Sep 8 2012

Sometimes it Lasts…But Sometimes it Hurts Instead

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” -Adele

The photo above was taken at a surprise party for Todd Barr on September 8, 2002–his last birthday on earth. I wonder if the people in attendance that day know what a tremendous gift they gave him–just by being there to say we love you and we’re glad you were born. Todd told me (many times over the following days) that day was one of the happiest of his life. It was just like him to be so appreciative of something as simple as a birthday–something he should have had dozens more of.

Todd died three weeks after this picture was taken. He was 34.

A few days ago I attended a birthday celebration for my brother who just turned 57, and as with most ceremonial events in life (weddings, births, funerals and birthdays) Todd came along with me (in spirit) to the festivities.

It was impossible not to be reminded of my deceased fiance as I watched my brother celebrate his special day, but what brought Todd to mind most powerfully for me that evening was the fact that there were so many married couples in attendance–and all of them had been together for decades–happily–according to them.

My brother and his wife went to prom together in 1974 and they remain in love after nearly 40 years. My daughter and her husband met and fell in love in high school in 1996. My sister-in-law’s aunt met and married her “best friend” 19 years ago and another couple had been “matched” by my brother and his wife over 20 years ago. Of the married couples in the room, all but one (newlyweds) were in relationships that had stood the test of time, and the word “soulmate” came up in conversation over and over that night.

So, of course, I thought of Todd often, though I didn’t speak of him in that context. His name did come up, not in a discussion about love and soul mates (I find that bringing a dead fiance into those discussions tends to bring the level of joy down in a room), but in a discussion about swimming in the Pacific ocean and its danger vs. safety.

One of the women there was saying she would never get on a boat or even go on a cruise because she was afraid of drowning in the ocean. The old (pre-Todd) me would have insisted she was missing out on a beautiful relationship with the sea, and that she should maybe reconsider, don a good life-vest, and partake of the beauty and majesty of the open water.

The new (post-Todd) me doesn’t quite see it that way. The new me now understands and can relate to being afraid.

When I was a child, I swam and body surfed in the Pacific ocean with my brothers and sisters with absolutely no fear of any dire consequences. We would swim out to catch the “big ones” and ride the waves back to shore, sometimes rolling and tumbling in the surf when an especially powerful wave hit us. We often resurfaced tangled in seaweed, gasping for air and laughing with joy at the “fun ride” the Pacific can give.

I would never do that today. Nor would I let my children.

I told the ocean-phobic woman I thought she had good reason to fear the power of the sea, then I explained to her how my fiance Todd (a very strong swimmer) drowned in it.

She stared in my eyes for a long moment and promptly changed the subject. “You are not over him,” she told me.

I know.

One thing survivors of loss know is that you don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. Ever. What you do is experience the grief, then move forward, slowly at first, until life returns to some semblance of “normalcy.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, lists 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance (not necessarily in that order) as the stages a loss-survivor will experience over time.

I can testify to all five.

But, I would add a sixth (and possibly most potentially debilitating) stage that persists long after those five stages are traversed.

6) fear.

I don’t have anything wise or witty to say about it. I can only say that I remember what it was like to be fearless, and I miss that.

Happy Birthday Todd. I miss you. I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.


(This is a cross-post from

Dec 14 2010

Prince William will be able to say the word “Mummy” again soon

“Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” -Diana, Princess of Wales

If you’re like me, that whole Disney-style princess thing is one huge turnoff. I mean really, what self-respecting mother is going to teach her daughter that the ultimate happily-ever-after comes from catching the eye of a handsome prince and getting lucky enough to sit next to his throne for the rest of her life?

Uh, no.  I don’t think so.

I’m way more excited about Tinkerbell and her little fairy BFFs who are adorably flawed (Tink has a bit of an anger management problem), are able to acknowledge the awesomeness of their individual gifts, and proudly use those gifts to make the world better for everyone.

It makes perfect sense to me that Diana Princess of Wales was, and remains, so incredibly adored worldwide.  Diana was never content to simply be Prince Charles’ wife, but instead chose to behave more like a fairy princess, refusing to pretend she was flawless, and flying around the world using her powers to relieve human suffering–while encouraging us all to be more loving.

Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life.” -Diana

When she died the world lost a true philanthropist, and her two young sons lost a loving mother and role-model who was teaching them by example how to use their royal positions to serve others.

I will fight for my children on any level so they can reach their potential as human beings and in their public duties.” -Diana

Just 12 and 15 when they lost her, Diana’s influence on the boys did not fade as they matured.  Both princes are now known for their humble and friendly approach to the public, and both have upheld their mother’s legacy of philanthropy by contributing time and money to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, wildlife preservation, environmental protection, the inner-city disadvantaged, the homeless, and African poverty relief.  Harry is co-founder of Sentebale, a joint effort with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help meet the needs of children orphaned by AIDS .  Diana’s sons have honored their mother by serving those she would if she were here–underscoring their strong belief that the dead continue on in another life and guide those they left behind.

I’m aware that people I have loved and have died are in the spirit world looking after me.” – Princess Diana

Though she died over 13 years ago, Diana’s legacy as devoted mother of these two grandsons of Windsor (who are second and third in line for the  throne) has recently become the topic of much conversation, as her eldest William just announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton.  William proposed to Kate a few weeks ago while in Kenya, offering her the sapphire and diamond engagement ring his father Prince Charles had given his mother.

She’s not going to be around to share in any of the fun and the excitement…so this is my way of keeping her sort of close to it all.” -Prince William

The wedding will take place in late April, not long after Mothering Sunday (the UK version of  Mother’s day), a day that is extremely painful for William.  Last year he celebrated the holiday by announcing his patronage of the Child Bereavement Charity, an organization co-founded by his mother a few years before she died.  After several private meetings with bereaved families, he spent time with a group of children who lost parents or siblings.  He spoke candidly with the youngsters, referring to Mother’s Day as an occasion of sadness and emptiness, and describing a loss like theirs as “one of the most difficult experiences anyone can endure.”

Never being able to say the word ‘Mummy’ again in your life sounds like a small thing. However for many, including me, it is now really just a word – hollow and evoking only memories.” -William

Those who cherish the memory of Princess Diana will be watching with excitement and hope as William and Kate begin their lives together as man and wife, and though I’ve never considered myself a “royal watcher,” I must admit I’m eager to see a few years into the future when the couple become parents, something William says they certainly plan to do. That is when Mother’s Day will be transformed from an excruciating occasion into a bittersweet celebration. When the day is spent honoring the mother of  his children and reminiscing about the amazing grandmother they didn’t get to meet, I suspect Mothering Sunday will take on a new and much more joyful spirit for the prince.

God willing, Prince William will be able to say the word “Mummy” again soon, and when he hears it from the mouths of his little ones, he may find it holds a magical quality that, like Tinkerbell’s pixie dust, will lift him high above his pain.