Monthly Archives: May 2011

The circle of life in our back yard.

Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota. All around us we see signs of rebirth. But this year, I’m also painfully aware of the flip side… we can’t appreciate new life without acknowledging the inevitability and significance of death.

This circle of life is literally on display in my back yard. About four years ago, we noticed that a pair of foxes would appear in our yard from time to time. When the snow started to melt, we realized they had created a den under the trees and brush.

Daddy Fox near the entrance of the den.

A couple of months after the foxes moved in, they had babies! We had seen a lot of wildlife in our wooded neighborhood, but never anything as cute as this. Our whole family was excited to see the little “kits” grow from little balls of fluff to the size of a small dog. As the weather got warmer and the grass and brush started to grow in, the babies would come out to play.

We were delighted when the foxes returned the next year, and the next. The boys loved to watch them from the kitchen windows:

Click to see video of last year’s fox babies.

But this winter, I didn’t see the foxes like I had in the past. I worried that they had decided not to come back to us this year.

But then I finally saw the daddy fox. He appeared the morning after Julian died. Somehow, he looked both confident and carefree as he trotted through the yard. He reminded me of my strong, sweet little Julian.

During those first days of the “after,” I’d often look out the kitchen window toward the fox den. Through my fog of shock and grief, I admired this pair of faithful, committed fox parents. I felt honored that they had picked our yard as the safe place to give birth and raise their little ones, especially this year.

As the snow melted, I’d search for signs of babies. I was surprised I hadn’t seen them yet. Did they pick a different den this year? Did they not have babies this year? Something seemed off. And then on Easter morning, I saw a little mound of brown fluff moving around. A fox baby! I felt relieved. Nature had once again come full circle. And how fitting to have the first sighting on Easter.

I only saw one baby on Easter, but I assumed there must be more. In past years, we had always seen at least 3 or 4 kits. But I kept seeing only one at a time, never a group playing games and tackling each other like in the video from last year. And then just this week, it hit me: there is only one baby this year.

The fox mama that had raised her family in my yard year after year, the creature that I somehow felt kinship with, had ONE BABY. One. She most likely gave birth to at least one more, but only one made it. One. Just like me. There used to be more, but now there is one.

I wondered if this “only child” fox baby would be different, growing up without brothers and sisters to play with. But this week I saw something amazing. I was standing in my kitchen, and something caught my eye outside. A small pack of deer were eating their way through our yard (this is not an uncommon occurrence). But then I noticed something else: the fox baby was “hunting” one of the fawns. It was a showdown between baby fox and baby deer. The kit clearly had developed his instinct to hunt, but hadn’t yet quite learned how to identify appropriate prey. I took a (blurry) picture of this unbelievable and hilarious scene:

Battle of the babies: Fox vs. Deer

This little fox was focused and determined. He was brave. He was like Oscar — exploring life on his own, finding his own interests, discovering his natural instincts.

The fox family reminds us that the circle of life will always continue, even if it doesn’t quite fit our picture. The average litter is 4-6 kits, but sometimes there is only one. Sometimes, the promise of new life gets taken away too soon. We may not have the future we planned, but that doesn’t mean we are defeated. It reminds us to be stronger, braver, and more motivated to make the most of life.

The foxes returned the morning after Julian died. For the first time, there was only one baby. These were not coincidences. Instead, these were just the first of several signs that there is something bigger at work here. Call it God, the Universe, Mother Nature. No matter what you call it, it is significant. It is meaningful. It is the circle of life.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment about this specific post, click the “Comment” link below. Or, leave a general comment on my Guestbook Page.


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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in month 3


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The choice to survive.

Have you ever bought a new car, and from that point on, you see those cars everywhere? I’ve noticed that I’m experiencing a similar phenomenon: I’m searching for meaning and insights about life, and I’m seeing them everywhere. In books, at the movies, around my dinner table.

Last night, we had some of our best friends over for dinner. And at one point I realized, almost every single one of us had lost a parent or child to cancer, and/or have a parent currently fighting cancer. One friend is also a cancer survivor herself. Another friend shared that his mother was diagnosed just this past week, and they were waiting for more test results.

We had a great evening, filled with laughter and wonderful food (made by my husband, the chef of the family). But it was also a reminder of how pervasive cancer is, and how ruthless. As I looked around the table, I was suddenly aware of the strength of this group of people. Here we were, each of us with several good reasons to be angry and sorry for ourselves. But instead, we were strong. We were survivors. We had been victimized by cancer, but we weren’t victims.

Today, I saw the movie Bridesmaids with a bff. And again, I noticed a profound life lesson weaved into the many hilarious scenes. The main character, Annie, has a series of “setbacks” as her best friend is preparing to get married. As her friend’s wedding day approaches, Maid of (Dis)Honor Annie struggles — until one of the other bridesmaids confronts her: “I don’t associate with people who blame the world for their problems,” says Megan to Annie. “The world isn’t the problem… YOU are the problem. But you are also the solution.”

And then Megan proceeds to tackle Annie and pin her against the couch. “What are you DOING?” screams Annie to the husky woman tackling her. “I’m your LIFE, Annie. FIGHT BACK!” yells the bridesmaid in Annie’s face. Eventually, Annie finds her will to fight back and get this crazy (hilarious) woman off of her. (Or something like that… I wasn’t taking notes at the time. But I do strongly recommend the movie, so go see it and tell me if I’m remembering the scene incorrectly.)

This movie, and my friends at dinner last night, reminded me of two things. First, it feels great to laugh. And second, life isn’t fair. Life is hard. Life often challenges us and makes us want to give up. Sometimes life just plain sucks. But we can choose to find our will to survive, and FIGHT BACK with everything we have… or choose not to. But either way, it’s a choice. It’s our choice.

And sure, “our loss” provides me a great excuse for defeat. Some people appear genuinely surprised when they first see me out and functioning in my daily life. But why would I choose defeat, why use that as an excuse? Couldn’t “our loss” be just as effective as a motivation to “fight back” for a joyful life again? Why not focus the emotion and energy into becoming more aware and engaged with life?

We all have our losses. My loss is a lot more public and significant than most, but I had “losses” before Julian died, too. And I’m sure I’ll have more “losses” in the future. We all will. That’s the point of life. It’s a cliché because it’s true: You can’t have ups without some downs. But with each loss, big or small, public or private… we don’t have to surrender and become a victim of our lives. We have a choice.

We can’t control whether or not we are “victimized” (verb) by others or by life in general, but we CAN control whether or not we are “victims” (noun). We have to CHOOSE to be survivors, and take action. And as my friends and I discussed at dinner last night and after the movie today, when we are faced with the ruthlessness of cancer — or any other significant challenge that life throws at us — we have to make a choice: Survive, or not survive. Option A, or Option B.

I choose Option A. I choose to survive. I am a survivor (noun).

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment about this specific post, click the “Comment” link below. Or, leave a general comment on my Guestbook Page.


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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in month 3


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There goes Mother’s Day.

Today was a good day. Today was a hard day. Today was Mother’s Day.

Today started with a wonderful brunch, followed by our annual visit to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. As I described in my previous blog post, we created this tradition a few years ago. We walk around, admire the art, and my husband takes photos.

Mother's Day 2011

Mother’s Day 2011

With Oscar’s cheerful commentary and laughter, it wasn’t hard to smile for the photos. But inside, I felt sad. I wanted Julian with us in person, not just in spirit.

Julian always hated getting his photo taken, and was always a troublemaker on days like this. I’d give anything to have had him making trouble today, but I’m thankful for this memory of him. Remembering how he squirmed and refused to smile also means remembering his personality, not just his face. He was sweet and opinionated and clever. He loved tortellini, action figures, and the color red. He loved his Mommy. Those are the things I will  remember on Mother’s Days of the future.

I felt Julian with us today, in his own way. In his “new normal” way.  Whenever I look at this portrait, I will feel that feeling and know that both of my boys were with me that day. And it will remind me of everything it means to be a mother: happy and sad things, physical and non-physical things, easy and hard things. I’m grateful for all of it.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment about this specific post, click the “Comment” link below. Or, leave a general comment on my Guestbook Page.


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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in month 3


Here comes Mother’s Day.

They say that the first year after you lose a loved one is the hardest. It’s the holidays, I hear, that are the most painful times of the year. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with special meaning — like Mother’s Day — are particularly tough. And here it comes, just couple days away.

I’m sure many people are wondering how Mother’s Day will be for me this year. I’m wondering, too. I have such happy memories from past Mother’s Days. A few years ago we started a tradition of going to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to enjoy the beautiful art and gardens, and take photos together. We plan to keep up the tradition this year, too. I’m looking forward to it.

Before Mother’s Day 2011 arrives, I wanted to take time to reflect on the past 3 years that I had with both of my sons. I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few years, and how thankful I am that we took the time to capture the special day in photos. I also really appreciate my husband’s wonderful photography skills:

Mother’s Day 2008


Mother’s Day 2009


 Mother’s Day 2010


I’m sure Sunday will have its sad moments. But I know it won’t be *full* of sadness. I’m committed to enjoying a day that is not just focused on me, but also on the two boys who taught me what being a mother really means.

Julian won’t be in our photos this year, but I know he will be with us. And I’m looking forward to that.

p.s. I added a “Guestbook” page to my blog today. I’ve you’d like to leave a general comment, that would be a great place to do it.
Or, to leave a comment on this specific post, use the “reply” box or “comments” link below.


Posted by on May 6, 2011 in month 3


The new science of bereavement.

Today marks the two-month anniversary of Julian’s death. It feels like a lifetime ago. That was the end of “old normal.” That was when my life changed forever. 

The first month was mostly numbness, shock, and deep grieving. The second month was about grieving too… but also seeking, learning, discovering. I’m a different person today than I was two months ago.

As I think back on this second month, I can appreciate how hard I’ve worked to learn about grief and to find meaning in this experience. Long talks with my mom, my friends, and my therapist has helped me honor Julian’s memory and appreciate the time I had with him. Writing this blog has helped me process my thoughts, and really understand how I feel. It hasn’t been easy to take this aggressive approach to my “grief work,” but I’ve been trusting my instincts and working through the grief.

Ironically, my challenge now is that my progress makes some people suspicious and uncomfortable. I don’t fit the picture of what a bereaved parent is supposed to look like. There are people in my life who are concerned that I’m not grieving enough.

These people, and so-called “grief experts” that have written the books I read, seem to discourage my pursuit of happiness. Comments that seem supportive on the surface, such as “You’re so STRONG,” seem to be laced with judgment. I’m warned that what I perceive as progress is probably denial. I’m accused of not “feeling my feelings.” Some comments even suggest that the amount of my suffering is proportional to my love for the one I lost — in other words, less-than-average suffering must mean less-than-average love.

The latter example is easy to ignore, because I have no doubts about the love I had, and will *always* have, for Julian. But what about denial? Is it possible that I’m not really feeling my feelings? Is it possible that any day now, I’m going to suddenly curl up in the fetal position with some new understanding of what has happened?

Despite my confidence in my process and my “grief work,” I started to get paranoid. So I obsessively began buying books, hoping that I’d finally come across something that would make me feel less unusual. Less odd. Less suspicious.

Do a search for “grief” on and you’ll get over 19,000 results. So far, I’ve read about a dozen of them. Topics have covered loss of a child, grief in general, life after death, and science. And it’s the last category — science — that gave me what I was looking for. Rather, a good friend gave me the book I was looking for: “The Other Side of Sadness” by George A. Bonanno. The subtitle is, “What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss.”

This “new science of bereavement” changed everything.

This book explained why so many other books haven’t been helpful to me:

There is no shortage of books on grief and bereavement. Most take a surprisingly narrow perspective, avoiding the bigger questions. One reason is that many of the books on grief are written by medical practitioners or therapists. This is not surprising, but it does create a bit of a problem when we try to understand grief in broader terms. Grief therapists are apt to see only those bereaved people whose lives have already been consumed by suffering, people for whom professional help is the only chance of survival. These human dramas may be compelling, but they do not tell us much about what grief is like for most people.

This book confirmed that there are other people like me who have had the same frustration:

Many who volunteer for our studies make the point that they tried to read up on bereavement. They quickly add, however, that they couldn’t seem to find anything in their reading that matched their own experience.

This book validated that it is not uncommon for people around me to have the reactions that I’ve experienced:

Inherent in [books and journals on bereavement] is also the assumption that grief is more or less the same for everybody and that there is something wrong when people overcome their grief quickly or when they appear to have skipped some of the “stages” of mourning. Armed with these ideas it is easy to become suspicious when a bereaved person seems too happy or at ease. “Is this some sort of denial?” we may wonder. Or worse, maybe the person never really cared about the loved one in the first place? Or maybe, without help to get in touch with the grief, she or he will suffer some sort of delayed reaction years from now.

This book chased away my paranoia that those people might be right:

Remarkably, though, after many years of studying bereavement, I’ve found no evidence to support any of these ideas. A good deal of what my colleagues and I have found, in fact, suggest a completely different picture of grieving…. The good news is that for most of us, grief is not overwhelming or unending. As frightening as the pain of loss can be, most of us are resilient. Some of us cope so effectively, in fact, we hardly seem to miss a beat in our day-to-day lives. We may be shocked, even wounded, by a loss, but we still manage to regain our equilibrium and move on. That there is anguish and sadness during bereavement cannot be denied. But there is much more. Above all, it is a human experience. It is something we are wired for, and it is certainly not meant to overwhelm us. Rather, our reactions to grief seem designed to help us accept and accommodate losses relatively quickly so that we can continue to live productive lives. Resilience doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone fully resolves a loss, or finds a state of “closure.” Even the most resilient seem to hold onto at least a bit of wistful sadness. But we are able to keep on living our lives and loving those still present around us.

The book — and the years of scientific data it is based on — supports me in my aggressive pursuit of happiness and joy:

Bereaved people are able to have genuinely pleasurable experiences, to laugh or indulge in moments of joy, even in the earliest days and weeks after loss. Most of the early literature about bereavement tended to gloss over these kinds of positive experience, which were often dismissed as examples of avoidance or denial. My research has suggested the opposite. Not only are positive experiences common, but they also tend to have an affirmative impact on other people and may actually help the bereaved recover more quickly after the loss.


I’m not unique. I’m not odd. I’m not likely to slip into denial that hasn’t shown up yet. I definitely have many moments (… or hours… or days) of “wistful sadness.” I don’t blog much about my sadness, but it’s a welcome emotion for me. I recognize it as an important part of “feeling my feelings.” But ultimately I’m sad, not destroyed. In fact, each week that goes by brings me a little more appreciation for life.

I’ve completed the first two months of the “after.” I’m two months into the creation of my “new normal.” And I found powerful relief and comfort in the new science of bereavement. It showed me my truth: I’m not in denial, I am RESILIENT.

p.s. All of the quotes in this post are from the first chapter of the book. You can expect more posts about the specific insights that I learned throughout the book, and how they impacted me.
I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below.


Posted by on May 3, 2011 in month 2