“First” Birthday — Holy Smokes

Prior to living my new bereaved normal life, most of my life was based on wishful thinking. However, I relapsed into wishful thinking over the weekend. My secret desire was that “My Marsh” would provide me with a gift this past weekend on my birthday. A sign.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

This kind of thinking has lead to most of my life presenting itself as a disappointment, but admittedly during my birthday, I felt a childlike sense of a scavenger hunt, waiting for “the sign.”

Though no sign arrived, I did receive bouquets of flowers, candy and other presents from loved ones. Of course, I was grateful, but my mind was soaked with sadness, remembering the last birthday I had spent with my son in 2016, because three days later he relocated 600 miles away for a “new life.”

I, along with others who loved him, was not prepared for his departure. In truth, when I learned about his last-minute move, I felt betrayed. His car packed with his meager belongings, he turned to his Godmother and proclaimed, “If I don’t go now, I will never go.”

I can write down 150 regrets right now about that moment, but I obsessed about every single one of them on my birthday, and it is unnecessary torture to list them yet again.

After he relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky, one of his first text messages to me stated: “I have more anxiety here than I had there.”

I knew then as I know now, escaping demons feeds them, only for them to grow bigger until they are strong enough to conquer and overthrow. And, despite his remarkable career advances, he eventually lost his battle on earth, isolated and alone. He always ran looking for a kinder place and that is exactly the hope he held onto in the end.

So my first birthday after my 26-year-old son’s death was certainly not a day of celebration. However, under the regrets, guilt, remorse and reliving so many memories that slammed me into a sad state, there was a sobering peace. My greatest healing comes through silence. With that being said, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook profile.

Even though outside interference forced its way in from well-meaning loved ones and they “should” all over me by saying things like I “should be going out,” I “should be celebrating,” and so on, I held onto my own self-care program. I live the principles of “To thine own self be true.” This inscription is on a coin I carry with me everywhere. In fact, a duplicate coin, with this same inscription, I folded into my dead son’s bruised hands before the funeral home staff closed his coffin for the final time.

Actually, somewhat of a miracle it was that under the regrets, guilt, remorse and reliving so many painful memories, I was able to get out of myself periodically and think of others. I gift wrapped a small token of love for a dear fellow who is celebrating her 8-year sober anniversary this month. I cooked for our house full of special need cats. I helped search for draperies for my daughter’s new apartment.

Day’s end, faith was found in a rack of smoked ribs that my significant other surprised me with.

What people don’t realize is that grieving is an exhausting emotional process, at least for me. I have to go slow. Go silent. Not go-go-go as I did in the old days.

I’m in the slow lane now and it may not, like most of my life, be the place I choose to be in, but for today it feels safe and steady. I just have to follow the official road signs and not allow my “heart signs” to lead me in the wrong direction. It feels like I can drive responsibly as long as there is minimal interference, except, of course, when I brake for a smoking’ hearty meal that not only refuels my body, but also my soul. 

Faith Muscle

Faith’s Linchpin

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S. Hermann F. Richter from pixabay.com

It was no family secret that my birth was a mistake. Delivered 10 years after my youngest brother, my parents never spared me the raw truth. Raw truth is, after all, raw, but vital. At least on my journey, knowing myself completely, warts and all, has given me an advantage to unlock the demons and set them free in safe places where they could not wreck havoc on my world or anyone else’s.

While in my 20s, a psychotherapist explained an interesting scientific study that determined that a significant portion of people exhibiting suicidal tendencies were unwanted pregnancies for a variety of reasons, by either or both parents, while they were in the womb.

I believed the results, added the information into my arsenal of self-pity, but, subsequently, worked to unravel the mystery around my particular behaviors and continue to do so.

So what this has to do with my birthday this coming Saturday is that I was never a fan of my birthday. To add insult to injury, this one will be another first without my son. The last birthday I celebrated with him was in 2017, a few day before he packed his meager lifelong belongings and rode off into the sunrise, only to meet his sunset over two years later. His departure in 2017 left me feeling empty, alone and barren. These feelings of abandonment, of course, cannot come close to the extent of amputation to my being that I have experienced since I received the phone call that shattered life as I would ever know it.

Ironically, the buzz of late in my world revolves around self-care. After all, how do you love your neighbor when you loathe yourself? Impossible! I am a firm believer that before we can save the world, we need to save ourselves. It starts with a vigorously honest personal inventory. It isn’t about right or wrong, good or bad; it’s about figuring out what’s working and what’s not, and there is no absolute requirement of knowing why. It’s about embracing and not embarrassing. It’s about staring the monster down instead of allowing the shame to drown you. It’s about living in your own wart and mole-dotted skin without any time spent photo-shopping it.

One ridiculously successful AND happy man I spoke with said that when he was young, he thought he was adopted, because he was unlike his family. Shockingly, after he revealed his concern to his mother, she replied, “How would you ever think you were adopted? No one would ever adopt someone like you!”

Instead of harboring resentment, whenever he mentions his mother, he prefixes it with “my hero.” He swears she made him into the good, happy man he is today, because her hard-ass approach was the necessary treatment that he personally needed to part with his rose-colored glasses, change what didn’t work, leave the rest. He’s come out the other side with that Popeye “I yam what I yam” attitude. No wonder the man glows inside out with happiness.

So what, I ask again, does this have to do with my birthday? For some people, before you search for faith in others or in a higher power, maybe you have to have a little faith in yourself to trudge through those particularly difficult ordinary days, holidays, birthdays and other milestones.

heart-5190672_1920How do you have faith in yourself? It starts with recognizing your demons, sitting down with them and having a little heart-to-heart. So during those periods in your life when you have a tired, empty heart between sun rises and sun sets, you can have enough faith to expect the warm rays in between will dry the tears.


Faith Muscle

Unreasonable Season of Reason


I found an exceptional 2015 post in Psychology Today, 10 Things You Can Do to Create a New Life After Any Loss, written by Kristin Meekhof, who is a young widow, but in this article examines all loses.

You can read the post in its entirety, but I will elaborate on #9 below.

Accept the unresolved. This is very painful because the loss left you amputated and you may never know why it happened. This item is not for the faint of heart and takes tremendous courage. So, I am providing this suggestion because if you are continuously seeking resolution to your loss, you may find yourself deeply disappointed. Some losses will never bring answers. They do not present themselves with a reason. Seeking a reason for your loss can lead to countless tears and more loss.

The first word that jumps out at me is “Amputated.” Spot on. The word has a brand-new meaning, and I have added the word into my custom New Normal dictionary. (I will say more about this word in an upcoming post.)

Anyway, tip #9 resonates with me dealing with my 26-year-old’s suicide. Not knowing why it happened is an understatement. Days into nights, I draw infinite timelines that reach far back, long before my pregnancy, to try and solve the unsolvable puzzle. I arrive at endless theories and hypotheses and as as a writer with an over-juiced imagination, my ideas can usher me into a tunnel of despair. I mean, do I really think his father’s ancestors were Kentucky slave owners before it was a free state and somehow my son was cursed because of the “sins of his ancestors”? Oh boy, these are excellent seeds for fiction, but for a sane mind? I don’t think so. In fact, my son was one of the most compassionate men ever born on the face of this planet. So the WHY?WHY?WHY? equals rolls of wallpaper that serve no purpose except to outfit a room for me to mourn, groan and grow destitute and depressed inside of. The only way for me to lock the room away from my reach is to find a key of courage. Fortunately, the Serenity Prayer and the phrase “courage to change the things I can” is a tool I’ve had in my toolbox for nearly 36 years as a part of the 12-step community.

So, okay, as far as seeking resolution to the loss, yes, I’ve hit rock bottom with disappointment. I’m a trained journalist. I want answers, black and white. Periods only. No semi-colons. But that’s not how it works. In this case, I have been given a blank page, but there is no formula for grammar.

There is NO resolution. No reason. Nada. Except, interestingly, my friend shared a very intimate story with me that pumps me up with faith. He and his wife have been married for nearly 30 years. In the last 15 years, they had been resigned to the fact that they lived in apathetically separate lives. After tragedy hit my household, during the day of the wake, the couple planned to attend separately. Strangely, they glanced at each other and simultaneously said, “Let’s go together!”

And they walked into the funeral home TOGETHER. Since that day forward, their relationship did a 180 degree turn. They not only share many things now, but they are also uncovering the traits and characteristics in each other that first made them fall in love almost three decades ago.


My friend revealed, “I hate to say it, but your son’s death brought us together. Your son’s death gave us new life.”


Frankly, I wish my son stayed alive, and my couple friends existed under one roof as strangers. But, you know what? I’ll take this mild sense of resolution, because the unresolved equals despair, a black hole inside which a foundation of faith and hope is impossible.

On the other hand, the spark that has ignited between this couple you can build on. And, of course, a spark can light a fire in the world. In fact, my friend’s story brought me an afterglow of faith in a very uncanny way. Naturally, this was completely unprepared for and unplanned, but it is a route destined for me to figure out. It goes without saying, there is no GPS for this trip, and this is something that I had not at all set my sights on, but, for today, I’m okay simply taking in the sights.


Faith Muscle

Mermaid Tears


Call it mermaid tears, sea glass, beach glass, ocean glass, trash glass, I have a special affinity for it.

Working for an art consultant, recently a painting “Beach Glass” struck me with its equal parts of allure and demure. The artist’s intricate composition juxtaposes indigo blots and tortoise-toned greens along with the palest of frosty crystalline shades. Tinged with a craggy texture, each gem sparkles faintly.

Inspired, I delved into researching sea glass, which is discarded and broken bottles and other glass products that the water’s waves and currents tumble and smooth. Then and there I saw my reflection in the glass.

You see, before tragedy struck, I was head over heels in love with things like flamingos and poodles. Now a sense of apathy and distance divides me from pretty things. As impossible as it would have sounded a mere eight months ago, even scheduling a medi-pedi falls way low on the priority list these days.

Instead, I am like an empty bottle discarded and abandoned on the shore, broken beyond repair. However, as sunrise rolls into sunset, I sense a glimmer of faith in a repurposed life.


I read that it can take seven to ten years in a constant surf environment for broken glass to transpose to mermaid tears.

For me, it will take a lifetime for the tactile edges to heal, become smoother with no shine, only frost. Fortunately, the hands of the living waters are gentle and as soft as a bed of seagrass.


Faith Muscle