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