Category Archives: year 2

Four years a boy, two years an angel.

Julian smile_11Today is Julian’s two-year angelversary. It would be easy to write about how much I miss him, or how I would do anything to hold him in my arms again. But if you know me at all, either in real life or through this blog, you won’t be surprised that I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to thank him.

First, I want to thank him for joining our family in the first place. Before Julian was born, I knew our family wasn’t complete yet. But when John and I decided we were ready for a second child, he wasn’t quite ready for us. After several months of disappointment, we started to wonder if maybe my body wasn’t going to cooperate. But I never lost the feeling that someone was missing. That someone was Julian, and he joined our family when he was good and ready. Just after he was born, the first thing I did when I was alone with him for the first time was look into his eyes and tell him, “I’ve been waiting for you.” He stared back at me; he knew. He’d been waiting for me, too.
Second, I want to thank him for the four years he was with us on this planet. He was loving and independent. He was generous and determined. He was smart and scrappy. He was a leftie and a Pisces. He was completely his own person, and he added a whole new dimension to our family. As I walked out of Children’s Hospital exactly two years ago today, I remember saying to my brother Alex, “I feel so grateful to have had him for almost four years. I would rather have had him for four years than to have not had him at all.” I was in shock, and I don’t remember much of anything else that I said to others or others said to me, but I remember saying that. That was my Truth in that moment, and it still is. All the pain of the past two years pales in comparison to the joy of the previous four years.
Lastly, I want to thank him for the gifts he’s given me in the past two years since he became our Guardian Angel. There have been many gifts, and I know they are from him. Not from God, not from the Universe, not from luck. From HIM. He gave me the gift of new friends who have changed my life. He lead us to our cabin, which is now my favorite place in the world. He has given me countless gifts of experiences and insight. But the most profound gift he gave me was the gift of my Self.
The person I am today is so different from the me of two years ago. Life is deeper, sweeter, truer. Things I used to question are now answered. Things I used to believe have turned into things I just know. Things that I used to waste energy on are now easy to let go of. Things about myself that I used to regret but accept as “just how I am” have been replaced by attributes that enable me to experience life from a deeper place.
Somehow, life is just warmer now. Pema Chödrön‘s book Taking the Leap includes a chapter called “The Importance of Pain.” Old Emily probably wouldn’t have picked up this book in the first place; New Emily appreciates her wise words. She opens the chapter by explaining,
“Before we can know what natural warmth really is, often we must experience loss. We go along for years moving though our days, propelled by habit, taking life pretty much for granted. Then we or someone dear to us has an accident or gets seriously ill, and it’s as if blinders have been removed from our eyes. We see the meaninglessness of so much of what we do and the emptiness of so much we cling to.”
She concludes the chapter by describing exactly what I have experienced over the past two years,
“When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing is just not working and we don’t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced.”
Two years ago today, my life was shattered into a million pieces. Today, I embrace the warmth of empathy and kindness.
Julian was an Earth-bound boy for four years, and he’s been an angel for two. He changed my life for the better when he was born, and he continues to change my life for the better. And for that I feel nothing but gratitude.
Happy second angelversary, little one. Thank you for everything.

Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Angelversaries, year 2


Smile because it happened.


"Don't cry because it's over... Smile because it happened."Today is Labor Day. It’s also the 18-month anniversary of Julian’s death. On days like today, it’s important to remind myself to focus on what I gained, not to dwell on what I lost.

“Lost” is such an odd concept, anyway. Some bereaved parents really hate phrases like, “the loss of a child.” As one of my friends says, “Our sons are not lost. We know where they are. We did not lose them, they died.

She makes a good point. When a person dies, it’s not the person that we have lost — we lost our future with this person. But did we really ever “have” it in the first place? Was it really ours to lose?

It’s easy to take the future for granted, especially when it comes to our loved ones. I expected to have a long, full life with my husband and two sons. When Julian died, my future with my youngest son felt more than lost. It felt stolen. In fact, a simple definition of “bereaved” is, “deprived of a loved one by death.” It is us, the *surviving* parents/children/loved ones, who have lost.

Eighteen months ago, I began reading everything I could find about “surviving the loss of a child.” I quickly discovered that there are two types of bereaved parents who write books, write and comment on blogs, and otherwise get their voice out there: those who are stuck in their grief, and those who acknowledge that what they assumed to be true about their life and their future — their definition of “normal” — has been permanently changed.

I can certainly relate to both sides of this coin, but it was the parents in the latter category that motivated me. They often referred to their “new normal,” which inspired the name of this blog, Creating “New Normal.” I knew I had to make a choice… either stay stuck in grief over the loss of the future I had expected, or be proactive in the process of creating my new future.

I believe it is the spirit of Julian himself that helps me focus on my gratitude for the years I had with him, instead of focusing on the future that has been permanently changed. One particularly powerful experience occurred just a few days after his death, when I went out with my husband and mother-in-law to run some errands. As they went into a gourmet food store, I went into a nearby gift shop to see if they had any guest books we could use for his Celebration of Life, which was happening a few days later.

As I walked in, I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s anything Julian might want me to see in here? Then, instead of walking straight toward the guest books, I was compelled to take a left down an aisle. I felt pulled to the end of the aisle, where a display case held a collection of framed quotes. Most were well-known sayings from famous philosophers… but the one that caught my eye said, “Don’t cry because it’s over… Smile because it happened.”

Tears of gratitude came to my eyes, because this was exactly the message I needed to be reminded of that day. When I noticed that the quote was from Dr. Seuss, I got goose bumps (or “spirit bumps” as my friend calls them). This quote, from this person, in the middle of a collection of famous philosopher quotes? I knew it was a message from Julian. I bought it, brought it home, and placed it on my home office desk. It’s still there today, 18 months later.

This quote became the theme for his Celebration (which I wrote about in a previous blog post), but it also became the mantra for my survival. This quote reminds me of the message of the famous Buddhist saying, “Pain is inevitable; Suffering is optional.” Every moment, it is MY choice. Do I choose to suffer, because I “lost” the future I expected? Or do I choose to smile, because I was blessed with almost four years with him?

I love that the Dr. Seuss quote specifically references a smile, because one of my favorite things about Julian was his smile. He almost always smiled with his mouth wide open with joy. How can you not smile back at this sweet face?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, sometimes I just need a good cry. But I still feel his spirit in my heart — even more now than in the beginning — and I know he doesn’t want me to suffer. Suffering does not honor his memory, and it certainly won’t suddenly make him “found” again. I know he wants me to smile, and remember what I gained by having him in my life.

I will always be grateful for Julian’s life, and today I’m not crying because it’s over. I’m smiling. Because it HAPPENED. And best of all, I know that just because he isn’t here with me on Earth doesn’t mean he will be absent from my future. He is, and will continue to be, with me in a new way — a “new normal” way.


Posted by on September 3, 2012 in year 2


Tags: , , , , ,

I’m going on a “little” walk.

ImageWhen specific memories of Julian pop into my head, they usually make me smile. Sometimes they remind me of not just the memory itself, but who he was as a person. And every once in a while, something triggers a memory that not only makes me smile and remember the person he was, they teach me something about myself today.

One of those memories, of all things to be one of those memories, is of his potty-training process. I’d heard (or maybe just hoped) that the second child is usually easier to potty train than the first child, because he’d be motivated to be a “big boy” like his brother. As we began the process with Julian, I thought back on how it went with his big brother, three years earlier.

I remembered how my husband and I had to bribe Oscar by giving him rewards during and after he used the potty. We were weaning him off his pacifier at the time, so that became the most successful bribe — Oscar could have his pacifier in bed and on the potty, but nowhere else. (Admittedly this arrangement was wrought with mixed messages, but it worked, so we went with it.)

So, that’s the approach we took with Julian. We offered him bribes, and parental peer pressure. “Oscar uses the potty! Don’t you want to be just like Oscar? He’s such a big boy! Don’t you want to be a big boy like Oscar?!?!”

Turned out, Julian couldn’t be bribed. He also wasn’t falling for the parental peer pressure nonsense. “No, Mommy.” he said one day, as I was attempting to get him to try the potty. (Just try! Don’t you want to be a big boy?)

“No Mommy, I don’t want to be big. I want to be little.”

And then he walked out of the bathroom. There would be no compromise. He understood his options, and he made his choice: Little.

As a person who has spent most of her life being goal-driven, I was perplexed by this. He just didn’t want to move on to the next milestone in his growing-up process. And he wasn’t giving me any excuses or explanations, either.

Thinking back on this today, not only can I smile at the memory, I can be inspired by him. Over the past few months I have been on a bit of a growing-up process myself. In some areas of my life, I’ve been working hard to un-goal myself. In other areas of my life, I’ve been trying to set new types of goals for things I’ve never done before.

One of the things I’ve never done before is run a 5K. So about 3 months ago, I decided I’d run in the “Time to Fly” for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. We have a team that runs (and walks) in memory of Julian — “Joggers for Julian.” I figured, what better motivation could there be? I’d do something I’ve never done, and I’d do it in honor of Julian.

I registered for the run, told my friends and family my plan, and started a training program. At first, the training went fine. Then, not so fine. Then, I started getting really stressed about it. But I continued to slog my way through the training program, because I said I was going to do it (dammit!).

So much of my life has been spent as a goal-driven non-quitter, it literally didn’t occur to me to NOT run the 5K. Until I remembered the story about Julian’s potty-training. I suddenly became very inspired by the “I want to be little” part. This was a significant epiphany for me, because I have spent most of my life moving forward to the next milestone, the next goal, the next “big.”

Most of the time, I forget that “little” is an option. But Julian didn’t forget that. He knew what his options were, and he knew himself. He was resolute and uninfluenced by bribery or peer pressure. He understood that he was supposed to want to be big, and he probably recognized that big-ness was inevitable. But not yet. Not that day.

So, I let go of the running goal. I decided I no longer wanted to be “big” and run the 5K. I wanted to be “little” and just plan to walk the 5K with my friends and family. In the past, I would have been very critical of myself for making this choice. Today, I smile and think of Julian. I’ll be thinking of him every step of the way on my 5K *walk* this coming Saturday.

And in case you’re wondering… he did eventually become potty-trained: Some time went by, and I half-heatedly continued the potty-training efforts. Then one day, I noticed he had left the room and I couldn’t hear him nearby (3YO + silence = red flag). I went looking for him, and the found him… sitting on the potty chair. “Oh, Sweetie!” I said, “You’re pooping on the potty!”

“Yep,” he said. “I decided to be big. I just decided.”

And from that point on, he was potty trained. Because he decided. He just… decided.

Maybe someday I’ll decide to run the Time to Fly 5K. But not this year. This year, I’m going on a “little” walk. 



The event on June 30, 2012 was a wonderful celebration of Julian’s memory. We were overwhelmed and honored by the huge outpouring of support in the form of donations, participation, and encouragement.

We had over 50 people participate on the Joggers for Julian team, and we won 3rd place in overall donations with a grand total of $13,675 raised for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. My husband John also won 2nd place for individual donations.

There was also a “Joggers for Julian – Ohio” event organized by my cousin Mary Catherine, and there will soon be a similar event in Connecticut organized by John’s family.

THANK YOU to everyone who contributed — financially, physically, and emotionally. And last but not least, thank you to Julian for being such an inspiration to those who knew him, those who never met him but have heard his story, and to me. I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the *walk*!


Posted by on June 26, 2012 in year 2


The last of the firsts.

Today is March 3rd. That means it’s Julian’s first Angelversary. One year since the worst day of my life. The last milestone in a year of unimaginable “firsts.”

The first time I woke up, convinced it was all a horrible nightmare… and later, the first time I woke up and knew it wasn’t. The first time I laughed… and later, the first time I realized I had gone a whole day without crying.

The first of his birthdays without him; the first of my birthdays without him. The first Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; the first Christmas and New Year’s. The first time someone asked me how many children I have; the first time I heard Oscar refer to himself as “an only child.”

There’s a surprising amount of relief in reaching the last of these firsts, the first anniversary of his death. Perhaps the only thing I’ve heard about grieving that might be universally true is, “the first year is the hardest.” And as of today, my family and I have survived that year. It’s behind us now. Another bereaved parent recently told me, “it never gets better, but it does get easier.” I believe that will be true for us, too.

Today, I’m thankful for many things. In this particular moment, I’m thankful that my parents encouraged John and I to take a week off of work and take Oscar out of school to join them in Mexico, at the resort that we spent many family spring breaks growing up. I’m thankful that we agreed to it, despite the fact that we had already planned a vacation for the end of March. It’s peaceful and relaxing here, and I’m grateful to be able to spend this day with my husband, oldest son, and parents.

Today I’ve been reflecting on how I have changed in the past year, as I listen to the waves crashing nearby. As irrational as it seems now, I remember that in the first days after Julian’s death, I felt a very real fear that I would somehow forget him. I also started feeling internal and external judgement about my grieving process — as if intense grief indicated intense love, and healing from grief indicated a lack of love. And if I stopped grieving, I would forget him.

But with time, I gained confidence in my own approach to grieving and healing. Thankfully, I eventually came to the conclusion that Martha Whitmore Hickman described so eloquently in Healing After Loss:

“Of course time eases our grief, provided we let it follow its course and give it its due. Few of us would want the intensity and desolation of early grief to stay with us forever. That’s not what we’re afraid of.

But we may be afraid that we’ll lose the intensity of love we felt for the one we have lost.

At first these two–the grief and the love–are so wedded to each other that we cannot separate them. We may cling to the grief in desperation so we will be sure not to lose the love.

Perhaps the grief and the love will always be wedded to each other to some degree, like two sides of a coin. But maybe after a while, when we flip the coin, it will almost always be the love that turns up on top.”

Today, I’m thankful that in fact love almost always does turn up on top. I’m also thankful that a year has passed and I can say with all certainty that he isn’t alive, but he isn’t gone. I still have a relationship with him. I see him everywhere. I see him in my dreams. I saw him in the whales that appeared a short distance off the beach this morning, despite the fact that they weren’t expected for a couple more weeks. I see him in every sunset.

Sometimes, even in Mexico, the sunset is obstructed by clouds. But that doesn’t make me question whether or not the sun exists. Similarly, even if I don’t see or feel him, I know he’s there. A year ago I was afraid he was gone forever. Today I know he’s with me always.

Today is the first anniversary, the last of the firsts. And as my mom said to me just a few minutes ago, “It’s a good day.”


Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Angelversaries, year 2


Tags: , , , , , ,