The Descent And The Climb

Grief climb hill Virginia football

We have seats. Really good seats. Behind the bench in the middle of the field. But every Saturday, before the game starts, the boys like to climb down the Hill.

The way down is precipitous and steep, momentum propelling us faster than we can control, our ankles buckling on the uneven ground.

When we finally reach the bottom, they sit as still as can be, as the percussive vibrations of the band commingle in the air with the raucous cheers of the crowd.

Two boys who rarely stop moving for anything are rendered completely motionless, despite the chaos that surrounds them. Read more...

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Love, Loss, and Time

Love loss time memory

When you lose someone, everyone is quick to tell you, in soft voices laden with reassurance, that you will forget. That time anesthetizes the sharp pains that disrupt your sleep and interrupt the most mundane moments of your day.

And they’re absolutely right.

But what they don’t tell you is that the forgetting hurts as much as the initial loss. That in the forgetting, you lose another piece of that which you have already lost.

That the resilience that propelled you through the gasping breaths of panic and the heaving sobs of loneliness is a double-edged sword. Read more...

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The Long Ride Home

Long ride home uva basketball wahoowa ncaa tournament basketball season

It’s 150 miles from here to Charlottesville.

I’ve done it often enough to know it takes two hours and 35 minutes to get from my front door to my seat in John Paul Jones Arena.  Five hours round-trip, give or take, depending on traffic and how many times I need to stop for coffee.

There are times when it seems longer than that — when we are mired in traffic, when we are racing against the clock to make it into our seats before tip-off, or on the long ride home after a late game on a Monday night.

Don’t worry — I am keenly aware it sounds crazy to have season tickets to a basketball team that plays 150 miles away and adds 3,000 miles to my odometer each year. Read more...

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A Girl, Her Dad, and a Boy

One year ago, I woke up to Facebook reminding me, as I was still groggy and only half awake, to wish my dad a happy birthday.

And for a minute, it felt like salt in my wounds because he’s not here anymore damnit and I silently cursed myself for forgetting to delete his account again.

But then I went on a field trip with 20 first grade boys who were silly and sweet and wanted to feel and touch and learn.

And one of them – one who always has trouble staying out of trouble – seemed to need my attention. So I held his hand while we walked and I gave him my sandwich when he asked if he could have it because he didn’t like his own and I played games with him on the bus to distract him from hitting the other boys. Read more...

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Staying Close


Over the last few weeks, I have been open about the internal doubts and crisis of confidence that brought me to my knees. For all I know you are tired of hearing about it. And that’s totally fine.

But I’m going to keep talking about it for two reasons. The first, and entirely selfish reason, is that, as previously noted, I am a talker. I say what I am feeling the moment I feel it. And as this is my space, the one place where I get to make all the decisions, well, I get to talk.

The second, and more important reason, is that I have learned over the last few weeks that so many of you have faced the same questions. And that has given me great comfort. Read more...

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The Light And The Dark

We were away this week. And by away I mean away. I completely checked out. No phone, no email, no texts, no TV, no Facebook.

Just people. Sand and seals and starfish. Card games and songs and mini golf. Lobster rolls and three different clam chowders. Bright sun and cold fog. A precious baby boy who shares my name. Family.
Chatham vacation beach family

I was so unplugged I didn’t even take that many pictures. And it was amazing.

Maybe I didn’t check out as much as I checked in.

There was some hard stuff too. That town, that house – they are filled with ghosts for me. I stood at the same counter where I heard my dad’s last words. I walked the same stone terrace where my brother and I lay hand in hand later that night. I drove the same winding streets where we followed the ambulance for miles. Read more...

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Years That Ask Questions: A Letter To My Father On The Second Anniversary Of His Death

Years That Ask Questions And Years That Answer

Dear Daddy,

It’s been over a year since I last wrote you a letter. Two years since I stood in church clad in a black dress that mom told me was more appropriate than the orange one I wanted to wear.

I had thought about that dress the whole 12 hours we drove home from Cape Cod, in the silence that filled the car between the calls. The calls about death certificates and funeral receptions and Valium prescriptions. I thought about it as we drove past New Haven and I made Billy stop the car so I could walk on the Green just as I had 15 years before. Just as you had 40 years before. Read more...

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Father’s Day Without A Father

Father's day without a father

This Sunday will be the second Father’s Day since my dad died. Thus begging the tricky question of what to do on Father’s Day when you no longer have a father.

For some, I imagine that Father’s Day without a father is a reminder of the giant gaping hole in your life. The display of Hallmark cards, the inundation of emails entitled “Give Dad What He Really Wants!” and the heartrending TV ads of dads as our first loves and our heroes all feel like salt on wounds that have not healed, but have just been bandaged over. Read more...

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They Can’t Take That Away From Me

Lynn Brubaker

I was reminded yesterday that it was Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday. I grew up with Ella playing on scratchy LPs as I danced around the den on top of my father’s feet, listening to him sing off-key.

My father had eclectic taste in music, and he clearly felt it was one of his greatest parental obligations to introduce us to all of it.

Music, for my father, was more than a song. It was a story.

He would play the staples of his college days–The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel–and tell us the story of the anti-war movement, the drug culture, and the sexual revolution. He would play Broadway show tunes and tell us about political corruption in Chicago, the gangsters and bootleggers of the 30’s, or wartime in London. He would play Motown and tell us of growing up in the south and how music changed his generation’s views on race. He would play some new band and remind us that songwriters are the poets of modern society. Read more...

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Joy Comes in the Morning

2016-04-21 00.16.09
The night my father died, I did not sleep. My mind was humming with the kind of things you think about after your dad dies.  But mostly I was thinking about how to tell my children. How to tell them that everything had changed but that everything would be okay. How to counter the blows which their faith in God, still nascent and unquestioning, would suffer. How to protect their innocence, their joy.

I sat on a sofa, waiting for them to come around the corner. My 7 year was the first one down, his hair askew, holding his blanket around his neck like a superhero cape. The child whom, a few hours earlier, I had held while the paramedics tried to resuscitate my father. The child who believed the reassuring words I had whispered in his ear to muffle the sounds of the static on their radios. He rounded the corner cautiously, afraid of what he might find, yet positive, in the way that only a child can be, that there was a happy ending.  My 5 year old followed him, blissfully unaware that the world he knew when he fell asleep was no longer the same. Read more...

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A Mother’s Farewell


Update: See this piece featured on Mamapedia!

A few weeks after we were married, Billy and I strolled into a coffee house in Alexandria. There on the bulletin board was a sign advertising beagle puppies born on our wedding day. If ever there was a sign, this was it. It seemed serendipitous to start our new life together with a little ball of fur to whom we were forever joined by a sunny day in January. We named him Charlottesville, in honor of the place where we met and fell in love.

Charlie shared our first home, our first months as newlyweds, our late nights and our early mornings. He took our loud voices and our moves in stride. We cut our parenting teeth on him, learning that when you become a parent, the things you give up pale in comparison to what you receive. Read more...

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Image courtesy of Pexels
Image courtesy of Pexels

My favorite time of the day is the space between sleep and wakefulness, when you are vaguely cognizant of being warm and comfortable and you have not yet remembered the things that hurt. The blurry place before the light sharpens into hard angles when you cannot yet distinguish between what you have dreamed and what is real.

The place where, for one brief moment yesterday, I had a father again.

Like most of my dreams, this one came back to me in a series of disjointed pictures. We were looking for something. Keys one minute, pieces of a puzzle the next. One nameless object after another. Read more...

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Three weeks into the college football season and most Wahoos are already looking forward to the start of basketball (T minus 48 days in case you’re wondering). It’s always hard to be a UVA fan, but the last few years have stretched even the most faithful of us to our limits. On the other hand, I suspect the pharmaceutical industry is sending Coach London a big ol’ gift basket every week.

Indeed, many of the faithful, some who have been season ticket holders for 40 years, have just stopped going to games. Read more...

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August 21st

One year ago, as our family vacation at the beach drew to a close, I felt more than the usual end-of-vacation melancholy. All summer long we had been living with my mother, sheltering each other after my father’s unexpected death in July. And it had worked like a dream: in that idyllic bubble we created, temporarily freed from any commitments or expectations, we had managed to buffer each other from the worst of the shock and pain.  But like all dreams, it couldn’t last. After our vacation, we would be returning not to my mother’s house and our safe little bubble, but back to our house. Back to real life. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. Read more...

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The Last First: A Year of Grief

2014-10-07 14.27.41***Update: See this post featured on Scary Mommy and The Mighty!

In the last 365 days since my father’s death, we have faced and surmounted a litany of firsts – from big ticket items like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries to smaller hurdles like the first time my mom had to zip up her own dress or the night I absentmindedly called my dad’s phone and heard it ringing in my own desk.

Today is the last first. The first anniversary of his death.

In some ways, it feels like just yesterday he was standing in my kitchen and in others, it feels like I have aged a lifetime in these 365 days. A year is so short but the days are so long. Read more...

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