On Maple Syrup and Grief

I’m 39 today.

Last year, my friends took me out for birthday dinner and we tried not talking about what we couldn’t help talking about. The virus was here, now. Schools were shutting down. Employees were being sent home to work. The world as we knew it was about to change forever. We slurped our Tom Yum Pho with bewildered eyes and questions none of us would ever be able to answer.

A year later, I’m standing over my kitchen stove boiling sap into maple syrup and still thinking about the innumerable, unanswerable questions. How long will this last? How many will we lose? Could life ever be normal again?

I have been extremely/overly cautious this last year, but even with all my THINKING and DECISIONS and PREVENTION and PRECAUTIONS, here I am, quarantined because of a recent exposure. A quick stop off at a friend’s house and a hug I didn’t say no to will turn into weeks of waiting and wondering.

When I think back to that dinner last year with my friends, I feel like I’m looking in on another life. We were girls around a table of Thai food, shoulder to shoulder, living among one another, breathing each other’s air. We were so sickeningly rich in the closeness and togetherness I ache for in these lean months. There was open-mouthed laughter and tasting each other’s dinners and lingering around. There were smiles and unmuffled words and hugs without hesitation, and dammit, I cannot stop crying about who we were before. We were grown women, but we were babies. We stopped by each other’s houses. We rode in cars together. We let our kids play with one another. Tell me, what didn’t we have?

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On What’s Real

As I pushed my three-year-old son’s dresser drawer to a close, the framed army photograph of my grandfather tipped over and landed face-down with a thump.

I propped it back up, blew a piece of dust from the glass, and said, “Sorry, Papa.”

Miles looked for a few long seconds at the 1940s photo — the perfect wave of my grandfather’s hair, his tan army-issue shirt, the eyes that were even bluer in real life than in that colorized photograph.

“Is he still real?” Miles asked.

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Your Struggle Makes Me Stronger

I recently interviewed two women living with Multiple Sclerosis for a Grand Edits guest feature. When I asked them to speak about the life they envisioned as young women compared to the reality of their lives today, they both agreed that though they never dreamed they’d have MS and surely don’t want MS, the diagnosis has allowed them to connect with and help others who are facing the same illness, or working through other life struggles.

I think about this often – the way our circumstances create opportunities to help others who are suffering.

In my days of volunteering as a client advocate at a pregnancy resource center, a young woman came to an appointment in distress because her baby (still in utero) had been diagnosed with renal hydronephrosis. This malformation causes dilation in the kidney pelvis and can mean surgical correction shortly after birth.

My client and I had a long conversation that day about the what-ifs. It’s hard for a momma to be faced with the possibility of her newborn baby being whisked off to surgery in his or her first days in the world. We talked a lot about fear that day. About vulnerability.

I told her I understood how she was feeling, and I really meant it. My own son had been diagnosed with renal hydronephrosis less than two years prior to the conversation. I remembered the diagnosis, the scans, the machines. I remembered the fear.

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NYC Take Two: Tribute to a Friend

It’s been four months since Adam died.

Adria and I were visiting him in New York where he’d moved after accepting an associate professorship at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan. He invited us out for a vacation, vowing to be our trusty tour guide. We had an incredible three days of running around the city, seeing all the major touristy sights and a handful of gems we would never have found without him.

On the fourth day of the trip, Adria, Adam, Lisa (Adam’s girlfriend) and I set out to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and check out Adam’s favorite park, Washington Square.

But then Adam died.

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Grand Edits with Leticia Riley: Revising Life after Pregnancy Loss

Throughout her childhood, Leticia Riley had fleeting thoughts about becoming an obstetrician, a veterinarian, a biology teacher, or a writer – all careers that would allow her to help other human beings. Eventually, she decided to become a registered nurse.

Though Leticia’s career hopes changed over the years, one desire remained the same: to become a mother. Continue reading

Grand Edits with Lance Ellis: Revising Life after Losing a Child

As Father’s Day approaches, we’re reminded of all the things a dad should be…

The protector, the provider, the fixer, the giver-of-knowledge.

Lance Ellis willingly embraced all of these roles. He couldn’t wait to teach his kids, help them solve problems, and bring them along on adventures.

He had plans. Plans to be a teacher. Plans to marry his sweetheart, Jill Johnson — to make a home and have two children, maybe even a dog.

But life had different plans for Lance, and he wasn’t able to do those things exactly the way he wanted to. Only when he surrendered his own plans — when he became willing to be shaped by his circumstances, did he arrive at the realization that plans and efforts are not guarantees, and the only thing a father can really provide for his children is unconditional love.

This is Lance’s story. Continue reading