Saturday, December 26, 2015


Photo by Beth Boyce. Used with permission. 

Well . . . made it through the Christmases—Eve and Day. So much to talk about. So much emotion. So much heartsickness. So much joy. So much reminiscing. So many tears.

The second half of the month did not get any easier than the first. Sue Benson, in true simpatico fashion, came over to help decorate the tree. We set the tree up in its stand, gave it a good drink of water and then waited for the limbs to drop. We wrapped presents that had been purchased online and arrived in a timely manner. Together, we tackled the bins that contain the family Christmas garnishing. We unwrapped ornaments and organized the layers of embellishments that would bedeck the beautiful tree. It was a fun afternoon. She asked about the ornaments and I retold and relived the story of each pretty little thing that allowed it to earn its rightful place on the tree. You were such a big part of the core theme of the tree. Remember when you and I found the earth colored garland and tree bark covered trinkets at the Bedford Mall? You were in high school and we changed our tree around that year. Jason got a kick out of that story—Matthew shopping with Mom for Christmas goodies! The tree topper still stands a purchase on one of our many missions to the Big City from a boutique store on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn. The memories were so great, the emotions so high that it took me another six days to finish decorating the tree. 

I’ve been so entwined in our Past, Present and Future this month. Where one ends—may it be a memory, an event, an old Christmas letter—it stands on its own in the past then morphs into the beginning of the present and together they will herald what is to come of our future.

I was blessed with two great gifts this Christmas. The first came from Beth, your WingWoman. After a very emotional conversation that we shared, she (probably unbeknownst to her) created the seeds of awareness that led to many phone and text conversations, with laughter through tears, with my siblings and others very concerned about the expectations and lack of for our traditional family celebration. Feelings that had been stirring, stewing for quite a while—feelings with no name, feelings that were well known to my soul, living in my heart, lacking clarity in my mind and unable to utter a sound through my voice were suddenly noticed, acknowledged and released from the angst that was taking up precious space on my path to healing. We were able to walk into the air of celebration together with the strongest bonds of familial love sitting in everyone’s heart.

My second great gift came from you—your sign to Nikki that you were with us Christmas Eve. It was a quiet sign, a private sign, a much needed sign. As Nikki was rocking, soothing, comforting Bear during her nightly routine, she found herself in a darkened room at Auntie Ham’s and Uncle Dick’s (Addy’s new name for Auntie Pam). Missing you, filled with lonely love, Nikki started to speak to you. “Are you here tonight? I want you to be. Please send me a sign.” Her next thought was “what can he do, I am in a darkened room?” Baby Bear pulls out his pacifier, says “Dada” and starts laughing. By touching her heart, you touched all of ours. You are only a thought away!

Collin and Bear Bear are sporting your embroidered corduroy Christmas pants, continuing your tradition. We’re starting a new one—I hope you heard. A different Christmas Eve called for a break in tradition. I wanted to speak to our Past, Present and Future. I wanted to toast our Beloved whom had gone to the Other Side while bringing you all into our Present. Our Present now holds seven little souls waiting to learn about us from us. I thought of the very inspiring words you had sent me months ago to help me along my journey. This toast was the opportune time to allow the message to continue healing. Our new tradition will include a toast to the Past, Present and Future bringing you into our Christmas celebrations—allowing you to be a part of our Present. We’ll take turns penning an annual toast. We are Family Strong. 


. . . and here I sit, the day after Christmas. Reflecting on how flat my emotions were Christmas Day. The utter fatigue and exhaustion that come from living through the ‘Firsts’ took over. I wanted to take the tree down to be done with this Holiday Season. Instead, I got a good look at the ache that sits with the joy and realized that it is an invisible weight, the weight of a heartsickness that sits on my chest. A weight that makes breathing a concerted effort. A weight of a new landscape that must be explored—a weight that must be carried. A weight that is a part of my new normal. I’ve taken this opportunity to sit with the ‘flat’ and this weight, and am trying to bring this feeling into the present—where healing occurs. The tree remains standing for one more day. I’ve added the hand-made gingerbread ornaments Elouise gave to Dad and I. I’ve added the Present and our Future to this tree of ours that holds so much of the Past. 

Photo by Kerri Anne

I’m thinking of your little Snow Angel. I look at that innocence. I look at that joy and wonder. One day, in the not so distant future, her little heart will discover that joy sits beside the ache in this life and that it is OK. I’ll teach her that our Love for Daddy is a Forever Thing, and he’s shown us that he is only a thought away. I’ll show her that we heal from tragedy. I’ll surround her in the magnetism of Love. I’ll heal so that I can help heal her. Addy knows that when we want a feeling, or a memory to stick that we ‘rub it in’. I’m going to rub in the comfort of old memories, the blessedness of the lives you’ve left us with. I’m taking the time to rub in the tools I’m learning on this journey to healing. Stay in the present. It all comes back to Love. I am not alone. I can laugh through the tears. I use my voice to connect, comfort and receive as well. The web that holds onto grief is large enough to hold onto Love as well. Grief is a teacher. Love is healing.

A prayer Matthew—
Create a bridge between the joy and the ache
So that we may always find our way home from one to the other
Gently remind us that our past holds the key to our present and our future
Let us visit the past, rejoice in it, yet move it forward
Help us to find our healing in the Present
Bring guidance and light into our Future
Captain our teaching of the Little Ones

Love you Forever and Always—Missing you Forevermore



Wednesday, December 9, 2015



I need your Spirit ear. I need you to hear, to listen. The feelings of angerthe angst, maybe the angst—that’s what I'm really feeling towards the Christmas Holiday Season. They are the unsettled feelings before that moment of clarity illuminates. As life goes on for the rest of the world, when the ordinary-ness takes hold, when the mundane tasks cannot be accomplished because the brain reverts back to acute grief and humanity loses her patience; this is when the first sense of alienation settled in. Different.  I’m different now. How can this holiday be the same? It cannot, will not—Matthew you will never again be in the physical with us. Different is not a bad thing—it’s simply a new thing. The pain comes from trying to recreate the past instead of embracing the present. The love we have for you will never leave us. Your Spirit will forever be a part of us. We can bring you into the festivities and allow you to regale us with the stories and memories you’ve left us. If the tears flow—so be it. You’d cry for us if we were departed. Keep your Spirit alive. Is there a better way to show the children that life goes on after death—that their Daddy, their Uncle, their Cousin will never be forgotten? That we can ‘rub-in’ this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as the start of a new beginning; an homage to the past Eves’ and Days’ we’ve shared—to the wonderful souls of our family now watching us from Above.  It’s sad, it’s teary but we are so very blessed to be graced by so much LOVE.

Pain needs to be given its rightful place. It cries for expression. It does not diminish joy or gratefulness. It’s just not discussed often, nor in depth. It stews most often in silence and erupts in anger, or more damaging to the soul into depression. Death etiquette. That is what I have been concerned about. I say to hell with Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette! Out of frustration with the manner in which death and grieving are viewed, I wanted to see what the source had to say. From the Index, death in extended families falls in the middle of anniversaries and See also Funerals. It falls after death in colleague’s family, engagement announcements when a parent is deceased and euphamisms. It appears before mourning periods, occurrence of and spouse’s death. It gives the bereaved such advice as not to be disappointed in those incapable of helping you through this time, those that retreat . . . but “with a small gesture that the time is right” they may resurface. Shocking to me that the onus is placed on the bereaved. The feelings of alienation are making more sense to me now. I close this book. At this moment, the phoenix in me rises from a depth so deep so dark and so new to me. It shoots to the sky, encircles my being, and in the sounds of the flapping of its wings, a voice is emitted—the voice of grief. It cuts through the wind and howls to the world “Open your hearts. LET HER BE. HER SON IS DEAD! Have you learned nothing from her pain? Release your empathy and show your compassion or will you wait until your own tragedy strikes and then your broken-ness will take the lead that guides and teaches. You cannot escape death, you cannot escape grief. It waits in the shadows ready, willing and able to pounce. Her pain and the pain of all parents, siblings, husbands and wives that have gone before are lessons that have been presented to help with the understanding that this journey was never meant to be travelled alone. The path —yes, unique and individual, the hard work can only be accomplished by one. Accept the teaching of these lessons; create communities of safe, sacred places where the injured hearts have a soft place to rest until they begin their healing and relinquish their space to the next broken heart—which may be yours. Your bereaved brothers and sisters do not need your silence. They need your warmth, your love, your acceptance. Their pain needs to be seen, acknowledged, given reverence and seated at its rightful place next to the joy and gratitude that they work so diligently to uncover. Go ahead—touch it. It may hurt, it may blind, it may shake you to your core. It may fill you with fear and thoughts that you religiously push away. Adorn yourself in your cloak of humanity. Kindness always protects. Why you ask, WHY is this necessary of me — because a child has died and mourning and grieving must take place. A child that lived, that loved, that made a difference to you or perhaps someone like you. WHY WOULDN’T YOU, I ask. ”

As I finished typing the last sentence from the paragraph above, you my dear Matthew, seeing the confusion, sensing the despair, the mourning of lost hopes and dreams—you send me a lifeline. Not only a lifeline for me, but a beautiful lesson, a way of expanding the heart to help, to hold the hand of the bereaved. My Facebook Instant Message notifications rings and this is what I am graced with. With permission, I share:

“Hi Diane, not often in my life am I speechless, since God gave me such a gift of gab! But I have been trying to think of words for you. Hard though, because I know nothing is comforting. I SO remember the first Christmas after Jen, my niece was killed! It was horrible. I could not stand the pain my sister was going thru. She didn't want to celebrate anything , and I respected her. But it drove me crazy. So know what I did? I came up with the philosophy that if I can’t make my sister smile, I will make others smile. Grant and I and our kids adopted 3 families. I shopped for them and we personally delivered their gifts. It was the most emotional experience Diane. The first couple was elderly and alone. NO family. The husband was in a nursing home with the wife by his side. We went to the nursing home to bring them gifts. They cried and were so grateful. The 2nd family was also elderly, no family. The husband was blind and the wife had broken her arm. They lived in an apartment near one of our local high schools. They were waiting for us, watching out their window. We brought them meals and gifts. They were so cute and grateful. BUT the third family was VERY emotional. They lived in center city, originally from Africa. 5 kids and their Dad had just died. They proceeded to sing us a song. Diane, their voices were heavenly. The words in their native language. After they were done, I asked what the words meant. And they said they were grateful to us and we were a Godsend! The gifts we brought were the ONLY ones under their tree. 5 kids and a single Mom! We all had tears. Even my macho teenage son and husband. It was horrible that year that I could do NOTHING for my sister, but at least we could make other people smile. I am sharing this not for a pat on the back, just because I wish I could make you feel better but I can’t! However, every year I adopt a Senior from St. Joseph’s Community Center and this year added a bit more, just to honor you, my friend, in this ##%$#**??? up time in your life. BUT it just doesn’t seem like enough. Can I see you? Can I help you prepare food or festivities? Can I clean your house? Can I just hug you? Just wanted you to know how often I think of you. Love Sue (Benson)”

My pain got its due. I was able to speak its hurt and you heard. As such, you helped me make room for gratefulness to return. I could barely read the words through the tears. This woman, this friend, this heart wide open gave me the most precious of gifts this year. I release my pain. I accept Different. I accept that this Christmas and its Eve will be days of being for me in whatever frame of emotion I am feeling. Doing is something I will look forward to next year. Finding joy while living with the ache . . . this is so difficult at times. Thank you for Peace, Matthew. Thank you Sue for being you.
Love you forever and always Sweetheart—



Thursday, December 3, 2015



I’ve been thinking a lot lately Matthew, about how you may look in Spirit. I came across this GIF file the other day and it made my heart skip a beat. I believe this may be you. Fly free, fly high, soar my Sweetheart—you’re not earthbound anymore! I hear, I read that death is nothing more than a transformation of energy to a different dimension—Heaven. Look at the transformations this bird goes through! Infinite orbs of golden light—shining, twinkling, changing shape and size. Are these your memories, your personality and character traits? Are you held together by Love? Consciousness, the soul does not have a physical body, yet I can see you, through you, around you. You are here, then there. Are you everywhere—a thought, a breath, a scent, a vision of beauty, a sound? Looks as though you are spreading light? Is this how we feel you—does your Love leave a trail of laughter and joy, are you filling our hearts with comfort, our souls with peace? Your energy appears forceful, strong, determined. You are Light you are Love—you continue to live in our hearts, our souls, in the Beyond. We are connected, we are One.

Eleven months. Thinking it, saying it out loud, seeing the number in print—the numbness is returning. Waking up in the dark is different than waking up to dawn. The dark is gloomy. Cold winter weather is gloomy. Dawn and light represent hope. I need to find something positive that represents the dark and cold. I woke up before Dad this morning. I lay in bed, immobilized for a few minutes. I heard Dad stir. Silence and then an audible, long sigh—that moment you are reminded—another day without Matthew. I could hear words in that sigh. Men and women grieve so differently. That sigh was heartbreaking. His grieving carries a lot of silence. I asked him the other day what he misses about you and his answer was the furthest possible from mine. He misses the animated discussions, the passion, the escalating voices, the varying points of view, your uncoachable ways! I didn’t ask him why, I was so stunned. My mother’s heart would get overwhelmed at those times. I’m not one for rowdy conversation. Quiet and polite suits me better. I know all the words to Kumbaya. I bet Dad could see you most alive when you were trying to share your point of view. He loved the way your mind worked. Me, I miss the hugs, the phone calls, the visits. I miss you being alive, here with me. I miss our complete family unit. Could be the holidays—they are difficult?  We made it through Thanksgiving. Tough day for me, as you and I connected in a special way through cooking. I made sure the mashed potatoes had no tears mixed in with the butter and the milk. We put quite a few sides on hold until next year when Jason, Beth and the girls will join us for Thanksgiving. I missed your turkey day production schedule, your timed sides, your kitchen voice when joining in the conversation. Your football game noises were absent. The only men in the house—Dad and Bear and he’s too young to do the speedy two-hand touchdown clapping cheer that you and Jason have mastered to a T.

I came across an expression recently that hits a high note in my grief journey—"the saddest joy"*  an example that grief lives in me forever. Even though time has shown me that I can make peace with sadness, it also teaches me that my emotions are felt so differently since grief has taken up residence; sharing every emotion from the bittersweet to the joyous. It is a full way of feeling on the inside. It’s a halfway show of feeling on the outside—half of the emotion gets suppressed, hidden like a dirty secret. Another reason why Grief needs to be better understood. Feelings, emotions and expressions become contradicting corroborations; sometimes both sides felt at once, other times side by side. Have you ever experienced angry pleasure, helpless strength, guilty freedom, anxious serenity, lonely love, fearful courage, uncertain security, confused organization, bitter sweetness, irritable calm, painful relief the very saddest joy? Is this how you felt when Andrew died? When you wrestled with your Grief? . . . And the words I have associated with Grief: wrestled, tussled, grappled, friend, enemy, teacher, joy, ache, sadness, sorrow. From one end of the spectrum to the other; I have never met a more complicated process.

At nine months I was trying to decipher the normal in Grief. With thoughts racing and perhaps over-thinking; was I creating an obsession, was I stuck in the past? I asked myself:

 “Is it normal to continually look at my cell phone screen photo and ask WHY when I know that question is not going to be answered in a manner that will make my heart stop bleeding? Is it normal to touch that photo, push back that stray strand of hair away from your eyes? Is it normal to stroke your cheeks remembering all the kisses planted softly? Is it normal to be doing this daily after nine months have passed? Is it normal to not notice the tears until the photo blurs? Is it normal to yearn for more than the memories? ” What is normal is to experience a love so strong, so deep, so unconditional and to know it will never die. I miss you so much Matthew.

At eleven months I am still searching but have learned to surrender. I’m holding onto that photo. I still kiss your cheek. Yes, this act of Love is very normal—a normal expression of grief. It is my anxious/tranquil moment. Will the ability to perceive you as other than your physical self move me a step forward? Another question that will remain unanswered for now. And so I continue to live in that place with the joy and the ache . . .

A prayer, Matthew—
Remove the fingerprints from my lenses
Let me see with clarity
Feel without contradiction
Hold my hand in the dark
Continue to apply balm to my heart
As you feed peace to my soul
Walk with me through fear and loneliness
Give me a glimpse of the changed, new me.

Love you Forever and Always,

*facebook comment Carol Leonard Death Expo Public Group Page



Friday, November 27, 2015


Photo courtesy of Mysty Bissonnette. Used with permission.

Going to be sharing this blog post a little differently. Our FIRST Thanksgiving without Matt. We’ve decided to forego the Mac & Cheese! We are experiencing a lot of “rememberings” this week. Matthew had taken to preparing this Holiday meal for his extended family . . . and he was so good at it. Jason, Beth and entourage are celebrating in New York (we share). Brother and his family are not making the trip north. Our table will be set smaller yet our hearts have grown so much since last year. We’ll be trying to define our thanks and our giving in this post—Nikki and I will be co-authoring. Our giving—vulnerability and an honest discussion about grief. We hope you join in and share and allow this to be an open dialogue regarding a silent subject, a very taboo topic. Talk—let’s really talk. Let’s unearth why it is so difficult to talk about death and its’ aftermath—GRIEF. Let’s talk about what happens on a grief journey. Let’s talk about why being around the bereaved is sometimes too difficult for the non-bereaved. Let’s talk about the different views surrounding grief. Let’s talk about what is reality and what is myth. Let’s try and put different faces on grief and see if our shared experiences tweak our perspectives. Does continued grief feel like a life that is being lived in the past or do you see it as living a life in Love?  Does grief have an end or is it the one element that plugs up the hole in a broken heart? Is grief defined by sorrow, sadness and despair or does it encompass many facets and faces that also include joy and sadness, bittersweet memories and the ability to make new ones? Can grief be incorporated into a new way of living moving forward? Is grief the friend, the enemy or the teacher? When do the “How are you(s)” transition into the “How are you doing(s)” or is it the other way around?

Nikki, will you have a conversation with me about Grief? Let’s talk about the grief from death we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Let’s talk about the initial shock of grief after Matthew’s death, the dark side. How has it changed in 10 months time? How does this level of grief compare to other grief experiences lived through?
NikkiGrief shakes you to the core, it moves into every part of your body. When grief first strikes you go numb, you become almost robotic in a sense. You don’t know how you are moving or performing daily tasks but you do it. Although, if I did not have two of the most beautiful tiny humans staring me in the face every day, things could be entirely different. Once the “numbness” wears off and the adrenaline pumping through your numb soul wears off, Grief hits you smack dab in the face. The situation for me felt more raw and more real 6 months after losing Matty than it did on day one (this was my biggest surprise to date). I feel as though there is truly only so much your mind, body & soul can absorb. When it gets real like this you have to look for and hang on to any positive tidbit to keep you going, to keep your family going. It is required to perform daily life!!
I have experienced Grief in life before my beloved Matthew, but none that even came close to shaking me like this. Matthew’s Death was both physically and emotionally painful, a full blow to me as a being. Our family did not speak much of Death as we had not experienced a large amount of it in our small family. I had always had this awful feeling inside of me that because I was so lucky to have family members alive and well, with the exception of the few that I had lost and reading horrific stories of families that had lost so much, that it would all either happen at once or it would be a loss so huge that I could not handle it—then BOOM. You hear the most awful of stories and you cannot help but feel awful for these people and could not imagine it happening to you, and then it does.

DianeNo other death compares to how I felt after Matthew died. A traumatic, unexpected, unanticipated death. A blow to every cell in my body. A physical ache like I’ve never experienced. I felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my body at the end of that first fateful day. That physical pain lasted for a few days. More than tears—wailing, sending a primitive, guttural message throughout the universe announcing my despair. Robotic motions. I must find where his body was taken. We need to say goodbye. Meet with the Funeral Director. How do you plan a Memorial Service? The calls, the emails, the food, the flowers, the sick babies, the grief put on hold. The kind words spoken at the Wake. Crazy things you remember . . . wow, condolences from the heart. I’ll have to remember those words when I need them next. Gone. Forgotten. A memory of kindness from the heart. The love and support spoke to my mood and spirits for a month after the Service.  Sadness but the ability to get through the day followed—my thinking, “I can do this. This is easier than I thought it would be”. Then my brain, my thinking betrayed me. Sleep was sporadic. The only thing I could count on for a routine was tears. Meals went unmade. Laundry—I could not sort colors. The cold, cold January days matched the chill I felt on my inside. Once the adrenaline had completed escaped, left the body, reality set in and I was set in the midst of a new frontier. How would I ever feel happiness again? How was I going to get through this? The Dark Days of grief, the acute phase of grief. In the pit of despair, in the early grief, when weeping and raging come in fits. When nothing provides release. When a piece of your soul feels like it has died. When your soul is nicked by Grief— this is where the scars live. How was I going to help my family when I felt helpless myself? I understood the mantra “one day at a time”, sometimes one breath at a time, sometimes someone please breathe for me!

Death of a child differs drastically from prior deaths I had experienced. The death of older relatives and my parents, parents of friends, a good friend and father of six, and acquaintances.  My Dad died at the young age of 47, my Mom and Step-Dad in their 70’s and all three after extensive illnesses. My Dad’s death was difficult. I had just turned 21 and was starting to find my way in the world, a newly married with my parents’ relationship as my only true guide—still learning about myself, self-confidence, self-worth, trust and independence. It felt like an unnatural time for him to die. He would miss so much of my sibling’s lives and the future lives we would bring forth that would enlarge our family. I saw the face of grief through my Mom’s eyes when her heart was shattered, her greatest Love gone, her life changed drastically with two young teen boys left to raise and very little money to do so. I stumbled. It was all sadness and tears and the belief that time heals all—my first uncovered myth. My Mom’s phone number is still part of my contact list on my cell, eight years later. I miss her friendship, yet for both my Mom & Step-Dad, a life of pain and suffering takes its toll.  I wanted peace for them. My religious upbringing kicked in with their passing. I knew in my heart that they were in a better place. I felt physical and emotional exhaustion that I knew I would recover from. There was a deep, deep sadness that ensued. I talked to them a lot and actually asked my Mom to lift the sadness after her one year anniversary—life was too difficult to live with so much loss of color. My interest in the workings of the afterlife was awakened when I felt as though a blanket of grief had been immediately lifted from my shoulders. All the good memories returned and my days became lighter. Life goes on and so must I.

What advice or “words of encouragement” have you been given by others about your grieving or death in general that has turned out not to be true, but rather insensitive and hurtful?

Nikki“Time heals everything” is certainly a tough one for me. You will adjust and you will push forward, but you won’t heal 100%. I do not believe that you will ever come back to be the person you were before such tragedy. But what I do believe is that you can live a “new normal”, you can be strong again & you can live your life to its fullest potential should you choose to do so.

Everyone grieves differently, and NOBODY should ever have to try to fight and/or hide it. We are all individual and when there is a loss so huge you CANNOT begin to imagine what it feels like.  Kind thoughts and encouragement are welcome, assuming you know and judgments are not. 

Diane“Time heals all”, “He’s in a better place”, “You are so strong” (I’m not strong, I just don’t choose the other choices—there are very few choices—move forward albeit slowly at times, or forget about choosing life/living. “You need to be around other people. You’re not engaging your brain enough.” “Today is a happy day. Only happy thoughts today”. These statements are not helpful to me. They may be coming from well-meaning hearts yet I feel like I need to hold in my sadness, put on a mask when I hear these words of “encouragement”. What I really need is for somebody to affirm my sadness if that is what I am feeling and sometimes a kind heart can gently bring me back from a blue mood by bringing forth a happy memory, saying his name—Matthew, Matty, Matt. Some days nothing helps other than sitting with the sadness. One statement that I do find truth in is: “this (blue mood, paralyzing sorrow) too shall pass”. This could only come from my lips to my heart and could only be believed after living the experience, and I need to remind myself again and again. 

How and where were support and comfort found when first assaulted by Grief?  What is the first step that needs to be taken in dealing with grief? What could begin to fill the void, the emptiness?

NikkiI turn to my children for support. I turn to the beautiful soul that is my Husband. Matthew would not want me to curl up and throw in the towel. Our children deserve to live the fullest life that I am able to provide them. They are my being. I am thankful that I have their little faces to remind me that not only is giving up not an option but that pushing yourself to make it your best life possible is a must.
DianeHope for healing for our broken, hurting hearts. I set my intention for healing early on. It didn’t happen for many months and will continue to happen throughout my lifetime, yet I clung to Hope and I continue to cling. I sought out people and places that would remind me and re-teach me that beauty heals—especially the beauty in nature. I scoured the internet for different support groups and blogs. I searched for stories of others’ grief journeys. I wanted someone to help light the way so that I would not encounter any surprises—grief does not work this way. I wanted to learn as much about death as I could. I wanted to shake the pain. I wanted my old life back. I wanted the numbness and the brain drain to stop. I wanted to hear stories about Matthew that would add to what I already knew of my Son. I wrapped myself up in warm blankets and books. I leaned on my Sister. Nikki and I texted constantly . . . sharing, sharing, sharing. After a few months, I wanted to write, to release some of the pressure sitting in my chest, share the experience in the hopes that more healing would come from despair and sorrow. I sought out grief counseling in the 4th or 5th month. I vowed to never stop growing and learning and sharing.

How are you dealing with your journey? What saddens you, angers you, comforts you. How do you feel when you have a public breakdown—how have others responded? How does grief progress for you? What does it look like? What supports you?

NikkiGrief is a rollercoaster and you certainly experience EVERY EMOTION that your body has to offer. Some days I think “why me?” and I immediately follow that with the thought “take a good look at your life, look what Matthew has left you with: our two beautiful children, an amazing family, a circle of the most caring of people & endless amounts of beautiful (and hysterical) memories”. 
DianeA grief journey is individual. There are no guidebooks or timetables. We’re all feeling our way, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. Grief comes in many sizes, shapes and colors. A grief felt deeply reflects the amount of love held for the deceased. Grief associated with trauma enters our being with the ferocity of a raging storm—wind, rain, sand, fire—no need to differentiate as angry, turbulent, tumultuous elements create destruction and desolation. We need to find and utilize proper protection to help us weather the storm. Sturdy walls, no windows will offer more safety in a hurricane or tornado, boots for a rain or thunderstorm, warmth and hunkering down for a nor’easter, clothing and shields for sand and fire. We wait for the calm, the peace that graced our lives before the storm to return. The aftermath may require us to rebuild, clear debris, wait for the power to come back on—much like the reflection and growth phase of grief. Reflection comforts me. It tells me I am working on my journey. Clarity that comes from reflection is where the real comfort lies. Ah! Another step forward! I find comfort in my many books, the arms of my husband, my Sister and her words of encouragement, my Aunt, my family, my friends, the phone calls from Jason, the long conversations with Beth, the continued connections with Nikki . . . and oh, those grandchildren. I find great comfort in the blog. I find continuity in support. Signs from Matthew always put a smile on my face and a thank you on my lips. While doing some Thanksgiving meal shopping, I saw another of Matthew’s doppelgangers. The color of the hair, the cut, the back of his body, his clothing, his swagger. I saw his look-alike from the back—no need to feel like the crazy stalker Lady. I kept my gaze on him until we parted ways in the grocery store. Tears flowing, I had left my Big Sunglasses and tissues in the car, of all days! It was a “leaky” shopping mission. Everyone went about their business. I kept my head bowed. The sadness was worth the sighting. An instant of having Matthew back even when I know it’s just make believe—harmless, there is no reality here.

Close to 11 months without Matthew and I feel I am getting emotionally stronger. I have been able to understand more about mourning and grief. The tears happen less often, the physical pain is gone; the raw edges of sorrow are no longer. I stay open because I’ve learned that’s where the lessons happen. I’m gentler with my grief and not so quick to anger at her appearance. I talk to her. I let her take over when she needs to. She advances me forward in baby steps. I let her work me out and over. I gratefully accept her offering of healing.

What are your feelings about grief, what are your views? Is it something private, not shared; shared and supported; do you allow it become public? Has anything about grief surprised you? Has grief been transforming? Are you thankful/grateful for any of the lessons you’ve learned through grief? What has truly touched your soul in walking this journey?

NikkiGrief teaches you that life is as simple or as complicated as you decide to make it. You spend your whole life trying to achieve perfection. I found it and I know that one day we will reunite and start right back where we left off. I am not sure that I have gone into any adjustment period aside from learning a whole new front of responsibility. The “new normal” will have to suffice & so I pray that his beautiful soul is at peace and that he will help me to keep my heart open and my head strong.
DianeGrief is not a disease. Grief is not contagious. Grief is not comfortable. Grief is disruptive, messy, unpredictable, confusing, disorderly and exhausting. Grief robs you of the control, the order you once had over your life. Grief is a normal reaction to a profound loss. Grief is a process, phases that she will introduce us to. I feel like I am walking through four phases, not all in order, jumping back and forth, sometimes trying to hurry to get to peace and thrown right back to the Acute phase—grief cannot be rushed. I’ve walked through and sat with Reflection & Growth, got a glimpse of Reorganizing & Rebuilding and have a date with Redefining & Re-establishing. Grief’s timetable becomes your timetable. Her path leaves enough room for you and when needed, she expands to allow someone to join you and hold your hand. Grief teaches us that we have to trust and surrender to reclaim peace and healing.

Grief like the make-up of people takes on their persona. If you are reserved and not one to discuss feelings, I believe your grief will follow suit. Your voice will be quiet yet the emotions will be churning. I’m hoping my words can be your friends on your journey and let you know that you are never alone. If you are silent and not speaking because grief hurts too much and you are delaying your grief, may my words provide some light to illuminate the beginning of your path. My voice of grief speaks loudly. Emotions have always ruled my day. I share in the hopes that my posts to Matthew will touch the soul of someone that is grieving; open the eyes of a non-bereaved that truly wants to help and support a family member or friend. I share what has worked for me with those whose eyes are already open, as they show empathy and compassion to a loved one who is walking the path. I share with kindred souls online and off with whom I am heart-connected, and we hold hands when needed so that we may get to that place of peace. Never alone.

I love this quote/passage. You can replace the word ‘fate’ with the word ‘grief’ and here you’ll find a very apropos analogy.
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up the sky like pulverized bones.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

A major transformation came forth when I realized that Accepting, Adjusting, Attachments and Letting Go (Be Brave Speaks the Bird to the Broken Heart post) were intertwined. I am reminded that so many of the processes of grief do not come into your life solo yet are rather interwoven.

I never thought I would be thankful to Grief for ANYTHING! She shakes her head, smiles ever so gently and whispers “Wait, be patient—I have much in store for you”. Grief has recently loaned me a pair of glasses. They seem to have special lenses. They have shown me that the beauty and depth of Love for Matthew was and is—remains entwined in my heart and soul. Forever mine. Forever is a gift from Grief. Forever a part of me. Grief now entwined with Love in my heart and soul. Grief—not the menace I thought she originally was. This is where I discover gratitude in Grief. This is where I meet Grief, my teacher. This is where I find the joy and the ache. This is where I regain the ability to repair my shattered heart and refill my broken vessel. Gratitude also comes in different measures of time. As we continue to celebrate Matty’s Forever 36 birthday, we also now celebrate the day of his death. His age stands still at 36 yet the numbers will grow with the years regarding his death. I give this day a name—Matthew’s Missing You Anniversary. I like the sound of that so much better than Death Anniversary. I, and those who love Matthew will express gratitude by honoring his life, for having been touched deeply by this man, on this day. That we share with each other and our grieving community how he lived and loved—by incorporating his living and loving into our way.

What has truly touched my soul? Let me tell you about my “Soul Angels”—a group of gals from my high school years that have reached out and gently guided me to the start of my journey back to life and living. I don’t know if they realize how important their efforts were/are or how much they mean to me. I thank them with all my heart but sometimes seeing the thanks in words deepens their meaning and worth. Three weeks after Matthew’s death, they contacted me and set up a night out for dinner, love, support, hugs and some Good Grief talk. The oddity is, we never all hung out at the same time in school. Some were my old neighborhood friends, others were friends of friends and some relationships grew as a result of reunion planning. They have experienced grief personally or have held the hand of others they love who are grieving. I’ve read that we travel this lifetime with a soul group whom we are meant to learn our earthly life lessons with. This feels so mystical to me. I can’t come up with a better explanation. Out of the woodwork, when so needed, shining a light that illuminated the starting gate. They appeared. Showing me that I will never walk alone. Our group is expanding. I am part of a community—the Good Grief Gals, how does this sound Ladies?

How would you begin a conversation about Grief? 

NikkiEveryone is a different being in every way, shape and form. Some people are comfortable talking about Grief and their lost loved one, I am one of them. I believe in talking about them and still believing in them, I want to keep his legacy alive. I also understand that some people like to grieve on their own time and in their own way. As far as starting a conversation about it, this is my first time engaging in a conversation about Grief. I would be more than willing to share my experience and the steps I have taken to try and heal.

Diane—I would begin a conversation by asking a question— “Hey, will you talk with me about Grief?”

What would you want the non-bereaved to know about your grief? How would you help someone understand what grief looks like from your experience?

Nikki— Understanding Grief for the non-bereaved seems close to impossible for me. It is like trying to explain to someone that does not have children what it is like to raise them. You can never truly understand the depths and the sacrifices of it until you are in the position. But what you can do is assure people that life does go on. You will always mark your life as before and after this tragedy. You have the same DNA but are an entirely different person on the inside. Your passion will stay true (at least it has for me) but perspective changes over all.

Diane—I would want the non-bereaved to know that grief is a natural part of life. Grief from death is the last part. When you see it in someone, please look beyond the tears and the sadness and what may seem like immobility in life, in moving forward and recognize that you are witnessing a great love—a love that has lost its direction, its safety, its comfort, half of its heart and shared memories. Watch closely and you will see a shattered and broken heart that is mending, on its own timetable, in its own way. You will feel sympathy and may experience empathy if you’ve had your own battle with grief. Continue to watch and you will see compassion bloom in the bereaved as grief softens and healing takes hold. Compassion is a beautiful thing to behold. It opens the heart. It results in action that makes our world a kinder place. Lend an ear, grab hold of a hand. Stay with the uncomfortable-ness that you both may be feeling. You will feel a soul-connectedness and your life will be changed forever.  You are helping to heal the life of another—a true gift of yourself, wanting nothing in return yet gaining immeasurable rewards.

So ends our first conversation about Grief. You’ve become a very big part of how we grieve the death of our beautiful Matthew. We’ve shared our stories which have helped us immensely in our grieving process. We are getting closer to the FIRST anniversary of his death—his going home. We are still navigating unchartered waters, unsure where this grief journey will take us. We appreciate and give thanks to each and every one of you—our family, friends and readers. We want to help break through the uncomfortable-ness on both sides of grief—for the bereaved and the non-bereaved. We want to be better able to support those who will be heading into grief and we hope you will join us. We need your words. We are giving you ours. Blessings to you all on this special day.

Diane & Nikki
Loving Matthew Forever & Always—MLA13*

*Matthew Laurent Allard 13 is his favorite number



Sunday, November 1, 2015


Used with permission

October was the month I took on a new CarlyMarie project. “Project Heal—Capture Your Grief, a month of mindful healing, reflection and storytelling.” One subject a day does not seem too overwhelming and rather doable until I was actively involved and it proved to be too much. I have to admit, I was unable to complete every day’s reflection. Too much emotion surfaced for having lost you less than a year ago. Emotions I thought I had dealt with coming back at me from different angles. Layers upon layers this grief thing is comprised of, not just steps and stages. I did learn quite a bit taking this side path on my journey. Met a grieving Mom and we instantly heart-connected over the loss of our children. An emotional bond developed and I was comforted by her spirit, so strong and brave and generous. Brenda Lee lost her 12 year old boy 4 years ago. His name is Coleton Nelson. She has been involved in this project for quite a few years and still struggles. When I shared with Brenda that this project was more difficult than I had imagined, this is what she wrote to me: 

“For now I will do this journal for you and for me and for all the other mothers who are suffering. They may not be their words or we may have many differences in our journey but we do have one thing in common the pain of losing our child”. 

We truly do not have to walk alone. I felt I could stay connected to the project and the immersion no longer held importance. Thank you Brenda Lee. *

The daily subjects required reflection and a photo that related to the topic of the day. I discovered that I could have stayed on one subject for many days and written many pages in hopes of unloading my heart, untangling my emotions and bringing a little more clarity to my grief. Instead, I found myself paralyzed, immobilized by thought most days. I read the entries of others, participated when I could and remained silent with my own incomplete ruminations when I could not. It is a great project, organizes topics and gives the bereaved a starting point for sorting out what they are feeling and maybe did not even know that they were feeling. Needs to be paced slower for the newly bereaved. I can pick it up again when my heart has rested a bit. 

What I am left to grapple withwhat I still need to learn so much aboutafter this month of reflection is how intertwined, how woven together Accepting, Adjusting, Attachments and Letting Go are. It seems you cannot work on one aspect of this grief process without touching all others. A friend asked me if Acceptance was the major roadblock attendant with grief. My immediate answer was “No—seeing, touching and kissing your lifeless body on the hospital gurney the day of the accident was real.” There was no getting around the fact that you were dead. I had to accept reality. There was no more physical you. You were now Love and Memories and Spirit, and you can’t touch any of those in our physical world. Once I Accepted, I began Adjusting and that is a very difficult stage. How do I replace the physical? How do I connect with Spirit? How do I continue to Love and visit my Memories that are overshadowed by the pain and trauma of your death? The pain and trauma say “Forevermore” and I fought Forevermore with Hope that there had to be another way. And there was/is and the trauma has left but so much more remains. It’s a lot like schooling—your advanced degrees do not come to you when you are finishing up your first year of elementary school. Your brain absorbs history differently in grade 5 than it does in grade 12. The heart has only so much capacity and you learn about grief slowly, and you build upon what you learn. My realization is that healing can accompany grief—healing, not having been healed. Healing has many layers like Adjustment. How do I heal a hole in my heart? What do I fill it with? Will it ever beat full of life again? I don’t have the answer to these questions yet as I do not think the heart can be fully healed. Healed is something that can be attributed to a cut, a scrape or a broken bone. My heart is healing. As my heart heals, it grows. As it grows, I change. I carry Hope with me that I will continue to heal, grow and change until my last breath is taken. I’m trying to stitch the hole, fill the cavity. It is cavernous. There is a missing piece, a piece that will always be with you—and I would not want that piece any other place. Can one manufacture a piece of the heart?

I now find myself at the crossroads of Attachments and Letting Go hoping they will help me with Adjusting. Once again, the people that have come into my life for a reason will be accompanying me on the next leg of my Grief Journey. Jennifer is one of “the People”. The Mourning Dove has once again made his appearance. The dove has a story to tell. I feel we are just a few chapters in. I feel so very connected to you when I am gifted with the presence of the bird. Auntie and I visited Jennifer Albin’s NY studio and I found a piece that immediately spoke to my heart. It was one of her first pieces and Jennifer was going to paint over it. It was a perfect piece, waiting silently in the salvage pile to be discovered and given its’ rightful place. It is homage to your life. It’s a Prince of a Bird and now sits in a Sacred Space in our home. The art conveys a message, I believe your message and says—“Be Brave . . . because you’ll carry your grief for a lifetime. It does not mean you are stuck, that you cry all day, that you can only feel like you are alive when your daily existence is reliving the past in memories.  NO, to the contrary. You're learning how to live with a hole in your heart. You're finding joy and trying to fill the hole. You’re recreating yourself. You’re discovering new interests. You're making new memories with my children. You're keeping me alive in the hearts and minds of family and friends. You 'got' my legacy of Love and you're speaking my language of Hugs. You allow the resonance of my heartbeat and its message to be heard. You’re spreading my Love. You're enduring. Be Brave Mom.”

The message speaks loudly, clearly, My next step is to identify my attachments to you, Matthew: the early morning phone calls after your men were dispatched, the funny text messages, the man giggles with Jason & how you'd feed off of each other when telling stories, the way the Brothers could read each others’ minds leaving the rest of us trying to figure out the missing piece of the conversation, the random egg sandwich breakfasts you'd stop by for, your checking in on Dad & I after a snow storm to make sure we were plowed out. . .you knew Dad had his own guy and yet every storm you'd make the trip.  . . I miss the caring, the hugs—those great big full of love hugs, I miss recipe sharing, cooking together & enjoying your culinary delights, I miss watching you parent & love your nuggets & being an uncle to Jason's. I miss the fact that you loved the last house you ever looked at & it was in our neighborhood, the neighborhood you grew up in. The neighborhood that will never get to help raise your family. I miss the irreverent pats on the butt. I miss the future of being so close to the greatest show on earth. I miss you and everything about you.  So there you have it—Acceptance but what do I do with  these Attachments?

Jennifer tells a story about “rubbing it in”. As a counselor, Jennifer would ask her clients to rub their hearts when they heard something positive about themselves or experienced someone being kind. “The symbolic act of rubbing the love into their hearts helped them internalize what they were hearing, seeing and feeling.” And another “Aha” moment was born. What if I borrowed this beautiful symbolic act of Jennifer’s and added a bit of a spin. I need. . .the family needs some physical action that will help us in our healing process. What if I take these attachments I have to you that are so strong; what if Nikki tells Addy tales of every memory of you, every good quality, every character trait, every enchanting aspect of your personality, your entertaining sense of humor that make up their Daddy’s spirit and Addy teaches Bear as he grows; what if Nikki, Jason, Beth & Dad . . . all of your friends and family identified their attachments and we “rub them in"—into our hearts. We “rub in” the love, “rub it in” so deeply that it pushes out the sadness. “Rub it in” so that it polishes our hearts, makes them glow, keeps them warm and vibrant. “Rub it in” until the warmth spreads out to others. Keep “rubbing it in” until the love and the warmth melts the bitterness, dissolves the anger, deconstructs the grief and the rhythms of our heartbeats synchronize and kindness and respect and gratefulness and love, the legacy you left us, begins to speak the universal language of the heart—compassion and empathy.  Oh, the “rubbing it in” will deeply ingrain your memory, your hugs, the gift of you into our hearts and the hearts of every life you've touched. Your heartbeat contribution, heard loudly by your family and friends—now shared with everyone. “Rubbing it in” until our hearts respond. “Rubbing it in” for healing. “Rubbing it in” to symbolize that the best of you, Matthewyour spirit is everlasting.

The journey continues. New lessons learned. New lessons to be learned. New lessons shared. Never alone. Always discovering. Moving forward. Loving you—you are entwined in the fabric of my being.

My prayer, already (partially answered and thank you) at your 10 month anniversary:

My heart stands still
Enveloped by grief, sadness & confusion
If Love is my compass,
If Love is our connection
Guide me towards healing and understanding that
Letting go is directed solely at pain and sorrow
And not the memory of
Nor my relationship with you

Love you forever and always,


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