Real Love Never Ends: A Poem for Grieving Hearts (Free Printable)

Real Love Never Ends - A Poem for Grieving Hearts; click for printable version of the poem

Yesterday, I posted this on my Facebook page and the words, which found their way to and through me over a year ago, have struck a chord with many.

So, I’m making this available as a free printable (just click on the image and save or print). Feel free to share it with someone you know whose heart is hurting, either using the social media buttons below or by printing it out.

Our loved ones who are no longer here physically really are still with us emotionally and spiritually. When the signs they send and help they give is noticed, they delight in it! So don’t think of yourself as silly or crazy for sensing your own link to the heavens above. It’s true: real love never ends. 

holiday greetings from the other side: 6 heaven-sent signs to watch for

6 ways your loved ones may be visiting from the other side

To kick off the holidays, we had a family movie night on Sunday. We dimmed the lights, I lit the five votive candles that spell out P-E-A-C-E on the mantel, and we all snuggled up for the A Muppet Christmas Carol. A few minutes into the movie, one of the candles blew out. A few minutes later, another. Usually, those votives last a few hours. But by the time the 85-minute movie was over, only the “P” remained lit.

“Hmmm, I’m guessing Papa wants us to know he’s watching, too,” I told the boys.

After the kids were in bed, the house was quiet; Brad sat down to write out some holiday cards for his staff and I sat down at the laptop. Suddenly, a sound in the living room startled us: it was the Beatles, singing “Love Me Do.” Just then, the “P” candle on the mantel went out.

Brad laughed, opened his arms wide as if about to give someone a hug, and said, “Ahhh. Hi, Pete!” In the three years since my dad died, the Beatles – one of my dad’s fave groups (we even sang Hey Jude at his memorial service) – have randomly begun playing on our iPod’s docking station, oftentimes in the middle of the night, so many times we’ve lost count. There’s no telling what song will play. But the candle trick that night made this serenade extra impressive, and we took that music as a direct message from my dad: “Love, love me do. You know I love you. I’ll always be true. So pleeeeeeeease…love me do.” We do, Dad, we do.

Even though I talk to spirits and angels for a living, trusting what I hear from my own loved ones is still difficult. If I’m busy or distracted, I don’t always notice them. And sometimes, I wonder if I’m just imagining what I want to hear if I’m missing my dad, grandparents or others. So to get these little earthly signs is so reassuring.

Your loved ones on the Other Side are likely doing the same for you, going out of their way to let you know they’re around. I’ve had so many readings lately during which parents, grandparents, siblings and friends have come through to let their people here know that the signs they’re seeing are really from them, just to let them know they’re loved and not alone.

We can explain these things away, or we can trust that flutter of our hearts when something odd or serendipitous happens that feels Heaven-sent. Notice how you FEEL when these things happen; if you get the chills, your heart leaps, you get teary-eyed or spooked (not their intended outcome, by the way!), acknowledge your loved ones so they know it’s working and that you want to continue feeling blessed by their presence. So, what should you watch for?

Here are 6 common ways your loved ones may be trying to reach you…  

Playing with electricity. The spirits of our loved ones are all energy, all vibration. So manipulating the energetic properties of electricity seems to be a fairly easy way for them to send us a message: the lights flicker, a device randomly turns on or off, a machine works without being plugged in, etc.

Sending signals. Another way they play with energy is by intercepting or playing with a communication signal. For instance, you hear static on the radio, a song or message you both loved plays at an unexpected place or time, the door bell rings repeatedly (with no one at the door), or your cell phone does something wild (I’ve had multiple people tell me they’ve received silent voice mails from a deceased loved one’s number shortly after their passing).

Hanging out in nature. Spirits seem to love working with messengers who have the gift of flight: birds (especially those that stand out, like bright red cardinals), butterflies and dragonflies are most common. But anything in nature that had/has special significance for you can be sent to signify you’re not alone. Years ago, I had a reading with my friend Suzanne, and my grandpa told me to watch for “strange birds” as a sign he was around. The next day, I saw a PEACOCK strutting through my office parking lot! I’ll never forget it!

Making magic. When they can, our loved ones delight in orchestrating little bits of synchronicity for us. It’s those impossible-to-plan moments when we say, “I know _________ had something to do with this!” For instance, check out the gift I got from my Nana last month! 

Sending earth angels. When our loved ones can’t get through to us, they sometimes send someone else into our lives to be a blessing or unknowingly deliver a message. This story, when “George M” watched over us, is a fun example. 

Visiting in dreams. When a loved one who’s crossed over appears in a dream, and you vividly recall it after waking, trust that you’ve had a heavenly visitor. When we sleep, we separate from the limitations of our mind, and don’t question or doubt a visitor from another dimension.

These reassuring messages from the Great Beyond come when we least expect it. If you’re watching out your window or staring at your candles longing for some kind of communication, you actually make it harder for them to get through. There’s a difference in our own energy when we’re desperate and down; in that emotional state, we tend to question or totally miss the positive energetic engagement our loved ones are attempting to establish with us. The greatest gift you can give yourself and them is to live fully, to enjoy earthly pleasures and pastimes, while trusting that your loved ones are standing by, visiting often, and dropping heavenly hints whenever the time is right.

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Want to learn more about connecting with the Great Beyond? It’s a big theme during Project Light Year, and I’m amazed by the number of participants who have said this exploration has truly changed their lives. The early bird discount ends Friday; click here for details. 

holy wow. what i found in my grandma’s gratitude journal

#gratitude quote - part of my post on losing my grandma, and what I found in her gratitude journal

Oh, friends. I have so much to tell you, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Maybe here: my Nana is gone.

After 40 days in residential hospice, she passed away on Saturday morning. And though I know I’ll hear from her soon enough (she promised, after all, to be in touch), I will miss so much about having her physically here. Her hugs. Her sense of wonder. Her sing-song voice. Her sense of style, even at 90. Her relationship with my kids.

I will never regret spending Nana’s last 40 days by her side (often quite literally, curled up in bed with her!). I did my best to be fully present when she was awake – taking walks, holding hands, listening to songs she loved – and Brad did wonders for the worrywart in me, frequently reminding me these were once-in-a-lifetime moments with Nana and that our little family would be fine while I devoted chunks of each day to being with her and my mom. He was right, of course.

Nana at Hotel Loretto in Santa Fe, September 2013

Nana at Hotel Loretto in Santa Fe, September 2013

As those of you who followed our journey on Instagram know, Nana’s health would take steep declines in hospice and then, to our surprise, she’d perk back up for a bit. Even at the end, after the nurses predicted she had mere hours, she stuck around several more days! Amazing resilience. In those times , I would stay overnight – not only to be there for Nana, but to give my mom support. I would tell Nana it was just like having another slumber party or girlfriend getaway. (Our last trip as a threesome had been to Santa Fe, exactly one year prior.)

The days since Nana’s passing have been crazy-busy, planning a celebration of her life and prepping for lots of family coming in. I’ve barely had a chance to let it sink in that she’s gone. But last night, as I was putting some things away at her place, I discovered buried treasure and found myself all choked up. I opened a drawer in her hutch and saw a familiar book – The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude. My mom had given all of us copies one Christmas, many years ago. It was an odd place to find a journal, given that Nana’s hutch holds placemats, silverware and greeting cards.

Notes from Nana about Santa Fe, Inn at the LorettoI pulled out the book and when I opened it, several sheets of paper fell out. They were all from the Hotel Loretto, our favorite place to stay in Santa Fe, and contained Nana’s handwritten notes from our first girlfriend trip there 15 years ago, for her 75th birthday. Holy wow! Among her notes:

My plane took off a little late, and I was fearful that I was going to miss Tunie and Liv (and a connecting flight), but there they were, smiling ear to ear in matching cowboy hats. What a thrill to see them there – I am so blessed! Thrilled being with my girls. 

Finding that little celebration of our bond, in her beautiful handwriting, was such a gift. Neither my mom or I recall the cowboy hats (!!!), but we will always hold dear the thrills we had as a threesome. Even the very last one, as we watched Nana head into the sunset, into the Great Beyond. We showered her with kisses on behalf of everyone who loves her here and reminders that she’d soon be seeing all the loved ones waiting for her over there.

I need time to process the loss of a great light in my life and to soak up the warm hugs and belly laughs with family flying in to celebrate her. It’s what she would want, and it’s all I have energy for right now.

the art of choosing beauty ecourseSo, work will have to wait a little longer. I am so grateful to everyone who’s accepted with such grace and understanding my need to push back Firecracker Calls, classes, newsletters and meetings. I have postponed my Art of Choosing Beauty ecourse, which was scheduled to kick off this week; it will now launch September 22nd. That class is all about finding and making magic every single day – even (or especially) when life feels hard.

It feels like divine timing, really – to choose beauty with a bunch of brave hearts this month, and to be able to incorporate private stories and powerful insights from my journey with Nana into this next round of the class (the only time I’m teaching it this year). I believe that, like finding Nana’s notes, these gifts that feel like magic – the ones that catch us off guard and connect us to what matters – appear for a reason in our lives. Nana LOVED to give thoughful gifts, and I have a feeling she has no plans to stop. As Nana always said, God works in mysterious ways – and I bet she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve, too.

 

what dying people see that most of us miss

It's easy to feel down when we keep forgetting to look up. Via LivLane.com

I’ll never forget the day my dad cried over trees. A couple of months before he died, in 2011, we were sitting in the den of my parents’ home, him in his favorite leather chair and me curled up on the couch, looking out the big picture window at their heavily wooded backyard.

My dad’s cancer treatments were going pretty well and he was fiercely optimistic about his future. But, looking back on that day, I realize there was also a little piece of him that knew he was dying. I asked him what was making him happy that day. And that’s when he looked out the window at the lush green trees he’d seen a million times before and his bottom lip started to quiver.

His emotion hit me like a lightning bolt as our small talk turned real serious, real fast. 

He was feeling so moved by the goodness and gracefulness in those trees — the aliveness, the lushness, the history, the resiliency. And he was seeing those gentle giants in a new way, with the slightest suspician his view might soon be changing.

My grandma's hands on her handmade afghan, overlooking the pond at hospice. This is what I’ve noticed dying people do: they see beauty with their eyes and hearts wide open, blindsided all at once by the agony and euphoria of seeing it, really seeing it, for the first time – and maybe the last. My dad is not the only one I’ve seen brought to tears by the soul-stirring beauty that most of us miss.

In fact, I’ve seen it in patients at the hospice care home where we’ve spent the last 17 days with my Nana. Though she’s always noticed beauty in the little things, something has shifted as she faces the final stages of her journey with cancer. Her focus on what matters has deepened. In the hallway, for instance, when she sees fellow patient Clarissa – a young woman with cornrows and tattoos who’s been battling cancer for a year – they quietly embrace and say they love each other. And they mean it. They may never have crossed paths in their old lives, but here – in this place where what’s different about them no longer matters – they are willing to be soooo vulnerable and authentic together, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

I feel good about sharing our hospice journey on Instagram (and love that it’s touched some of you), but sometimes I notice that while I’m taking pictures of beauty in our midst, Nana’s actually breathing it in and holding it close – like she’s taking a snapshot with her soul. Letting the beauty seep in so deep, a picture can’t do it justice. It inspires me to step back and do the same.

When I first deepened my own relationship with everyday beauty eight years ago, it transformed me. And when I’m leading a community of women through the process, I witness the same kinds of change; there’s a tangible shift from going through the motions to joyfully attracting meaningful abundance, letting in what really matters – even if it brings us to tears. It starts with simply remembering to look up as we plow through our days. Today, we can choose to let beauty in and seize the day, the way so many people who are dying wish they had all along.

Note: If you feel ready for that kind of deep dive into cultivating your most beautiful life,  I’m teaching my 4 Weeks to Happiness: The Art of Choosing Beauty ecourse next month – and it’s the only time I’m leading this course in 2014. If you’re longing for a powerful shift, and to connect with other dear hearts who are ready too, I hope you’ll sign up. The $30 off early bird special ends Friday at midnight central; just enter the code earlybird at checkout. Full details here. 

what do spirits look like? a peek inside the other side

what do spirits look like? a peek inside the other side - post by liv lane

I think I have something in common with police sketch artists. You know, the ones who visualize and draw images of criminals based only on descriptions from others? When those artists later see what a captured criminal really looks like, that’s where our experiences intersect. To see how closely the portrait they imagined and sketched resembles the person’s real-life image has to feel equally bizarre and amazing. 

That’s precisely how I feel whenever I see the real-life image of someone I’ve communicated with in spirit. It’s totally bizarre. And totally amazing.

I’m a visual person, so I’m grateful that when I communicate with spirits, guides and angels, the universe lets me see them in addition to hearing them. Of course, none of them needs an earthly body to exist in the Great Beyond. But the spirits of human beings who have crossed over appear to me with physical attributes for several reasons:

  • to illustrate their personalities, passions or happiest times in their lives (a dad of a dear friend, for instance, always shows up in a sweatshirt celebrating his favorite football team; turns out cheering for them was a favorite pastime)
  • to show me when they were alive (World War II vets sometimes show up in uniform and with a sepia tone to them, for example)
  • to get me to share something relevant that will resonate for the person on the other end of the line (one spirit kept pointing to her curly, perfectly coifed hairdo, wanting her daughter to know she was finally getting her hair done again!)

I never really know if the images I’m seeing of spirits are truly what they looked like in real life – unless I’m shown a photograph of them later. And that, my friends, is a take-my-breath-away WILD experience.

Several months ago, I was texting with a friend who was at the bedside of her dying grandpa. His wife (her grandma, whom I’d never met) came through to me to say she was excitedly waiting in Heaven…and could her husband hurry up already!? 🙂 She didn’t look like a grandma to me, though; she showed up as a young woman – in black & white – reminiscent of a 1940s photo. My friend said that made sense, because her grandparents were so happy and carefree at that time. A few hours after that exchange with my friend, my heart skipped a beat when I looked at my phone and, for a split second, thought the spirit of her grandma was staring back at me. My friend had texted me an old black & white photo of her grandma as a young woman, and she looked exactly like she did when she’d come to me hours earlier!

A similiar thing happened the other day – on Facebook. I was scrolling through my feed when – bam! – I got chills seeing the photo of a woman I recognized. She died on 9/11 and I’d done a reading for her mom several years ago (one of my first!). A mutual friend posted a picture on Facebook in her honor – and it took my breath away. You guys, it is the weirdest thing to wonder, “where do I know that person from?” only to realize you only know them from communicating with their spirit!

Even though this is part of my everyday life, I am still completely amazed each time it happens. Every speck of validation, every word that resonates with those left behind, every physical image that resembles the spirit images I’ve seen are reminders to me that anything is possible in the name of Love. Our loved ones do not forget us, they do not forget their earthly lives, and they do not lose their personalities – or even their favorite outfits! Yes – I’m very lucky to get to see them; but that’s not necessary to feel their love, to trust they’re present, to communicate with them in your own ways.

So, say hello. Blow them kisses. Trust the signs and symbols they send. Even if you can’t see them loving you, they can see you loving them.

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” 
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

10 Things To Say To a Grieving Friend During the Holidays {12.15.11}

During this first holiday season without my dad around, it’s not the Christmas hubbub that gets me down; it’s the awkward silence. Friends who have lost loved ones tell me people just don’t know what to say; they’re fearful of making me cry, saying the “wrong” thing or getting emotional themselves. So, I thought long and hard about the words that have comforted my family and what I’ve learned from friends who have experienced great loss.

1. I am thinking of you. 
Sounds so simple, but it means so much to know someone out there is aware you are in pain, and thinking good thoughts about you.

2. What you’re going through totally sucks.
Plain and simple, the journey through grief is shitty. It feels good to have others validate this fact and acknowledge you’re hurting – in a real and gritty way.

3. I’m sending you love during this difficult time.
When it seems heartfelt, this is a huge comfort. Don’t worry that you might not know a person well enough to say it. I have received notes and tweets from people I barely know sending their love. Every time, it’s felt like a warm blanket of human kindness.

4. May peace present itself more and more with every day. 
I’ve heard people say “may you find peace,” but this small shift in language touched my heart when a friend said it. It allows me to just sit back and trust that, in time, peace will find me.

5. I really want to support you this season. 
People in grief usually have no clue how you can help them, so you’ll need to offer some suggestions. A few holiday possibilities: decorate the Christmas tree, bake cookies together, bring coffee over, help to wrap presents or address holiday cards, go shopping together, clean the house, babysit the kids, accompany your friend to a holiday gathering, shovel the driveway. Do not be offended if your friend turns down every offer you make; simply knowing you’re willing and able to help might be enough for the time being.

6. I don’t expect a call back. 
For over a week after my dad died, a dear friend called me every day and just left a message to say she loved me and was thinking of me. At the end of each message, she’d remind me that she didn’t expect a call back. She knew that when I had the energy to call, I would. When I eventually called her back, I felt no guilt. Such a gift!

8. You can cry with me anytime. 
Grief comes in waves and sometimes catches you off guard. You only want to spend time with people who accept you and support you as you are – even if you’re happy one minute and sobbing the next.

9. Can I share a favorite memory of __________?  
Though it may be emotional, sharing stories of the person who passed can be really therapeutic for those left behind. Share how he or she impacted your life or bring up stories you remember your friend sharing about their relationship.

10. There is no “right” way to grieve. 
Remind your bereaved friend {and yourself} that everyone deals with grief differently. There are no rules or expectations. During the holidays, some people find it impossible to carry on with family traditions, while others find comfort in them.

I hope this list serves you well either now or in the future, as you support a dear heart who’s hurting. Got another example of good things to say? Do tell!

A Change of Plans {10.12.11}

Yesterday did not go the way I’d planned.

On the first day of the new year, I flipped through my new 2011 wall calendar and wrote in all the important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, special events. In the box marked October 11th, I wrote two things:

Liv – 37 (because that’s my birthday) and, in all caps, BOOK RELEASE DATE!!! 

Well, it was still my birthday yesterday – that didn’t change. But the book deal crumbled just before going to press (you can read about that here). I’d worked for two years with my publisher on every little detail, so it knocked the wind out of my sails when they suddenly stopped publishing new books – including mine. Still, I trusted there was a reason it was not meant to be. Now I know what it was.

Had I been planning a big release party, traveling on a book tour or worried about details surrounding the launch, I couldn’t have been fully present these past couple of weeks, during one of the most important and sacred times of my life. I doubt I could have sat with my dad day and night at the hospital or been with my family, distraction-free, in these difficult days of planning his memorial service. And I’m sure I couldn’t have felt overjoyed about my first book coming out while wading through grief.

I believe everything happens (or doesn’t happen) for a reason. That includes, hard as it is to swallow, my dad’s passing at such a young age and with so much work left to do. All I can figure is God must have had a really good reason for plucking him up from the earth and taking him home. It sucks that I may never know why. But when I step back to see the big picture, I am reminded there’s a master plan that’s so much grander than what’s written on my calendar.

Yesterday, I spent my birthday with dozens of family members who had come to town to celebrate my dad’s life and support us through this hailstorm of shock and sadness. I blew out candles on a birthday cake (albeit through some tears) and got lots of hugs from people I adore. It had not been part of my original plan, but it was exactly where I was supposed to be – focused on family, wrapped in love.

The book will happen someday, when the time is right. Because that’s how everything happens – good and bad, beautiful and sad, right on time. Much to my chagrin, I can’t control any of it. But I do have a choice: I can curse and detest the master plan or recognize the magic of how it all unfolds. I know for sure which one my always-optimistic dad would want me to choose. So that’s my plan – to keep finding beauty in each day. Even on the sad ones.

Grasping For Words

I’ve been dreading writing this post, grasping for words, clutching my heart. Part of me still believes my dad will waltz through the door or call me any minute now. But then reality sets in and I remember the truth: I lost my dad on Sunday.

It’s too soon to put this heartbreak into my own words, all too raw to recognize the droves of people who have showered us with love and light. So, I’m turning to one of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue, and sharing a piece that is perfect for my superhero dad and those of us who adored him.

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.


Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.


The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.


Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.


Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.


We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.


Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.


Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones. 


When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you. 


May you continue to inspire us: 
To enter each day with a generous heart, 
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation, 
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind, 
And where we will never lose you again. 


To learn more about the wonderful ways my dad left his mark on the world, click here.

Everything Shapes Us: In Memorium {05.16.11}

My grandma’s funeral took place on Friday and I delivered a tribute to her during the service. Writing it was far more emotional and cathartic than I expected. Though I always loved and respected my grandmother, I never really understood her. Her death – and the stories shared by her friends and family over the past week – provided me with a whole new perspective on how her life shaped her. I can’t believe it took this long – and saying a final goodbye – for me to put all the puzzle pieces together. I got choked up at the podium several times, my heart swelling with compassion for my grandma and how she handled adversity. I decided to share my memorial service speech here as a reminder of how everything shapes and impacts us and those around us. Perhaps some of you will recognize this in those you love before they’re gone. I sure hope so.
* * * * *

I’ll be honest: when our family asked me to speak today about my Grandma Benson, I hesitated. Not because I was nervous, but because I had no idea how in the world I would convey to you who she really was. And no one I talked to could come up with that one perfect word to describe her. She was that unique.

But over the past week since Grandma’s death, I’ve been hearing stories from friends and family, poring over her notebooks, recalling memories I have of her…and suddenly it’s all starting to make sense. The pieces of the puzzle finally fit for me. I just wish she were here so I could tell her I get it now. I always loved her – but now I feel like I get her. And I think I’ve found the word that describes her best from my viewpoint: she was resilient.

Let’s get dressed up and read the Bible!
{my dad’s on the far left}

Dorothy Ethel Benson was the daughter of a minister and the wife of a minister, which meant lots and lots of moving around. As someone who has lived in the same state for most of my life, it’s really hard for me to wrap my head and heart around the idea of never being able to settle down. How do you cultivate friendships and make yourself at home when you’re packing up every few years? How do you learn to get close to people? Was it an honor and a joy to help her family, to serve others and serve God at churches across the country? Of course. Was it also hard and painfully lonely sometimes? No doubt. 


I suspect it’s why my grandma remained so close to her brothers and sister – they were her only constant growing up, siblings and friends she could count on – wherever, whenever. It’s remarkable to me that, in retirement, all four of them came together again – living not only in the same city, but in the same apartment complex – where they could have fun together, share meals together, live just down the hall from each other, host Swedish Christmas celebrations for our extended family. The importance of that bond my grandma had with her siblings was something I long underestimated – but I totally get it now. No one house or town probably ever really felt like home to her – but being with them did.   

Facing all those frequent changes, new beginnings and high expectations from each new church community couldn’t have been easy for my grandma when she was a young woman, especially when the ultimate new beginning – the birth of her first child – took such a horrible turn.  I feel like the traumatic birth and death of her son – a baby boy named John – deserves more than a line in her obituary. One cannot experience such profound trauma and loss without being forever changed. Mothers I know who have lost their children say it’s a heart break and heartache they carry with them always. And for Grandma, it happened at a time when there was no formal support system, grief counseling or research on how to heal mentally and physically from a loss like that. Back then, you barely even talked about it. Today, we’d never expect a quick rebound from a mother in mourning. But Grandma made a conscious decision to forge ahead – to rely on her faith, to take one day at a time, to not let that loss be the end of her life.

Dorothy Benson was resilient. She went on to raise three wonderfully different, fiercely independent kids who lived, as she often said, “such interesting lives.” Let’s be honest – she was not the most affectionate mom on the block or leading the PTA bake sales. But if love were a contest, measured by the amount a mother worried about her kids, she’d take the cake. No matter how old she or they got, she worried about them – where they were, what they were doing, if they were safe, if they were happy. I think it probably took great courage to become a mom after what she had been through – and it’s no wonder she was forever worried about her brood.

At my wedding – 1999

The other thing my grandma did in order to not just survive but thrive was to follow her heart and find comfort in her passions. My grandma traveled the world – Hong Kong, Israel, Egypt, Germany, England. She took up china painting and created gorgeous pieces for friends and family. She loved to play the piano. She was a voracious reader. She adored watching pro tennis matches and loved re-hashing certain shots and points with my dad on the phone. She delighted in life’s little joys – a tiny trinket, a blooming flower, a piece of chocolate.




Oh goodness – let’s not forget the chocolate! There’s a famous quote from Ernestine Ulmer that goes, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Well, Grandma Benson took that quote to heart. Wherever we ate out – she wanted to get her dessert first. Just to make sure they wouldn’t run out. She especially loved buffets because you could see all the dessert choices! For years, she lamented about her possible allergy to chocolate…but over the past two decades, she threw caution to the wind. She would beam with this mischievous grin whenever chocolate appeared before her – as if she were about to get away with something so outlandish. Chocolate was one way to that woman’s heart.

Humor was another. Grandma appreciated dry, clever, quirky humor – she loved British comedies and anyone who could make her giggle. But it was often Grandma who was making others giggle.  She had this quiet, reserved persona – and then, out of nowhere, she could give you whiplash with a perfectly timed quip. So fast and clever and unexpected, you had to slam on the brakes to catch it. The staff at Augustana, where she spent her last years, got such a kick out of her quick wit. Just a couple of weeks ago, as her health took a turn for the worse, Grandma spent much of her time with her eyes closed, seemingly unaware of the world around her. Her beloved nurse Esther told us that as a couple of staff members tried to move Grandma’s bed, something went awry and the bed dropped a couple of feet. Grandma opened her eyes and said, “Am I dead?” And the staffers couldn’t help but burst out laughing!

Over the past week, I’ve had the great pleasure of thumbing through Grandma’s old notebooks. I don’t know how she kept track of anything – there would be phone numbers for people on one page, then a note to self like: “Be sure food is low in saturated fats” and then on the next page her Visa card number. Just totally random stuff. But then I came across a page with her handwriting in blue pen that stopped me in my tracks. She had transcribed an excerpt from the book The Next Place by local author Warren Hansen. To take the time to write this passage must have held special meaning to her and it filled my heart to read it. It said:


“I’ll be embraced by all the family and friends 
I’ve ever known.
Although I might not see their faces, 
all our hearts will be as one.
And the circle of our spirits 
will shine brighter than the sun.
I will cherish all the friendship 
I was fortunate to find,
All the love and all the laughter 
in the place I leave behind.
All these good things will go with me, they will make my spirit glow
And that light will shine forever in the next place that I go.”

My grandma was so many things – irreverent, eccentric, generous, loyal, smart, and she led such an interesting life. But she did that by choice. She chose to thrive, to be resilient in the face of hardship, to find the good and stay focused on that. And I think she’d be delighted if she knew she had inspired all of us to leave here today doing the same.

Everything Shapes Us: In Memorium {05.16.11}

My grandma’s funeral took place on Friday and I delivered a tribute to her during the service. Writing it was far more emotional and cathartic than I expected. Though I always loved and respected my grandmother, I never really understood her. Her death – and the stories shared by her friends and family over the past week – provided me with a whole new perspective on how her life shaped her. I can’t believe it took this long – and saying a final goodbye – for me to put all the puzzle pieces together. I got choked up at the podium several times, my heart swelling with compassion for my grandma and how she handled adversity. I decided to share my memorial service speech here as a reminder of how everything shapes and impacts us and those around us. Perhaps some of you will recognize this in those you love before they’re gone. I sure hope so.
* * * * *

I’ll be honest: when our family asked me to speak today about my Grandma Benson, I hesitated. Not because I was nervous, but because I had no idea how in the world I would convey to you who she really was. And no one I talked to could come up with that one perfect word to describe her. She was that unique.

But over the past week since Grandma’s death, I’ve been hearing stories from friends and family, poring over her notebooks, recalling memories I have of her…and suddenly it’s all starting to make sense. The pieces of the puzzle finally fit for me. I just wish she were here so I could tell her I get it now. I always loved her – but now I feel like I get her. And I think I’ve found the word that describes her best from my viewpoint: she was resilient.

Let’s get dressed up and read the Bible!
{my dad’s on the far left}

Dorothy Ethel Benson was the daughter of a minister and the wife of a minister, which meant lots and lots of moving around. As someone who has lived in the same state for most of my life, it’s really hard for me to wrap my head and heart around the idea of never being able to settle down. How do you cultivate friendships and make yourself at home when you’re packing up every few years? How do you learn to get close to people? Was it an honor and a joy to help her family, to serve others and serve God at churches across the country? Of course. Was it also hard and painfully lonely sometimes? No doubt. 


I suspect it’s why my grandma remained so close to her brothers and sister – they were her only constant growing up, siblings and friends she could count on – wherever, whenever. It’s remarkable to me that, in retirement, all four of them came together again – living not only in the same city, but in the same apartment complex – where they could have fun together, share meals together, live just down the hall from each other, host Swedish Christmas celebrations for our extended family. The importance of that bond my grandma had with her siblings was something I long underestimated – but I totally get it now. No one house or town probably ever really felt like home to her – but being with them did.   

Facing all those frequent changes, new beginnings and high expectations from each new church community couldn’t have been easy for my grandma when she was a young woman, especially when the ultimate new beginning – the birth of her first child – took such a horrible turn.  I feel like the traumatic birth and death of her son – a baby boy named John – deserves more than a line in her obituary. One cannot experience such profound trauma and loss without being forever changed. Mothers I know who have lost their children say it’s a heart break and heartache they carry with them always. And for Grandma, it happened at a time when there was no formal support system, grief counseling or research on how to heal mentally and physically from a loss like that. Back then, you barely even talked about it. Today, we’d never expect a quick rebound from a mother in mourning. But Grandma made a conscious decision to forge ahead – to rely on her faith, to take one day at a time, to not let that loss be the end of her life.

Dorothy Benson was resilient. She went on to raise three wonderfully different, fiercely independent kids who lived, as she often said, “such interesting lives.” Let’s be honest – she was not the most affectionate mom on the block or leading the PTA bake sales. But if love were a contest, measured by the amount a mother worried about her kids, she’d take the cake. No matter how old she or they got, she worried about them – where they were, what they were doing, if they were safe, if they were happy. I think it probably took great courage to become a mom after what she had been through – and it’s no wonder she was forever worried about her brood.

At my wedding – 1999

The other thing my grandma did in order to not just survive but thrive was to follow her heart and find comfort in her passions. My grandma traveled the world – Hong Kong, Israel, Egypt, Germany, England. She took up china painting and created gorgeous pieces for friends and family. She loved to play the piano. She was a voracious reader. She adored watching pro tennis matches and loved re-hashing certain shots and points with my dad on the phone. She delighted in life’s little joys – a tiny trinket, a blooming flower, a piece of chocolate.




Oh goodness – let’s not forget the chocolate! There’s a famous quote from Ernestine Ulmer that goes, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Well, Grandma Benson took that quote to heart. Wherever we ate out – she wanted to get her dessert first. Just to make sure they wouldn’t run out. She especially loved buffets because you could see all the dessert choices! For years, she lamented about her possible allergy to chocolate…but over the past two decades, she threw caution to the wind. She would beam with this mischievous grin whenever chocolate appeared before her – as if she were about to get away with something so outlandish. Chocolate was one way to that woman’s heart.

Humor was another. Grandma appreciated dry, clever, quirky humor – she loved British comedies and anyone who could make her giggle. But it was often Grandma who was making others giggle.  She had this quiet, reserved persona – and then, out of nowhere, she could give you whiplash with a perfectly timed quip. So fast and clever and unexpected, you had to slam on the brakes to catch it. The staff at Augustana, where she spent her last years, got such a kick out of her quick wit. Just a couple of weeks ago, as her health took a turn for the worse, Grandma spent much of her time with her eyes closed, seemingly unaware of the world around her. Her beloved nurse Esther told us that as a couple of staff members tried to move Grandma’s bed, something went awry and the bed dropped a couple of feet. Grandma opened her eyes and said, “Am I dead?” And the staffers couldn’t help but burst out laughing!

Over the past week, I’ve had the great pleasure of thumbing through Grandma’s old notebooks. I don’t know how she kept track of anything – there would be phone numbers for people on one page, then a note to self like: “Be sure food is low in saturated fats” and then on the next page her Visa card number. Just totally random stuff. But then I came across a page with her handwriting in blue pen that stopped me in my tracks. She had transcribed an excerpt from the book The Next Place by local author Warren Hansen. To take the time to write this passage must have held special meaning to her and it filled my heart to read it. It said:


“I’ll be embraced by all the family and friends 
I’ve ever known.
Although I might not see their faces, 
all our hearts will be as one.
And the circle of our spirits 
will shine brighter than the sun.
I will cherish all the friendship 
I was fortunate to find,
All the love and all the laughter 
in the place I leave behind.
All these good things will go with me, they will make my spirit glow
And that light will shine forever in the next place that I go.”

My grandma was so many things – irreverent, eccentric, generous, loyal, smart, and she led such an interesting life. But she did that by choice. She chose to thrive, to be resilient in the face of hardship, to find the good and stay focused on that. And I think she’d be delighted if she knew she had inspired all of us to leave here today doing the same.