom fought for sanity, he drummed. Instinctively, I knew that as long as he was drumming, our teenager was safe at home venting his pain in a healthy—albeit noisy—way. What's the musical tattoo on Shaun's left arm? The notes to his sister's favorite song, Mr. Blue Sky.

Third is that when Shaun was 17, our family was gifted with a little furball we named Beethoven. The power of pet therapy has long been proven but is now gaining more credibility, and rightfully so. Beethoven became Shaun's best friend, and they remain inseparable to this day. When Shaun comes home from college, Beethoven gets the first hug. 

While Shaun is doing extraordinarily well today, we don't hold our breath that life will be smooth sailing from here on out. Life doesn't work that way. 

But we believe that while not every day is beautiful, there is beauty in every day. And today's beauty is that our kid who never cracked open a book in high school just earned a 4.0 and made the UW Dean's List for the fourth time.

It's safe to say I no longer have to hide the aerosol cans. 

XOXO




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?


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dying to Play Social Media Game Blue Whale

"How do people survive this?" 

These are the words of a mother whose son died by suicide 15 days ago. 

I know, suicide is too sad to talk about. What if I told you there is a shocking new social media game called Blue Whale where participants win by dying?

There is.

The truth is that I debated long and hard about writing this post because there is just nothing uplifting about suicide. But when social media and Facebook Live are being used as a platform to gain 15 minutes of fame in brutal ways including suicide, I become guilty by association by turning the other cheek.

So I'm going to talk about it. 

Thankfully I'm not alone. Netflix has taken the courageous step of devoting a whole series to the subject. "13 Reasons Why" follows the life of a teen boy who struggles to make sense of a classmate's suicide. Although the series is embroiled in controversy for its graphic scenes, whether you agree or not, Netflix deserves kudos for being brave enough to spend millions on a subject nobody wants to address except by those who find themselves facing the real-life aftermath.

Also, big kudos to my friend and fellow author Chuck Andreas. Chuck shared his poignant story of unexpectedly losing his beloved wife Gloria in 2014 to heart disease in "Grief Diaries: Through the Eyes of Men," including the part where he felt lost, hopeless, and—yes—attempted suicide. Chuck has since turned his pain into purpose by speaking to kids (and adults) about his story with hopes of sparing others from taking the same steps. He's even gone so far to inspire and author "Grief Diaries: I Survived My Suicide Attempt." That takes guts. And yet who better to raise awareness than those who've walked the journey? 

When we find ourselves caught between a world who finds suicide too sad to discuss and yet we're up against a social media suicide game that's spreading around the world, what can we do? How do we stop the madness?

We can open the dialogue. 

We can talk about it and educate ourselves on how people young and old find themselves in a suicidal spot so we can learn the red flags and take action before they do. 

Talk about it. Be brave. Help stop suicide. 

And if you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, hug them for a really long time. XOXO

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Fear of Rejection


One of the joys of my day is walking alongside people who are either writing for the first time in our books series or writing their own. Like any first-time parent, nerves can easily poke holes in our courage and we drive ourselves batty with questions. Will anybody read it? Will they like it? Criticize it? Laugh at it? When we put ourselves out there in such a public way, it can be very scary.

It suddenly feels like we're the new kid on the playground wondering if anyone will play with us. We feel vulnerable to rejection.

Whether it’s your first or tenth book, treat yourself with respect and remember why you’re writing it in the first place. Some writers merely want to preserve their hard work, and what better way than to publish it in a book? Some enjoy the credibility it brings (even if nobody buys it). Others hope to make the New York Times Bestseller’s list. It’s really important to give yourself grace and remember that writing is very personal, as is your reason for writing, and your goal for authoring. You don’t need to meet someone else’s approval to author a book. Do it for the love of it.

First and foremost, do it for yourself because not everyone will love your book. Taste is wide and varied in the literary world. Some love sci-fi while others indulge in romance. Some prefer self-help and seek comfort while others seek to escape inside someone else’s fantasy.

In short, if it is meaningful to you, then it's worthy. But listen to your heart. If you aren’t sure about moving forward, why pressure yourself? Unlike a pregnancy, there is no timeline. Some books take years before they’re finally in print. If you never move forward, that's okay too. Just don't let nerves about how your book will be perceived stand in your way. Do it for the love of it. In your time.

Lead with your heart, and all will be well. XOXO


Fighting For Hope

Some weeks it rains. Some weeks it pours. And some weeks it feels like we're standing under Niagra Falls. This is one of those weeks. I'm sick as a dog, my hubby's sick as a dog, and we have a sick dog. Thanks to a wicked head cold, I'm missing my niece's bachelorette party in Vegas this weekend, and I can't feed the babies in the NICU this week. The list goes on, right?

But the truth is that no downpour is permanent. Life's rhythm promises that nothing lasts forever, including pain. No matter what we're facing, it's only temporary. 

That's the beauty of hope.

Sometimes our burdens cast shadows so large that they appear to block all hope. But hope is clever, and can disguise itself when needed. But it's still there—all we need to do is look for it.

Today, I see hope in the sun as it bursts between the clouds. I hear hope in the singsong of the birds looking for a mate. I touch hope when I stroke the soft billowy fur of our beloved Capo, or my hubby's strong arms wrapped lovingly around me. I smell hope in the fragrant alyssums, a flower I plant every spring in memory of my Alyssa. I taste hope in the juicy Honeycrisp apple I eat every day (or the Starbucks frappuccino every afternoon).

Yes, hope is always there. Sometimes we just have to fight to find it. XOXO


Monday, March 13, 2017

Grief in the Workplace - The Last Frontier

Kristen Frasch, editor of Human Resource Executive magazine, was at a national conference in Las Vegas when her husband's lifeless body was discovered at home. Because she had used up all the time she was entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act caring for her father during his hospice, Kristen was left with her allotted three days of bereavement leave before returning to the demands of her job.

"I had to return to my hotel room, pack my bags, try and sleep, then grab a taxi to the airport the following morning, go through security and sit through almost six hours of flight time before touching down and driving to meet my sons, who were waiting to escort me to the body of the man I would love forever. What’s followed since has been mind-numbing, energy-depleting, sleep-depriving, appetite-suppressing, chest-quaking and nauseating, not to mention sometimes scary."

Kristen interviewed me last fall for an article in this month's issue of Human Resource Executive. Grief in the workplace remains an uncharted frontier for many employers. I'm honored to have contributed to such an important topic and be cited as the source (see Suggestions for Managers/Co-Workers in the tan box).  

A bereaved employee returning to work after loss is an elephant in the room. Creativity and productivity take a hit. Nobody knows what to say, and the employee becomes a person most people tiptoe around.

"In all honesty, many moments were spent staring at a computer screen, remembering what needed doing but asking many more questions about processes and decisions than I had before. Other moments were spent on pure adrenaline, fulfilling all my editorial responsibilities with a determination and directness that probably said to staff and co-workers, “This woman is so strong!” when that was the last thing I was feeling."

Kristen's story opens the dialogue on the uncharted waters of grief in the workplace, and offers ways to support bereaved employees while keeping an eye on office productivity and the well-being of everyone. 

Click here to read the full article this month's issue of Human Resource Executive magazine.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why is grief self-indulgent?


On most mornings for the past 11 years, I've walked with my neighbor Evelyn in a cemetery—land designated as a burial ground for the dead. Some find that morbid or creepy, but I don't. I find it peaceful and serene; a place that affords excellent walking paths. The foliage changes every three months, and over the years we've gained friends along the way.

One of those friends was a lady named Karen. Most mornings Karen and her husband John walked their little dog Teddy in the cemetery. It was wonderful exercise for Teddy, and afforded Karen and John a tranquil time between the two of them in his final days before he died in 2009, the same year we lost our daughter Aly. Two years prior, in 2007, my neighbor Evelyn lost her nephew.

After John died, it became just Karen and Teddy walking in the cemetery. We didn’t see her every morning, but when we did the three of us stood and chatted not about our losses but about life. 

Oh, sometimes we chatted about our losses but that's the thing about grief. It’s part of life. 

A few months ago Karen died. While on our morning walk earlier this week, Evelyn and I stopped where Karen is laid to rest next to John. We stood there staring at her name etched on the granite and it hit us hard that we'll never again run into Karen on our morning walks. We miss Karen's easy smile and twinkling blue eyes, and her little dog Teddy too, but this is the cycle of life.

Which brings me to my question. If death, loss and grief have been around since the beginning of time, when did it become a topic so full of taboo? Public displays of mourning were once considered dutiful, respectful and a sign of good character. 

Now it’s considered self-indulgent and impolite, for we must spare others our suffering.

When did that happen? And why?


Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Life Lesson Learned 5,000 Miles From Home

Returned home yesterday afternoon after a wonderful trip! Costa Rica is an absolutely gorgeous country, and such a lovely culture. I hadn't expected the poor internet in the places we stayed, but it offered a respite that allowed me to unabashedly enjoy all the country had to offer and indulge in my inner NatGeo photography wannabe (I took over 3,000 photos!). 

My heart is full of gratitude for being able to take Project Kindness to people in need. In exchange we returned home with something unexpected, and far more valuable than the donations we distributed . . . we came home with a lesson about life itself. The Costa Ricans have a saying — pura vida — that literally means "pure life." Its deeper meaning, simply put, is that no matter what your current situation is, life for someone else is much less fortunate. No matter how little or how much you have in life, we are all here together, and to enjoy what you have to the fullest because life is short. 

In a time when our own country is facing a cultural storm with no sun in sight, we have a choice about whether to allow those issues to engulf our blessings and cast them into the shadows, or to find peace with our differences. Many Costa Rican conversations end with "pura vida" - enjoy life. Lacking in material riches doesn't dampen a country full of smiles and open hearts. 

I went on vacation with two suitcases full of donations to a country in need, and came home with a life lesson I'll never forget.

Pura vida!  XOXO

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Happy birthday, my child

Dear Lovey,

It's hard to believe that 23 years ago today you birthed from my womb into our waiting arms. I can't help but wonder what you would look like now, what you would have accomplished, and what goals would be in your cross hairs next.

Would you have reached your dream of the Olympics? Would you be graduating from Stanford?

One thing is for certain—in the short time you spent here, you taught us to use compassion to make a difference. I've tried to model myself after you, and like to think you would be proud of the person I've become, even though my heart is heavy on days like today. 

More than ever I yearn to wrap both arms around you, steal a kiss from the top of your head while secretly taking in the smell of your hair. I want to feel the softness of your teenage skin. I want to make jewelry with piles of pearls, crystals, and elements spread across the table between us. I want to rock out to music together on the way home from the pool.

These are the things I think of every day, but they're especially tender on days like today.

Most days I want to spare the world my pain. But in moments like this I want the world to know that grief is okay.

I want them to know it is okay for me to be sad, that my heart hurts years later and I will cry, but they should not be frightened of that. 

I know there will always be some who lack compassion and cast judgement against my sorrow, but they do so only out of fear for their own grief not yet experienced.

One day they too will learn that great sorrow stems only from great love.

So Lovey, on your birthday today I make you two promises. First, I will never be angry at those who tell us to get over it. Their judgement is cast out of fear, and I cannot be angry at fear. Second, I vow to cover the brokenhearted who are stung by such words with love and compassion so they don't feel alone. 

Because loneliness on this journey surely turns a tender heart bitter.

And a bitter heart in a living person is more tragic than a tender heart in a dead person.

Lovey, you had a premonition that we would soon be separated. I don't think you were afraid to die. I think you feared for the grief I would face.

But there is no need for you or anyone to fear my grief.

It is the worst journey imaginable, yes. But I am a better person because of it. 

It has taught me to see outside my own world.

It has opened a vein of compassion that never runs dry.

It has taught me patience and grace in the face of judgement.

My world, blessed with loving family and friends, has grown even richer with new friends who are old souls of the very best kind.

It's your birthday today, and yet I feel like it is I who has been given gifts—gifts of purpose amid pain, gifts of kindness amid judgment, gifts of helping others to help my own heart to heal.

I am not afraid of the grief I now bear. For without grief there would be no need for hope. 

And hope is the best gift of all.

Happy birthday, Lovey. I love you.

Love,
Mom  XOXO

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Power of Kindness, Endorphins & One Judgmental Judy

Yesterday a woman said she would only donate to Project Kindness if it benefited Americans, not the orphanage we're delivering supplies to in Costa Rica. Although her judgement hurt, she wasn't wrong. I get it. There are plenty right here in our own back yard who could use these supplies. 

Yet her words stung. 

But I forgive her, because she just didn't know.

She didn't know that I've spent the last 30 years tending to those in our own backyard. I've prayed with addicts on dark streets at night. I've given socks to homeless people with bare-footed babies in December. I've fed hot meals to lines of hungry people. I ran supplies down the hospital corridor when I was a teen. And fought fires and saved lives out in the field in my thirties.

Yes, I started volunteering that young. I'm now 51, and it's never gotten old. 

After we lost Aly, my volunteering shifted from helping others to helping myself. Spreading kindness became the balm that soothes my broken heart. Just like a runner needs to hit the open pavement for a daily dose of endorphins, I need to give. Spreading kindness is my endorphins.

Also just like a runner, I don't always take the same route. When giving to others, a change of scenery is good once in a while. 

Judgmental Judy also didn't know that Aly's birthday is just on the horizon. I feel the sorrow deep in my bones. To handle the added layer of sadness that comes with certain days of the year, I need to up the ante to find my endorphins. Delivering supplies to the poor around Aly's birthday is the perfect way to spread kindness and help my own heart to heal.

But why Costa Rica and not East St. Louis? 

Because Aly was mesmerized by Latin America. She studied the Mayans, the Incas, and Easter Island every chance she got and it was on her bucket list to visit those places. But she died before she understood what fueled her fascination. 

Maybe, just maybe, when we deliver donations to Costa Rica, we'll find out. And if not, there is always next year. And the year after. Just like in America, there are plenty of people who need kindness in Peru, Brazile, Chile, and Honduras.

That's why Judgmental Judy's words sting my soul. She would only help Americans. My dear sweet hubby is Australian. Should he help only Australians? I'm a female. Should I spread kindness only to other females?

Of course not.

In between trips seeking to understand Aly's fascination, I'll continue to deliver kindness right here in my homeland. I'll hold babies born to addicts on American streets, soothing their wail as their wee body goes through painful withdrawals. And continue my work alongside our Grief Diaries village helping to bring comfort and hope to others through sharing our own stories of survival.

Maybe one day I'll run into Judgmental Judy and have a chance to explain the power behind spreading kindness both near and far. But I won't explain to her why we do this in February, near Aly's birthday. Or why we chose Costa Rica, a region Aly loved. 

There's a proverb that says to be careful with words, because once they are said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. I may never forget the sting of Judgmental Judy's words, but I do forgive her absence of empathy and understanding—she has never walked in my shoes.

She doesn't know that spreading kindness is my endorphins. 

She doesn't know that helping others helps my own heart to heal.

She didn't know Aly, nor her fascination with Latin America. 

She doesn't know the lifetime of sorrow I now carry in my heart.

When we deliver donations to the poor in Costa Rica, I'll think of Judgmental Judy. 

And be glad for her that she just doesn't know. And hope she'll be spared from ever finding out.