As the hardest year comes to a close, I think it’s important to shine light on all that illuminated the darkness this year- these are the things I hope to carry with me into 2024. Here’s a little bit about all of these smiles you see below-


I was held up by so many people this year, but my husband and son were in the trenches with me every single day. They held me up in every sense. Not only am I still standing, in every sense, because of them, but I am thriving in many ways. I completed the school year in May, when all I wanted to do was crumble into a ball and I got straight A’s as I embarked on my full time grad program this fall- because of them. My sister and I have formed a bond this year that grew out of pain, but has been a special brand of strength that we both needed and will continue to for the rest of our lives. My mother and father in-law became my full time parents this year- they’ve always filled a special role in my life, and this year that shifted a bit and the love I feel has been ever more expanded.


These faces below showed up for me this year, in every sense of the word. Attending my mom’s memorial service, daily check-ins and overall dedication to holding my heart that I cannot express enough gratitude for, except to say, I love you all. Those first months when I had to put myself in front of children everyday and pretend I was fine, my best friend talked to me as I cried through my lunch periods and she is the reason I did not quit mid year. Anyone who sent me messages, songs, gifs, jokes- I am also here standing because of you. I couldn’t be more enamored and heartened by these people.


One of the few activities that could bring relief to my heart this past year was singing, and I was so fortunate to find a singing community in the Hudson Community Chorus when I first moved to Ohio. This community not only gave me a safe outlet to continue singing after my mom passed, but the leaders and people there have been another source of strength. They encouraged me to take my time returning to singing and gave me opportunities to let my own light shine in many ways- something my mom would have wanted and been so proud of me for. A bonus is a little side singing project that came from a wonderful friendship- something I cherish and will continue to build into the new year.


When my heart couldn’t communicate to even my nearest and dearest this year, nature was always there. Whether it be one of my cat children sitting close to me, or begging me for breakfast insisting that I get out of bed, or one of the many horses, in tune to my heart and comforting me with their gentle spirit, they all kept a light shining on me. The sky, the squirrels, the birds, the sun rays, the rocks, the dirt, the roly polys- every single swirling, beautiful particle of nature resonated more deeply than anything or anyone could for me this year, and I will continue to be grateful for the healing power of all of nature.


My mom absolutely loved to drive- from before I was born until right up to her last days. Before kids, she drove for North American with my dad, literally all over the country and loved it. She would pack up Molly and I as kids and go drive to wherever- New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio- to visit family and just be on the road. When she was in pain in her older age, she’d get in the car, put on music and drive to San Antonio, or wherever, just to feel better. In honor of this spirit, I drove over 3,000 miles this year and traveled half the country with my best friend, my sister and nephew and my son. I visited my favorite places- Disney, Destin, Austin- and my favorite people. This movement of my physical body to these places on Earth brought a special type of peace to my heart while honoring the thing my mom loved to do the most.

I am beyond blessed, grateful, heartened and overwhelmed by the light that shined on me this year, the hardest year. I don’t know what next year holds, but I know I am stronger going out of it than I came in- and I owe it to the people and places who were there for me this year.

When you look up the definition of trauma, the first result is “a deeply distressing and disturbing experience- “a personal trauma like the death of a child.” Perhaps my brain somehow knew this when it decided to go down the triggered rabbit hole of grief recently.

A more accurate definition of trauma is, when a person has an experience that overwhelms the nervous system and typically leaves a lasting imprint- trauma is a stress response that remains frozen in time within the person. Experiences affect everyone differently, and it is how our bodies and brains can cope (or not) with these experiences that dictate its lasting imprint.

The loss of a parent, at any age, can definitely be a cause of trauma- and in my case, it is. People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. The post traumatic events that have followed my mother’s death are why I’m here today, to inform, educate and hopefully bring about understanding to those in your world- or for yourself.

I have been dealing with and working through, very quietly, intense episodes of anxiety, anger and sadness since my mom died. My counselor assuredly tells me that this is the grief process, my body and brain are navigating the high seas of grief- it’s expected. As a counselor in training and a long-time meditator, part of my brain feels so silly for needing help with this- but I’m here to tell everyone, please, please ask for help when you need it- no one can navigate these high seas alone.

To shine light on a day in the life of my grief-drenched brain: Recently, I sent my son off to school, on a typical weekday. Absolutely nothing was different about this day, except one tiny thing- I didn’t cut his grapes in half for his lunch- and instead, he took whole grapes to school. Let this detail sink in for a minute. The level of significance of this detail is so small, I couldn’t even measure it. Later that day, I checked the time- right before my son’s lunch- and my PTSD brain immediately inserted the following thought: He will go to lunch, laugh with his friends and choke on a grape. There will be no one there in time to help him and he will become unresponsive. Instead of replacing this thought or applying strategies I know that work for intrusive, irrational thoughts, I acted on this thought. I texted him- no response. I emailed him- no response. I texted his friend- no response. Remember what PTSD is, your brain is telling you that, what happened in the past will happen again. You lost your mom, you will lose someone else close to you. It’s a reality. For 40 minutes, I lived with this thought and reality and absolute panic in my body, and my physical symptoms indicated a flight, fight or freeze response. I meditated, I called my sister, I went for a walk- and nothing helped, until I heard from my son- which I did, not long after images of his unresponsive body on a cafetiera floor flooded my brain. This episode ended with my sobbing on the bathroom floor, being held by my husband, who, by now, understands this process and just holds me. Nothing in those moments brought relief until my irrational thought was appeased.

As I continue to navigate this journey- please know- those grieving or dealing with any type of event or experience that has caused them trauma, are trying their best to work against the enormity of their grief brain. They need your assurance, your non-judgement and your hugs, because eventually they will heal and be ok. They will eventually have an enormous power to comfort others during these times because of this- and heck, may even become counselors themselves. ;)

Sometimes I look at my son and my nephews and it takes my breath away how seemingly fast they have surpassed me not only in height, but in expectations of who they are becoming. An ache stirs whenever I see them together as of late, reminiscing about their play as toddlers when I would overhear comments from my mom about how much trouble they’ll be together when they get older. Then the bigger aches surface, especially as I marvel at my mom’s oldest grandson- how her baby boy has grown and matured just in the months she’s been gone, how he looks out for his little brother and younger cousin- and how inexorably proud and full up with love she would be.

As the precious earth spins each day and these people in our lives whom we love, with every fiber of our being, change and grow, it’s one more spin of the earth without my mom on it. One more day that my sister and I get to experience the moments between these sweet boys, and my mom does not- and so the pain grows too, right along with their healthy brains and bodies. Their growth and age reflect not only the beautiful path nature has laid out for them, but also the culmination of what my mom is missing, and what she will never get back. Today’s reflection is not about my grief- but my mom’s. The pain that hangs over them from her not existing alongside them; watching with her eyes; loving with her heart as they ‘get into so much trouble,’ in her words. The lives we get to witness each day and the love that we get to share and express to her grandsons, without her.

So much of my blog is to create a testament of the process of loss- a raw reflection. So as you read the above words, your brains will likely default to concepts of after death- and I don’t dismiss these concepts- but that’s not what this is about. Delivering messages such as, ‘well she’s still with us’ has good intention behind it, but does not revive facts, or the world as we experience it. It’s vital to live the alchemy of loss as it presents itself, daily, and today- right now- it’s these boys, and their growth alongside her absence that is what we live.

As I wrap up my final year in a classroom, I reflect on change. What’s changed in me, just in the past six months, and what’s changed in my relationship with teaching.

I have wanted to be a counselor for just over a decade now. Pursuing this career change was a long and confusing path. Teaching lends itself to elements of the counseling profession, but as time went on, it did so less and less. This past year my classroom role was to deliver content that a school counselor would, but to over 400 children. The enormity of the number of children and the minimal connection and understanding with them, due to the sheer number of them, was overwhelming. I no longer felt deeply connected to my students and although I enjoyed creating the curriculum, the joy I once felt in teaching students was difficult to find. As I type out those words, I realize I never thought I would feel that way, which means it’s time for me to fully move on to my new career path.

In addition to the growing disconnect to teaching this year, my mom passed away, which only deepened that disconnection. The way my job was set up this year meant that I had to switch schools mid year, and did so only 1 week before she passed. I had no relationships formed at that point, and when I had to return, I returned to hollowness. I had one or two other teachers that I knew, but the students and most of the staff were foreign to me- as well as the enormous grief I was navigating. On weekends, I felt the release of the burden of the performance I was putting on during the school days, and could properly grieve. But for 5 months, my grief was mostly locked up as I woke up each day to pretend everything was ok in front of hundreds of children that I felt little to no connection to. I cried by myself in my office during planning times, cut-off from the rest of the school. I took drives during my lunch periods because it was too much to socialize with my co-workers, pretending I was ok. As one might expect, this took a toll on my system. I got sick, a lot. There were really only a handful of weeks that I wasn’t sick. Towards the end of the school year, I was able to connect to a few more people and endure the days a little easier. Every single part of me wanted to quit so that I could properly grieve, heal and return to health, but I stayed- and I’m glad I did. I needed to properly grieve, but I also needed to properly close the door on this chapter of my career, despite its immense difficulty.

Now that I am through it, I actually look forward to returning to my grief. The pain that I deal with in processing is not even close to the pain of suppressing it to do a job that feels even heavier than the grief itself. I’m grateful for the people around me who have loved me and supported me as I navigated these past 6 months and who I will continue to lean on as I take steps through the grief and onto my next chapter of counseling. I’m also grateful for myself and the immense strength that I didn’t know I had, but that came through and carried me during some of the most difficult days of my life.

When the person who created you is ashes, and there’s a holiday dedicated to this, now, pile of ashes, it makes you sad. To put it simply. The absence of a lost loved one is, of course, felt most during special holidays and birthdays- but a day dedicated to the person who created you becomes the mother of them all. It’s exhausting to continuously hear, ‘oh but that pile of ashes, that’s not her, she’s moved on; she’s with you.’ But it is her. That’s all I can wrap my brain around sometimes, and especially since she was *just* here, it’s the reality I can grasp. A different reality makes me less sad, but they’re all just words, made-up. Reality is the weight and gravity of her absence.

In counseling, we’re trained to meet people where they’re at, and we learn that having empathy for someone is not trying to make them feel better. It’s being with them, where they’re at, even if it’s the deepest dark hole. This mother’s day, in order to not feel so alone in this darkness, I had to shut out the world. I made myself stay close to my animals, my partner, my son, my sister. People who don’t force me to move away from the place I have to be in right now. Whose presence and love are all I need. Who loved her as I did. Who keep me afloat, in every sense of the word. Who expect literally nothing from me and accept anything I can give. Experiencing love and support like this has made me acutely aware of how fortunate I am; how precious life is; how rare this type of love is and how I know I will get through this stronger and more alive.

To those of you reading this who want to help a loved one who is going through a thing: just be there. Expect nothing of these people. Don’t ask how you can help, don’t ask how they are, don’t send well wishes. Just be there, in every sense of the word. They need you and they love you and they will eventually be ok.

There are moments that, once they happen, completely leave our brains forever. Then, there are moments that stick in our memories like my cat’s fur on my clothes after a cuddling session. The moment, or rather the seconds, that it took for me to hear the words, “She’s gone” are sticky seconds in my brain. All of the things you hear ring true about these types of seconds- time slowed almost to a halt, all I could sense around me was my heartbeat and my face flooded with pain. My mom was gone, and I could do nothing.

Since those two words grazed my ears, reality has been a turbulent storm of wind gusts pushing me up, hail stones pelting me down and gushing downpours of tears. There are lifeboats that come now and then in the form of friends, family doing their best to comfort you and rescue you from the inevitable grief that you have to walk through, alone. But the fact remains, you are alone in this new undertaking you must carry- called grief. Unless you are with animals.

The thing about someone close to you dying is that you get to see who people in your life are. The people who have truly experienced loss and darkness are very apparent. They say just the right thing. They give you just the right amount of space. They offer their presence in just the right ways. The people who haven’t experienced exceptional loss who love you hard, but don’t know how to show you that. The people who are impatient with grief and expect you to return to exactly who you were. You must teach people how to interact with you after a loss- on top of the grief undertaking, you are now a coach for your community in how to navigate—> you.

And then there’s animals. Their presence, their attunement to your exact feelings and needs, their ability to just be- offers and teaches so much, especially in the heaviest moments of the grief process. The day I decided to look at my mom’s last texts to me was a supercell day. I walked into my house from my car and collapsed on the floor, heaving so hard between sobs I couldn’t remember how to take in oxygen. My cats found me and surrounded me. One of them rubbing against me, the other one rolling on the floor showing me his belly, inevitably getting me to smile. Then they just sat by me, until I was ready to move through the rest of my day. They needed their dinner and that need was stronger than my need to be on the floor. They got me up and moving. After feeding them I gazed absentmindedly out of my kitchen window, continuing to be lost in grief- until a black-capped chickadee landed on the birdfeeder in front of me. Delicately pecking at the seeds and fluffing his feathers- tiny feet holding his adorably plump body steady on the feeder. Another smile; another step forward through the grief.

Since that day, I’ve been more aware of the presence of the animals around me and their effortless healing powers. In tune and present with their whole environment, and magically, with my internal environment. Their non-judgemental, gentle input, comforting presence and basic needs of me alongside their almost unbearably endearing qualities has allowed me to stay steady in this storm of grief I have to walk through everyday. They have also informed my direction for my future career path as a counselor. Counselors get the benefit of helpfully using their own experiences, like loss, in their work, and this experience is particularly poignant for me in my direction. I plan to get my certification in animal assisted therapy, to not only surround myself with the healing presence and power of animals, but inviting them to assist in the healing of future clients and allow them to be my assistants as the teachers of growth, regulation and healing. They saved me like no one else possibly could and I will forever be grounded and grateful for these superheroes.

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