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. 

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.


this really sucks. and it’s going to be okay.

grief quote by washington irving - there is sacredness in tears

I woke up today at a loss for words. Wanting to say something here, but not sure what. It’s the second anniversary of my dad’s death and, honestly, it sucks. But who wants to read that? 

Then, my childhood friend Tracy, who knew and loved my dad, sent me this note via Facebook: “As I find myself crying…it’s because it sucks. I am sending rainbows and cake with a ton of frosting and positive love but ya know what? It also sucks. I love you and wish I could take on any pain your family has today.” 

I so appreciated her not sugar-coating it, but honoring the suckiness of it all (though the imaginary rainbows and frosting were much appreciated).

It reminded me of attending a funeral for one of my mom’s friends just a couple of weeks after my dad’s death. Our pain was still so raw and it was heart-wrenching to watch another family coming to grips with their loss. When my mom introduced me to her friend’s son, I meant to offer kind condolences (and rainbows and frosting), but what came spilling out was: “I just want you to know I know how much this sucks.”

He grabbed me and hugged me, saying, “Yes! This totally sucks. Thank you for saying it out loud.” We bonded briefly over the suckfest of losing a beloved parent – and it felt really good. Really real. Really healing.

Ryder with Papa at baseball gameMeanwhile, in the car with Ryder last week, he heard the word “cancer” on the radio and quietly said he misses doing “sports stuff” with Papa – playing catch, having him at games, talking stats. “But I don’t like to think about Papa for very long because I start to get mad at him for leaving,” he said. “I mean, I know he’s still watching me – and then I feel bad for being mad at Papa.” 

I nearly crumpled into a thousand tears. I can’t tell you how glad I was that my 10 year old was able to put those feelings into words. I was able to tell him I get mad, too – and that Papa was probably maddest of all about having to go. “It doesn’t seem fair and it just kind of sucks,” I told him. “But the best thing you can do is feel all those feelings. Sad, mad, bad and sometimes even happy about old memories or knowing he’s watching out for you.”

Once again, owning up to the suckiness (hereby declaring this an actual word) felt real and honest and good. So, I guess that’s what I wanted to say today. In these past two years, there’s been lots of beauty, too – healing, remembering, laughing, sharing, strength, growth. But there’s great relief in being able to hold both sweetness and suckiness inside the hole in my heart.

The crippling grief has faded. Family dynamics have shifted. A new normal is still forming. Joy and hope have been restored. Amazing how we all find the strength to carry on, isn’t it? But there are still days or moments that suck, and there probably always will be. And it’s going to be okay.

a light in the dark: help for peter hobart

peter hobart memorial

I cannot imagine the horror of sending my fourth grader to school, telling him to have a great field trip – and then never seeing him again. The mere thought of it rips my heart out.

If you don’t live in Minnesota, you may not have heard the story of the two fourth grade classes from St. Louis Park’s Peter Hobart Elementary – where I went to school as a young girl – whose field trip turned to tragedy a little over a week ago. While standing on a bluff, some of the kids were swept away in a freak landslide. Two kids were injured, two rescue workers were injured and two boys – ages 9 and 10 – did not survive. Awful.

teddy bear at memorial siteSt. Louis Park is an amazing suburb of Minneapolis, regularly named one of America’s 100 Best Communities for Young People. I feel so lucky to have grown up there. It’s no surprise that the community has rallied after this tragedy; starting today, you can bid on hundreds of items through an online auction benefiting the families who lost their children as well as to provide mental health support for Peter Hobart children deeply impacted by the event and losing their friends.

I personally want to thank the dear hearts who said YES when I requested donations for this auction (I just had to help and this was the only way I felt I could make a small impact). Huge thanks to the awesome radio stations at Hubbard Broadcasting, to psychic-medium (and St. Louis Park grad) Suzanne Krupp, and to the many artists who sent in their beautiful work – including Marianne Richmond, Briana Goetzen of Orange Spiral Arts, Denise of Deeder the Beader, Sweet Bee Honey & Crafts, Noelle Rollins Art, Cate Metzyk of Wild Ruffle, and Mara Olden of Dragonfly Adornments. Thank you to everyone who has collected donations, offered their own services or products, and organized this awesome auction.

And thank YOU for checking out the auction, wherever you are.  You are a light in the dark for families facing the unthinkable.

(Note: The online auction runs through Wednesday, June 5th. Other items have been reserved to be auctioned off at an event for Peter Hobart families).

10 things to say to a friend in grief this holiday season

With the kickoff to the holiday season just days away, I’ve decided to re-share this post I wrote last December, when my family was wading through the depths of grief after losing my dad in October.

Last Christmas Eve, my mom lit this lantern {above} and placed it at my dad’s usual seat at the table. It has been lit on several important occasions over the past year – a bittersweet reminder of his absence, but also of his never-ending presence in our family.

In re-reading these tips one year later, I find the words I suggested then are still so comforting now. I’ve seen multiple Facebook posts lately from friends who are missing their loved ones as the holidays draw closer, years after their passing. The deep ache of missing someone we adored may fade, but never goes away; it lingers just beneath the surface and sometimes comes flooding back without warning. Good friends acknowledge it and don’t care if we cry. Good friends hold our hands through it. Good friends say or write the things we need to hear to let us know we’re not alone. And we can do the same for them.

10 things to say to a friend in grief during the holidays

So, here are the 10 expressions that have comforted my family over the past year and some I’ve learned from friends who have experienced great loss, too…

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!

7. Death makes people do dumb things. 
Grief and loss make people uncomfortable and awkward. Friends and family sometimes say and do things that come from a place of love but wind up feeling hurtful or dismissive. They don’t reach out, assuming you need space. They give you reasons to look on the bright side when you’re not ready to go there. They tell you they know exactly how you feel when, really, they don’t. If a friend is feeling hurt by the way others are reacting to their grief, let them vent. And then gently remind them so many people have good intentions, but poor execution – and that even in those missteps, there is love.

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 {and saying their name out loud!} 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 letter to my dad…and his last words to me

dear dad,

my heart feels both completely broken and surprisingly full today, treading water in an ocean of grief and gratitude.

it seems impossible that a whole year has passed since you slipped away on this day, a little after noon. we were not ready; not that anyone ever is. but we thought you were beating the cancer. you thought you were beating the cancer. remember weeks before, how we’d toasted with champagne? we giggled with glee for the changing tides, for the good fortune of improving health.

and then, a plot twist: an infection from surgery worked its way into your blood stream and pulled you from our grip. just like that.

one year ago still feels like yesterday.

sometimes i still cry. big, heaving sobs with crocodile tears for dreams we lost, for the laughter i miss, for my papa-less boys, for mom’s broken heart, for words i forgot to say. people see us all looking happy, acting normal and they say “thank goodness the worst is over, thank goodness you’ve moved on, thank goodness you’re happy again.” and that is all truth, but so is the lingering, gut-wrenching grief. there’s joy and pain co-existing in this new normal. i need to honor both.

i find such comfort in the last words i heard you say, from your soul to mine, in the deep of the night. mom and kai and i slept in the hospital room, next to the bed where your tired body slept. we wanted to be rested for when you woke up. the nurses put a twin mattress on the floor, where mom and i smooshed together like sardines to catch some z’s, as you would say. i was startled awake by a hand on my right shoulder, an arm around my back. the same one that had wrapped itself around me all my life; there was no mistaking it was yours. you were still in bed, yet also with me; i had no time to make sense of it. it felt like my shoulders and back were on fire, the heat from your arm – or your spirit – was so intense. and then i heard your voice in my ear, clear as a bell, say those words i will never forget:

“i’m so sorry, liv-er. but i guess i have to go. they say i have big work to do.” 

mom suddenly sat straight up on the mattress, startled awake too, asking what had just happened. we all rushed to your bedside; you didn’t respond to our voices, our touch, our forehead kisses. maybe you were already moving to the other side before your body gave out a few hours later.

oh, dad. knowing that your spirit could catch up with mine in the still of the night fills my heart with gratitude and awe.  thank you for that one last reminder: that our connection has no limitations, physical or otherwise. i miss you with all my heart, and yet i know, really know, you are right here. hand on my shoulder. arm around my back. wrapping me in love and gently guiding, as always.  for always.

i love you this big. {arms outstretched}

your rainbow girl

Making Father’s Day Matter

me & my dad ~ 1999

Just when I think I’ve got this dance down, that I’m close to mastering this exhausting waltz with grief, I trip over something that brings me to my knees.

I know it’s not fair or reasonable, but I’m a little bit pissed at all the retailers sending me emails with cheery Father’s Day reminders:  5 Ways To Tell Your Dad You Love Him or Give Your Dad The Best Gift Ever! Even a simple card for grandpas at Target –Happy Father’s Day, Papa! – had me scurrying to an empty aisle to catch my breath and wipe my eyes.

When my dad died eight months ago, I knew holidays without him would be hard. As a family, we have felt his presence on special occasions {heck, he basically called me on my birthday!} and we’ve found new ways to celebrate without him.

But Father’s Day is just feeling extra hard. I do have dads to celebrate; Brad is an amazing daddy to our boys and I have a soft spot in my heart for his father, who’s visiting us this week.

But I can’t help but focus on my own dad right now and how much I’m missing the chance to tell him this weekend – heart to heart, face to face – how much I love him. Last Father’s Day, we had a fabulous day at a Twins game. This Father’s Day, he’s gone. I believe everything happens for a reason…but it still sucks.

I would love another chance to sit down and chat, or see his name pop up on my cell phone, or dance a silly dance, or laugh till we cry over something ridiculous. Since I can’t, I’m hoping you will. For those of you who still have your dads, could you let them know how much they mean to you? I know that sounds cliche…but I really mean it. I would love so much to know you’re making this Father’s Day matter.

Last year, I gave my dad a card that said “I am because you are” on the front. I could have just signed it and called it a day…but, instead, I felt compelled to write a list of characteristics I possess because I learned or inherited them from him. Like kindness. Like work ethic. Like hay fever {thanks a lot}! Oh, he loved it! As he read the list out loud, it felt so good to celebrate {and tease him about} many of the things he’d passed on to me. And it’s such a comfort to me now, knowing I said what I needed to say.

I realize now, more than ever, what a gift it was to have a strong and loving relationship with my dad. I recognize and am so sorry that not everyone has that. But for those of you who do {or feel like a deeper connection is possible}, wouldn’t it be phenomenal to make this Sunday really meaningful? Call or write or share in-person how much your dad helped shape who you are. It’ll be an amazing gift for him and one you’ll never regret giving.

Seize the day. Say what you mean. Do a happy dance with your dad. And have a happy Father’s Day.


What I Didn’t Tell You {The Flip Side of Bliss}

I cried a lot on Friday. This might come as a surprise, since Fridays are the day I post my Little Bliss List of cherished and joyful tidbits from the past week…and welcome others to do the same. It’s a happy, sparkly love-fest around here at the end of each week.

But on Friday, all that joy had to scoot over and share a seat with sorrow.

That day marked five months since my dad died and it hit me particularly hard. With each passing month, I feel further away from him – even though I know, deep down, he’s still around. And on Friday, my own grief was compounded by witnessing my kids missing their beloved Papa. Though I didn’t mention the five-month mark to them, they must have felt the weight of it. Ryder told me, “I wish I could go back in time. I would re-do the world so Papa could be here again.” My heart ached as I choked back tears, agreeing that a re-do would be wonderful. Later, I heard Tru whispering in the living room and when I peeked around the corner, I found him dancing, holding my dad’s picture in his little hands and whispering to it. Heartache, again.

I used a lot of Kleenex on Friday and went to bed bleary-eyed and blotchy-faced. But here’s why I’m sharing this: Friday was not a bad day. To define it that way – or any day, for that matter – would be the easy way out. To be honest, I get a little annoyed when people say they’re having a bad day. Usually, that declaration stems from having a handful of negative experiences, ranging from relationship woes to a soggy sandwich at lunch. Once they’ve decided they’re having a bad day, their radar is up – looking for more negative moments to prove their point. In doing so, they completely miss all the bliss that’s also in their midst. And it is there – no matter the circumstances.

Lots of parts of my Friday felt awful. But there were plenty of things to be grateful for, too. A friend of my parents’ delivered daffodils to our door in honor of the five month mark. Ryder was over the moon about his Justin Bieber haircut. I loved reading others’ blissful moments shared on the blog. And my ability to be sad and happy within the same day felt brave and good.

To chalk up Friday as a bad day would devalue those joyful, meaningful moments and only give power to the sadness. All in all, it was a good day. I choose to believe that every single day is.