My Surviving Self


Not long after my Mother passed, someone asked me “What would you say to her if she were here now? What would you ask her?” Fighting back tears in my eyes, I sputtered out “Am I going to be ok?”. I had never faced such an emotional challenge without her. I felt so much uncertainty. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I would ever be ‘ok’ again. I was crying far more than once a day, I felt so lonely, I did not enjoy my job, I had no idea what I wanted other than simply my Mother. Here. Healthy. Right beside me. I was simply hopeless that I could ever truly experience joy again.

Losing my Mom has been by far the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. So many people said “it gets better, it gets easier”……that hasn’t been the case for me. The hole in my heart will always be there, but it’s the acceptance of what will always be that has been liberating. I liken it to adapting to a new way of life, one where you carry your broken heart with you everyday and learn to be happy despite it.

As I ponder all the lessons I have learned during this first year without my Mom, I thought of what I might say to my newly bereaved self a year ago. It would have been nice to have known what wisdom would come to exist amidst all the brutal uncertainty I was feeling.


Dear My Grieving Soul,

In the coming days you will experience a multitude of emotions. You will rejoice in your mother’s peace, freedom from suffering, and her eternal life in Gods kingdom. At the same time, your heart will be shattered into a million pieces and you will be left asking “why?” – why did she have to get so sick? Why did such a wonderful Mother have to suffer so much? You will mourn all the future milestones she won’t be a part of. You will fantasize about what life might have been like in the last 11 years had cancer not snuck in and taken over. You will physically be able to feel your heart break and be so physically and mentally exhausted you cry at the very slightest trigger. Almost automatically you will have zero tolerance for other people’s B.S. You will learn that great grief only exists where great love is present and that your Mother’s love endures forever. You will discover a new depth of compassion for anyone suffering through illness. When passing by hospitals, your heart will ache, thinking of families that may be caring for a dying loved one. You will become much more comfortable crying in front of others. You will even reconnect with a childhood friend and find comfort in sharing grief over the loss of your wonderful Mothers.

You will slowly put one foot in front of the other. It may not feel like living at first, but one day you will find yourself laughing so hard with a dear friend you can hear your mother’s voice rejoice in your laughter. As if she is thanking God that sound has returned to your life. You will begin to understand, and more importantly, feel in your heart how Mom would want you to live. Knowing she would want you to be happy on your birthday rather than sad at her absence.

You will finally take a stand for yourself and for your own personal health. After almost 20 years, you will start swimming laps again and no, you won’t sink. By the end of the summer, you will be swimming 2,000 yards regularly. After a lengthy sleep study and diagnosis, You will finally know what quality sleep feels like. Then one day you will look back on just how far you have come and realize your Mom has been with you every step of the way.

You have to hang on tight through all the awful because life will never be the same again. But do know you will figure out how to make a beautiful life for yourself despite this loss. It may be a work in progress, but it is all part of healing. And yes, you will be “ok”, your Mom will always make sure of that.

Love Always,
Your Surviving Self

What is something you would say to your former self in light of great loss?
What kind of lessons has your grief journey taught you?
Please share any lessons you have learned from great loss in the comments section below.

Just another January?


January has always been a tough month for no other reason than its usually cold, snowy, dark and just plain boring. And I’ll admit that its often left me feeling the blues as I yearn for warmer weather. However, this year January takes on a whole new meaning. It was the end of January last year when Mom passed away. These recent weeks it has been difficult to not reflect back on that time of extreme stress and suffering. I know the coming days will continue to be a reminder of all the despair felt only a year ago. It may have only been one year, but I feel like I have lived about 5 years in the span of 12 months.

I am always looking for ways in which my Mom is still with me. Whether its a slight flicker of a light, seeing a cardinal, or finding a lucky penny in my path, I am always open to receiving signs from her. One of the way is through special songs on the radio. In fact, as we were planning the flowers for her funeral, one of her favorite songs began playing at the florist, which for me was a sign that her love was still with us. Recently, I came across a song by a new country artist named Cam. Mom was not all that much of a country music fan, but the lyrics to the song ‘Village’ really spoke to me. Its from the perspective of someone looking down on loved ones from heaven.

Some of the lyrics go –
“your whole heart is a village
everyone you love has built it
and I’ve been working there myself
and that’s where I’ll be, with a front row seat
to watch you live your life well
and I KNOW you’ll live your life well”

Isn’t that what Mom has always wanted, to watch me ‘live my life well’? Whether that’s been physically by my side or from heaven above? I’ll admit that one of the toughest challenges in all of this is figuring out how to still create a beautiful life for myself despite her absence. I feel like I figure it out a little more everyday……

So, no matter what you may be going through, be brave enough to hold onto the hope that life will be beautiful again. Life is certainly different, but have faith that those we love are still with us everyday, watching us grow and living our life well. And if we are lucky, we may run across reminders of their continued presence and everlasting love.

For Abby

As you know, I am an animal lover. It is a trait I largely inherited from my Mother, especially my love for dogs. No one could sympathize with the loss of a pet more than my Mom. In fact, shortly after she was diagnosed, our beloved family dog was diagnosed with Cancer and by the end of that summer ended up passing away in her arms. So, I more than understand how much our beloved pets mean to us and how much of a loss they can be to a family.

Over Thanksgiving weekend my dear friend, Leslie, lost her beloved pup to cancer. I remember when little Abby was diagnosed back in the summer, Leslie said she felt shy about sharing the grief with me since I had so recently lost my Mom. She didn’t want me to think Abby’s devastating diagnosis and the grief it caused was in anyway on the same level as losing my Mother. I appreciated her sentiment, but reminded her that loss is loss. And if you are in jeopardy of losing someone that you love, no matter who or what it is, you still experience grief. Grief is unique to each and every one of us, just as it is unique to every situation we face. I might argue that grief over my Mom will take years longer to process and will always be with me, but that doesn’t make Leslie’s loss any less devastating to her. So, I asked Leslie not to hesitate in sharing her worries and frustrations in caring for her beloved dog on this final journey.

Having known my Mom too, Leslie asked if I thought she would help welcome Abby into Heaven. I assured her that my Mom already had a spot ready for Abby and a great pack she could run with. As part of the grieving process, Leslie held a small gathering of friends to celebrate little Abby’s life. I was asked to share some words about Abby and her wonderful spirit. Below are the words I wrote in support of my dear friends during this time of loss. Please read and think of all your special friends who may be experiencing loss this Holiday season. Please send them an extra prayer and warm thoughts of comfort, no matter what kind of loss they are facing.


“For me, “Abby” is synonymous with “Love”. Pure, innocent, unconditional love. She loved her Flossie chews, her stuffed soccer balls, chasing backyard squirrels, and taking long afternoon naps. She loved car rides, trips to Bloomingdales and walks with Andrew. But Most importantly she loved her Leslie and never wanted to be away from her. As a matter of fact, it was not unusual for Abby to cry and whine whenever Leslie stepped out to run even the quickest of errands.

Abby was with Leslie when she made the big move to New York City, through the stress of graduate school and even participated in Leslie and Andrew’s wedding ceremony serving as an honorary bridesmaid alongside yours truly. So, to say these two are “bonded” is an understatement. In fact, it is a bond that can NEVER be broken. For that is what true love does….it creates bonds so strong that nothing on earth can ever separate you…..not time, not space, not even death. For Love never Fails.

God lent us Abby for just a short time to teach us all lessons of love. I am proud to have known her and want to thank her for being such a source of love, light and joy for my dear friends Leslie and Andrew.

Abby has now fulfilled her promise and God has called her Home. She may No longer walk this earth, but there is no doubt in my mind that she continues to walk with those she loved each and every day. So, the next time you see a squirrel or feel the need for an afternoon nap, may you be reminded that Abby is somewhere close by, shining in God’s everlasting light, sending nothing but Love your way.”

The Holiday Promise to “Try”


Now that Halloween is over, the Holidays are thrust upon us. This year is our first Christmas without Mom, so it’s only natural I feel a sense of dread. Christmas was her favorite holiday. I have mentioned before how much she loved finding the perfect gifts for everyone, so it’s only natural that our Christmases were always extra special. She considered Christmas Shopping part of “getting into the Holiday spirit”. I inherited that same spirit and always love finding special Christmas presents, especially for her.

I remember her frailness at last year’s Christmas Eve service. She was unable to stand during the hymns, so my brother remained sitting with her the whole time. Hearing the Christmas Story that night and listening to how the great “hope” of our world came to be, reminded me that anything was possible. Our God is a God of hope and surely with as much love as we had for Mom and she had for the Lord and Savior, she would pull through this. Soon after the Holidays I realized that my hope for healing was misplaced. The suffering was just too great. My hope became that she would be relieved of the horrible suffering and find peace in a place where she could finally be free. A place of unimaginable love and peace. A place of hope that only our Savior could provide.

So this year, I am going to give it my best effort to “feel” the Christmas spirit in honor of my Mom. I fully expect to have some sad, melancholy moments, but I like to think she would want us all to be happy at Christmas and somehow enjoy the Holiday. Get lost in the wonder of such a magical time of year. If for no other reason than for her. The last thing she would want is to think SHE somehow ruined OUR Christmas with her absence. That is why it is so important for me to try…..try to enjoy decorating my house, to enjoy shopping for others, to get lost in looking at Christmas lights. Try to make our first “new” Christmas an enjoyable one where we can allow ourselves to feel how much the Holiday love and togetherness meant to her, rather than only feeling our palpable sense of loss. Isn’t that the least we can do for someone who means so very much to us? To simply “try”. To give our best effort and find a way to enjoy her favorite time of year. I am certainly going to try and hope I can make her proud.

I know Christmas will never be the same without her, but my prayer is that come Christmas Morning, our hearts are filled with the love, joy, and happiness she felt every Christmas. And that somehow, we will ALL feel her spirit enjoying the Holiday with us, just as she has always has…..

This entry was posted on November 5, 2015. 3 Comments

Fall Leaves and Healing Hearts

Fall Leaves and Healing Hearts

Fall Leaves and Healing Hearts

I know it has been a few weeks since my last post, but it was this time last year when Mom started her slow and final decline. I remember the fall leaves changing into vibrant colors as my Mom grew more weak. I do rejoice in her no longer suffering, but the change in seasons brought me back to the anxiety, uncertainty and grief I felt last fall. Seeing the trees in my neighborhood fade into fall has been a slight, but painful reminder of her suffering just a year ago. So, when some dear family friends invited us for a visit to North Carolina, I was more than happy to go. I couldn’t have picked a better time to get out of town, change up the scenery, and catch up with some wonderful friends. So, along with my Dad, we set out for North Carolina!

My Mom’s dear friend was unable to travel and did not attend the funeral services in February. She was looking for a chance to gain some kind of closure after the loss of such a wonderful friend. We had a chance to visit about all the things my Mom liked to do and things she would say. I had hoped to be able to help her cope with the grief she had been feeling, but what I discovered was just how healing it was for me to be around someone who knew my Mom so very well. I felt nothing but joy revisiting with her all the times she shared with my Mom and of all the things they used to enjoy doing together….primarily shopping – my Mom’s favorite hobby (and who am I kidding, one of mine too). We visited several of the special places in western North Carolina that she had visited with my Mom. Sharing stories about different things Mom would have enjoyed and laughing at how she might have reacted to the latest practical joke was more than healing for me, it was really a lot of fun.

It’s in sharing wonderful stories and memories that really keeps her love alive. I truly felt in my heart the spirit of what my Mother was to those who loved her and knew her as a friend. There was a certain exuberance that came alive while reminiscing, almost like I could feel the excitement my Mom felt if she herself had been on the trip with us. What I enjoyed the most was that our stories were about the person Mom was, not the disease and suffering she endured. I am a big believer in “signs” from above, so I can’t help but think that loving feeling I experienced in my heart was Mom’s way of letting me know she was right there with us the whole time.

This entry was posted on October 26, 2015. 1 Comment

Heavenly Birthdays

Bday Poem

Today is my Mom’s birthday. It is yet another “first” we are experiencing without her. I have been celebrating her birthday for as long as I have been alive, so to say the day feels foreign to me without her is an understatement.

Among the many things I learned from my Mom, thoughtfulness and the “fun” of gift giving is at the top of the list. For the most part, my Mother’s love language was giving and receiving gifts. If she was out shopping and ran across something that reminded her of me (or anyone else), she was more than likely to buy it. Whether it was a cute dress, a Christmas ornament, or simply my favorite candy, she was always thoughtful enough to pick it up and surprise me.

I remember being 6 years old and allowed the privilege of shopping “by myself” for her birthday at DePaulo’s Gifts in Southington, CT. Mom waited in the car while the sales ladies helped me pick things out in the store. I have always loved picking out gifts for people and I was so proud because I was going to be able to give Mom a real surprise for her birthday. The store even wrapped everything up for me.

One thing I picked out was a small heart shaped porcelain jewelry holder. It wasn’t very big, so only a few ear rings would fit in there, but it was heart shaped with a purple Iris flower painted on it. It caught my eye because I thought it was an appropriate sign of the love I had for her.  After all these years, that jewelry holder still sits atop her jewelry box filled with her earrings. She continued to use it every day since I gave it to her, so I guess I made a good pick!


I hate that she is not around this year to appreciate the surprises I might have found for her. I have heard it said that in heaven we have no need for material things and I do believe that to be true. However, what about birthdays in heaven? Since Mom expressed her love and appreciation through gifts, how would she feel if there were no gifts given to show our love and affection for her? Trying to figure out the answer to this got me thinking about what heavenly birthdays must be like.

To start there has to be an unimaginable feeling of joy and appreciation from all those you have touched during your life. You are surrounded by all those who love you and can still feel the love from the ones you watch below.

I picture my Mom sitting at a long table with my both of my grandparents and great grandparents. Also there, are several of my great aunts, along with my uncle and aunt on my Dads side. There are also the many friends she knew and loved in her lifetime. Her heart is filled with unimaginable love and joy as she watches over us. She is smiling like I have never seen her smile before. The decorations have the most vibrant colors and beautiful fragrant flowers complete the table’s centerpiece. Gifts are delicately wrapped in beautiful paper tied up with exquisite bows. Oh, and the cake? At least 2 tier, with elegantly decorated flowers. The cake is out-of-this-world delicious. No matter what the flavor, every bite is the “perfect” bite.

Each gift given is one of faith, hope, love and grace. Mom always said that “it’s the thought that counts”, so the gifts aren’t of the material kind, but are the feelings of love, excitement, joy and appreciation that went into finding the perfect gift just for her from all those who love her and continue to miss her.

These are just a few of the things I would imagine make Heavenly Birthdays unlike any other……….

Happy Birthday Mom! I hope you have a fabulous heavenly birthday with all the love and joy you deserve. And I hope you can still feel all the love and appreciation we continue to have for you in our hearts everyday.

-XOXO — Caroline

P.S. The cake IS unbelievably good, isn’t it?

This entry was posted on September 30, 2015. 1 Comment

Angels on Earth


Every so often you hear a miraculous story of a dogs undying love and bravery. Whether it is a Mother Dog rescuing her pups from a fire or a military service dog saving the lives of soldiers, there is always something so uplifting and inspiring about these animals.

Although the stories are fascinating, Your dog certainly doesn’t have to do anything miraculous to be considered your best friend and hero. I find that no matter how awful my day has been, the “happy parade” that takes place when my dogs greet me immediately puts a smile on my face and warm love in my heart. They make me laugh and can always calm my anxious mind.

In everyday life, dogs teach us so much about unconditional love, forgiveness, and loyalty.  The most important lesson they have taught me is the grace and love that takes place in letting them go when the time comes. Although painfully sad, loving them through the end is the least I can do for something that has devoted their life to me. At some point, we all have to say goodbye to our best friend. However, the love and appreciation I have for their life has done nothing but expand the capacity of my heart to love. So, there is infinitely more room to love the next best friend that comes along. And I like to think that is what they would want me to do should they no longer be part of my world.

I know that in ‘my’ heaven, I will be surrounded by all the animals I have loved during my lifetime and what a glorious day that will be! A place without them will certainly not be heaven to me.  I have learned so much from all of them that I truly believe Dogs are, quite simply, Angels on Earth.

What are some of the greatest lessons you have learned from your pets?

This entry was posted on September 25, 2015. 1 Comment

Water Therapy


One of the biggest reasons I left the corporate world was to focus on my own personal health and wellness. The balance between good health and the corporate world was always a struggle for me. Sitting for 8 hours a day put me in a glacial state where I really didn’t have the energy to do much beyond sitting once I got home. I would always daydream about what kind of workouts I would do, given the flexibility of time and not having to rush back to an office where I had to be somewhat “presentable”. One of those workouts was swimming. My brother and I grew up swimming competitively on a summer league, where weekday mornings were spent at practice and weekends were spent at area swim meets. In fact, my brother is still a swim coach to this day.


I, however, took a rather long sabbatical from my days in the pool. Up until this past summer, I had not swam a lap in over 15 years. To say I was a bit nervous jumping back in the pool was an understatement. I was convinced I would sink considering how long it had been, let alone the anxiety of wearing a swimsuit in public. But my brother gave me a good beginner workout requiring a 600 yard swim and I was determined to give it a try, no matter how terrified I was. That first day I actually surprised myself. Although the water was cold, as I started swimming my heart began to fill with joy. Each lap reconnected me with memories of my youth.  I discovered that the water energized me. I even surprised myself and did better than 600 yards. I made it to 800 yards on the very first day. Before I knew it, I was regularly making it to over 1000 yards and before the summer was over I achieved a personal best of 1800 yards!


While the water also energizes me, it has a soothing and calming quality too, which I desperately need as I continued to figure out what my life without mom is going to look like. I am able to shut the world out and be alone with my thoughts. And at the end of the day, completing a swim gives me some sense of accomplishment. The water also brought me back to some of the best parts of growing up. The memories of Mom taking us to practice every morning and her dedication in making sure we had a chance to succeed, somehow make me feel closer to her. When the last few laps become harder, it is her voice I hear telling me to “keep going, no matter how slow, just keep going……”  I think this might be her way of telling me to do that in life as well…..that no matter how hard the day is or how slow we are moving, it is the effort to “keep going” that pays off in the end.

The Weight of Loss

The Weight
Almost 6 months after Mom passed away, a dear friends mother also lost her battle with Cancer.  At the time I still considered my own grief “fresh”, yet I was reminded of the sheer rawness of those first several days as I attended her Mother’s visitation.  My friend’s mother fought until the bitter end with grace and dignity just as mine did. The stress in caring for someone with an extended illness is a roller coaster and in the end makes you feel powerless. I felt like our love for Mom was so strong, we could somehow “love” her back to wellness.  The ups and downs…..”oh she took 3 bites of breakfast? She must be feeling better, things are looking up”, then finding out she ate nothing more the rest of the day…. I can’t describe the feeling of powerlessness trying to find hope in the smallest of things, only to be disappointed in the end. I think the most bitter pill to swallow was realizing our love was not enough to save her from the suffering. All we could do was put our best effort into finding the right doctors and treatments, pray, and make sure she was comfortable along the way.  The emotional weight of seeing someone you love so much suffer so endlessly is much like wearing a heavy winters coat in the middle of a lake.  It’s so heavy, you feel as if you are drowning in despair for any glimmer of hope, while discovering that no matter how much love you have to offer, you are still sinking. Slowly. Into a bottomless ocean of fear and uncertainty.


 I ultimately became resigned to the fact that the only true thing left to hope for was God’s promise of eternal life. For my Mother I began to hope for a peace that surpasses all understanding, hope for a life that could exist outside of this disease, a life that only God’s Grace could provide.  With that in mind, the strangest feeling took place upon her passing. The loss that shattered my heart into a million pieces, simultaneously made me feel like I was ready for a “no more pain” pep rally and elated with joy as my Mother entered into God’s kingdom. Someone told me that strange feeling is the true presence of God revealing himself, the sheer joy felt for someone during a time of great personal suffering.


Our “loss” will always be. There is no “getting over it” or “time heals” kind of cliches. The fact remains that our loss is ours forever. We simply adjust to the absence. That adjustment process is not for the faint of heart. There will be days when you miss them so much your body physically aches and your insides feel exhausted. There will be days when you feel strong and remember them with a warm heart. Then there are days when something will trigger you out of the blue causing you to feel the void a little bit more than yesterday. Learning how to carry your loss takes determination and grit. Understanding how the loss impacts you and what you want your life to be amidst the after loss can be humbling. But if you are determined to make a beautiful life for yourself you can learn to carry your loss with a grace that wonderfully honors the loved one lost……
This entry was posted on September 7, 2015. 1 Comment

Hello September!



This time of year is always bittersweet for me. I absolutely hate to see the end of summer…..I love the long days, flips flops and warm weather. However, I do LOVE college football (Go Hogs!) so it all works out in the end. Plus, as the seasons change, wonderful colors are revealed and the smell of pumpkin spice fills the air. Who could argue with that?

If you pay attention, you will realize that life is in constant motion, always changing from one season to the next. Children grow up, and pets pass away. We live our lives in chapters and experiences from which we will never be the same. Our lives evolve through experience, yet it’s not always the “experience” itself, but the meaning we attach to it that has the most profound impact.

As you know, I am currently settling into married life after losing my Mother. It has been a battle to see beyond the fog of grief and despair to determine what this chapter of my life is going to look like. I have always been a student of life, so trying to learn the lesson out of my life’s greatest heartache has been challenging. While I am still figuring it out everyday, I have already noticed my depth for compassion and empathy has expanded exponentially. I will always miss my Mother, but maybe this is one of her greatest lessons – To increase my capacity for compassion and love, not just so I can understand others better, but so I can understand myself more.

The absence of my Mother is not a change I would have ever welcomed, but if you look hard enough, it’s during times of challenge and change that life often reminds us of its beauty and purpose. For it is by God’s Grace we are allowed to grow from the challenges, changes and heartaches. And because of that, we are all forever blessed……

For more Sassy Images like the one above, check out @PrincessSassyPantsAndCo on Instagram and Facebook.


This entry was posted on September 1, 2015. 1 Comment