The Hole in My Heart …

I’ve been thinking about grief today. About how it is so strange and sometimes so unexpected. About how you think you are “over” something … or how the world around you thinks you should be “over” something … but how that something never truly seems to go away. Perhaps it will sink to the background for a while. It might even sink out of sight for a long while. But, eventually, it is going to jump up and take you by surprise. As I worked away today, these thoughts were in the back of my mind, humming away beneath the knowledge of all the things I needed to accomplish before my work day could be done.

And it all started with a dream that was so vivid and clear and unexpected. Have you ever had a dream like that? This was a dream of years and years ago, when I was younger and, in many ways, more free in my life and my choices. I wanted to stay in this dream so badly that waking up to my reality was a shock. I woke up in tears and feeling unsettled, and it took me a few moments to figure out why. And then, of course, I felt ashamed of my grief that should have passed long ago. I am left wondering why I can’t get over this. Why does this particular grief continue to creep up on me and steal my breath away even now, over a decade after I suffered this loss?

Because, you see, I have a hole in my heart. It is not a physical hole, but a spiritual one. And it is shaped like a dog. Not just any dog, but my soul-mate dog. I wonder if everyone has one of those. Honestly, I didn’t know they existed until my sweet Tex came into my life. He was my first Springer Spaniel. He was my first puppy that was all mine; my first dog that I was solely responsible for as an adult. He was my first dog to live inside, as my mother never allowed us to keep our pets indoors when I was growing up. And, for many, many hard years, Tex was Everything to me. That dog was my entire world. He went through law school with me, which was a horrible and miserable time in my life. He went through my first few jobs with me. These, by the way, were also horrible and miserable. He helped me survive a painfully long and difficult long-distance relationship. This, eventually, had a happy ending, but getting to “happily ever after” was a slog. He slept with me and comforted me when I was alone. He stayed by my side when I had pneumonia. He Velcroed himself to me in every aspect of my life. I took him everywhere with me. I know many people will roll their eyes as I type this, but you dog people out there will understand: He was my child before I had a human child. Tex was, and still is, THAT dog for me. If I could have had him for forever, even if it meant I would never have another dog, I would have been happy with that. It’s not that I don’t love my current dogs. I do. But I would have happily lived with Tex for the rest of forever.

And that brings me to my dream. It was such a simple dream: me, sitting under a tree reading a book … and I looked up to see Tex running toward me. I was overwhelmed with happiness, just seeing that silly dog grin on his face and his floppy ears flying. Just seeing him again. And then, of course, I woke up to the reality of a world without my beloved boy. Thoughts and memories of him have kept me unsettled all day today. It’s lucky for me I didn’t have to do any phone calls or video conferences for work.

And yet, I feel I must hide my grief. Tex has been gone for a LONG time. He left me when he was almost fifteen, and that was fourteen years ago. He’s been gone much longer than he could ever have lived. And yet, it feels like just yesterday when that bond was shattered. I feel … embarrassed … like there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I get over this? Why do I still cry when I dream about him? Why do I keep his baskets of toys packed away in my basement? None of my current dogs play with them. No dog will ever play with them. And yet, I keep them and move them from house to house. I just can’t let them go. I have to keep them hidden away. Just the sight of them is enough to break my heart and cause the tears to flow.

The world tells me he was “just a dog”. The world tells me my broken heart should heal. For that matter, the world tells me I shouldn’t even have a broken heart. And yet, I do. I think the world is wrong. Tex was never “just a dog”. No beloved pet is ever “just” a pet, like they are unimportant. They are our joy and our hope. When life is hard, they are our reason to keep going. They teach us to be better than we ever thought we could be. We love them. With great love comes great joy. Love creates a bond, and, when that bond is shattered, it HURTS. It hurts down to the very core of everything we are. I loved that dog. I loved him with all my heart, and I still do. So, maybe, I don’t need to be ashamed of my grief. Because it is honest and born of love, and because it fills the dog-shaped hole in my heart.

I Think I Hate High School

My daughter is a freshman in high school this year. And here’s the thing: I think I hate high school.

I have been trying, hard, not to come to this conclusion. As a family, we have been struggling with one thing after another with my daughter’s school ever since the beginning of the year. I’ve tried to talk myself out of feeling this way, because I don’t like it. And I don’t think it’s productive. Or healthy.

“Look on the bright side,” I whisper to myself. Or, “It’ll get better. We all need to get used to it.” Or, “It’s a new school. And she’s a teenager. It’s normal for this to be a big adjustment.” And so on. You know, all those things you whisper to yourself at 2AM, when you’re laying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, and worrying about how everything managed to jump off the rails. Because that’s how it feels. It feels like everything I knew about my daughter as a student has completely jumped the rails and is now barreling toward the final corner that will send us all plunging into the depths of the rocky ravine below. Actually, I feel like this about pretty much my whole life right now. But that’s a post for another time.


I dread opening up progress report emails from the school, because I never know what I am going to find. I dread having to talk to my daughter about her day, because I have this fear that yet another thing will have gone wrong. I dread having to deal with her school counselor and teachers, because some of her teachers are jerks and her counselor didn’t seem all that interested in our problems. I realize this is a blanket statement. I have actual, concrete reasons, based on personal experience, for feeling this way. I had planned to share these anecdotes in here, but I realized it would make this post a lot longer than it already is. Maybe I’ll blog about them separately. I don’t know.

I don’t know what to do with these feelings of dread. No, that’s not accurate. I do know what to do with them, but I feel like I’m not emotionally strong enough to deal with them. That sounds ridiculous. I know it does. I’m a grown-ass woman. I was a lawyer. I should thrive on conflict, right? But I don’t. I went to law school because I love the law and the logic of it and the way it works. I love the puzzle of it and the moving parts. I was good at my job as a lawyer because I’m smart and could push myself to be something I wasn’t. But a person can’t do that for forever.

I feel fragile and brittle right now. If I let myself, I would sit at my desk and cry every day. All day, every day. Losing one aunt, then another aunt, and then almost my husband, all within the span of less than a year, has done a number on me and my emotions. I know I should “get over it”. I KNOW this. And yet … I’m raw. Absolutely raw. You know that feeling of running from one fire to the next and the next and the next? You keep telling yourself that you can do this. If you put out that last fire, there will be no more fires. I mean, eventually, there won’t be any more fires, right? That’s logical. That makes sense. That’s me, only the fires never stop coming.


I feel like, if one more thing goes wrong, or if I have to deal with just one more thing, I will fly to pieces. I’m worried about my daughter’s school situation, but I feel ineffective to do anything about it. I can keep on putting out the fires as they come up, but I can’t change her teachers. I can’t make them NOT jerks. I can’t make her counselor care. My daughter feels that some of her teachers (the ones who are jerks) don’t like her. As a result, she has become less enthusiastic about school. She has started not to care. I can’t change this, either. I can remind my daughter that the world is full of jerks. I can remind her that not everyone is going to like her. I can love her and tell her how much I like her and how special she is to me. I can stay after her to be organized, and I can try to find ways for her to be more organized. And I do all of this, every day. But the fires keep on popping up.

Last week, some things came to a head regarding my daughter’s biology teacher. He has been a particular problem this year because he is arbitrary and unpredictable. He tells the class one thing, but later turns around and says he never said it. For example, my daughter and her partner had to build a cell model. One of the requirements was that the model had to show how the cell interacted with the cells around it. As an example of this, the teacher showed the class a model from a previous year that showed half-sections of the cells on either side of the modeled cell. My daughter and her partner made their cell model, and, to show how it interacted with other cells around it, they put in half-sections of cells on either side. The teacher counted off points from their project because they had used half-sections instead of showing the whole cell on either side — even though his example did the exact same thing, and even though the rubric didn’t include a requirement that they use whole cells on either side of their model. He gives unclear instructions for projects. He only returns my daughter’s emails about half the time. He hardly ever answers my emails. He has told my daughter, on more than one occasion, to meet with him at a certain time, and then not been in his room (or even in the school) when she comes to meet with him. He then turns around and accuses my daughter of not coming at all. It has been … frustrating. To say the least. My daughter feels anxious, nervous, and extremely stressed in his class, because she never knows what he will do or say. She never knows if her work is going to be adequate, even if she follows all the instructions he has given. There have been tears on more than one occasion — mine and hers.


This afternoon, my husband and I are going to the school to meet with an assistant principal. We are going to discuss the biology teacher. It needs to happen. At first, I thought things would become easier for my daughter in that class once she adjusted and got used to the teacher. I’ve always thought it was possible to figure out how to get along with any teacher, especially since you only see them for a short amount of time during the day or week. It’s not like elementary school, where the kiddos have the same teacher all day long. But here we are, at the end of the second quarter of school and bringing the first semester to a close, and my daughter is still having the same problems in biology she has had from Day 1. Clearly, I was wrong about things getting easier.

My husband and I talked about it, and we’ve decided to do something we’ve never done before. We are going to ask the school to transfer our daughter to another class. I don’t generally believe in doing this, but I feel like it needs to happen this time. My daughter was diagnosed with chronic migraines this month, just a couple of weeks ago. Stress is a big trigger, and the biology teacher isn’t helping her health. I don’t know if it’s possible for the school to move her to a different class. I’m not sure what they are going to say or how the meeting is going to go. I’m dreading it, but I’m glad my husband will be there, too. At least I won’t feel alone. Having him there helps me feel brave.

I hope something gives soon, whether it’s a new class or us figuring out a way to live with the crazy, erratic teacher she already has. Because I would really like to know at least one fire is put out, for good.




Going Home

“You can’t go home again.”

People have told me this my whole life. I hear it all over the place. I suspect pretty much everyone has said this to someone else or to themselves at some point or another. I’ve said it to myself many times, over the years. It’s one of those sayings that seems to fit a lot of different circumstances. It sounds like wisdom. It has the ring of truth to it. And so, it’s easy for people to trot it out when they don’t have anything better to say. Or when they don’t know what to say.

But I don’t think the enormity of this saying — the heavy and real truth behind it — ever hit me until this summer’s trip to Texas. This summer, though, I have found myself thinking about this more than ever. And I have felt the weight of the truth behind what seems to be such a simple statement. You can’t go home again. Because “home” — that place that lives in your childhood memories — isn’t there any longer. Things change. People change. People die. You change. If I’m not the person I was when I was 9 or 10 or 16, how can I expect “home” to be static and unchanging? Funny how I never thought about it that way until this year. Actually, I guess I never thought much about it at all.

We went to visit my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house in Victoria. This was my first time visiting their house since my Aunt Pat’s death. I knew it was important to my mom for us to go. And it was important to my Uncle Ray, too. And to my sweet cousin, who was so excited for us to come. But … I really didn’t want to go. It’s probably selfish of me, but I didn’t want to face that house without my aunt in it.  I didn’t want to face my feelings and my grief. I didn’t want to feel the reality of her being gone from our lives — from my life. My Aunt Pat was creative and talented, and she poured so much love and energy into her house. Everything in that house is a reflection of her. Everything is just the same as it was when I was a kid and we would visit. Everything … except my sweet and beautiful aunt isn’t there. Her presence is everywhere, but she is not. And so, the house is completely the same but completely different, all at the same time.


I have many happy memories from her house. My parents moved away from my childhood home when I was in college, so, in a way, my aunt and uncle’s house stands in that place in my mind. Because it’s still there. Because it’s still the same home. Because every stick of furniture and every painting on the walls is the same, even if it feels a little bit empty and hollow now.

I found myself standing in the back room of the house, which had been my Aunt Pat’s sewing room. I have so many memories of just that room. She used to sew all my clothes, and I remember looking over patterns and materials and endless sessions of trying things on and being told not to wiggle so I didn’t get stuck with a pin. Well, they seemed endless back then. I would give almost anything now to have Aunt Pat fuss at me for being too wiggly. I spent hours in that room as a child and teenager when we visited. She had shelves and shelves and shelves of books, including a whole shelf that had books I could read. My favorite was Beautiful Joe. I must have read that book a hundred times over the years. I read it pretty much every time we visited them. It lives with me now, a sweet and incredibly sentimental gift from my cousin. My Aunt Pat had a beautiful wooden cabinet, which she had painted with different types of mushrooms. Inside this cabinet were many treasures, including a set of 6 miniature ceramic horses. I was fascinated with those little horses. I loved them, and I spent hours as a child sitting in front of that cabinet, dreaming up different stories in my head — always with a herd of white horses thundering through the plot line. The cabinet lives with my cousin now, but the little white horses live with me: one of the last gifts my Aunt Pat sent to me, the year before she died. On my daughter’s first Christmas, I fed her in that back room, sitting in the comfortable chair she had covered with sunny yellow fabric.

My Uncle Ray found me standing in the room, looking around at all the things that were the same and the things that had changed. I was lost in my memories. “It’s a bit different, isn’t it?” he asked me. I nodded, because I couldn’t trust my voice. How can it be that a room is the same, the memories are the same, but none of it seems alive any longer? I don’t know, but my Aunt Pat was the life and spirit of that room. It doesn’t feel the same any longer.

It was a hard visit. But it was also good, in a way. It was good to hug my Uncle Ray and my cousin. It was good to visit and tell stories and laugh. Above all, my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house always seemed to me like a house full of joy, love, laughter, and good memories. And that part is the same. Maybe, in a small way, you can go home again. Even when everything has changed.



I lost my beloved aunt last week. “Lost” is a weird way of talking about death, isn’t it? It makes it sound like I’ve temporarily misplaced her, but I can find her if I just look hard enough. Perhaps she is hiding out in one of my cluttered closets or behind the TV stand. Or maybe I simply lost track of where she went, so that I might see her in the cereal aisle at the grocery store or standing in line to pay a bill. Oh, how I wish that was true. I wish it with all my heart.

My Aunt Sue was the last of my beloved aunts. She was my mom’s younger sister. We lost my Aunt Pat, my mom’s older sister, last Christmas. And so now, in the span of just ten short months, it seems that everything in the universe has changed. I no longer have any aunts. They still live in my heart and my memories. They are still very much loved by me and always will be. But they are no longer here, where I can hear their voices or listen to their advice or give them a hug. Ten months ago, my mom was a sister. And now, she is not. My mom is the last person left from her family. She still has my dad, my brother, and me. She still has nieces and nephews. But, really, it’s not the same. I can’t even begin to fathom how it must feel to outlive everyone you grew up with, everyone who shares your history and your memories and stories. I can hardly bear to think about it.

And for me, selfishly, I feel angry with the universe. Angry and cheated. Wasn’t losing Aunt Pat enough? Wasn’t it enough that our family should be expected to carry on without her in our lives? I think we were all just beginning to feel our way through this new territory. My Aunt Pat had been very ill. For such a long time, she hadn’t been able to do the things she loved. She hadn’t been able to visit with the people she loved so much. She had lost so much of her normal life. Selfishly, I wish she was still here with us, but, realistically, I know she was suffering terribly. Still, I wish I could talk to her again or sit quietly with her or watch her sew or paint. My Aunt Pat did the most beautiful crewel embroidery. And she painted beautifully, all self-taught, as far as I know. Watching her work was like watching magic happen right before my eyes. It always amazed me how she could bring a sketch to life with needle and thread or simple paints. She was a strong, confident, and sometimes bossy woman. I say that with a smile on my face; I don’t mean it in a negative or mean way at all. She was full of joy and so much love. She was beautiful. I will always remember her beautiful smile.  She taught me how to sew and embroider. I can still remember how she was so patient and, yet, always insisted I do things perfectly. I will always be grateful for those lessons: if you’re going to do something … if you’re going to put your time and  your effort into it … be sure to get it right so that you can look at what you’ve created with pride. She loved roses and cacti and gardening. She and my uncle always had the most amazing yard. Really, it was more like a park than a yard.


My Aunt Sue’s death was very sudden and unexpected. She hadn’t been sick. As far as anyone knows, she hadn’t been feeling poorly at all. She and my uncle had gone to town for a shopping trip on the morning of the day she passed away. Everything seemed normal and fine. Honestly, even now, it doesn’t feel real to me. I keep thinking I will wake up tomorrow and realize that it was all a dream. And then, I will call or text Aunt Sue to tell her about it, and she will laugh about how silly I was. It just doesn’t seem possible that there can be a world without her in it. And a world without both of my aunts seems beyond impossible. They were both such important parts of my life. And they have left spaces in my heart that will never be filled. Overall, I don’t feel I have been handling this well. I will be going along with my normal day (or trying to, anyhow), and I will think that I’m okay. Suddenly, a wave of sadness and memory will hit me, as if my mind is reminding me that nothing is the same and everything has changed. It’s nearly unbearable at times. Perhaps grief is like that. I don’t know.

My Aunt Sue was an amazing woman. She was a bit of a free spirit and a bit of a flirt. She was beautiful, just like my Aunt Pat. When I was a little kid, I loved for Aunt Sue to come and visit. She was like a breath of fresh air in a life that felt small and kind of boring. Her visits meant ice cream for breakfast, games until way past bedtime, watching her put on make-up (I always thought she was so glamorous and chic), and hearing crazy stories about her job. For many years, she was a flight attendant. And, let me tell you, she had some wild and wonderful stories and experiences with that job. But, over the years, she did many things. She ran for (and held) public office. She decided to go back to school to become a teacher. She taught school for many years. She ranched alongside my uncle. And she had crazy, fun stories from each and every one of these endeavors. She had a zest for life that is nearly indescribable, but, if you were in a room with her, you would feel it. It was like the air got a bit lighter, the sun a bit brighter, and life became a bit more of an adventure. I loved going to visit her when I was young, because she lived in an apartment in a big city. It seemed like such a glamorous and exciting way to live. She was always laughing, always smiling. Basically, I grew up wanting to be just like my Aunt Sue. My Aunt Sue married a kind, soft-spoken, gentle man who has a sly and rather wicked sense of humor. Their love story was beautiful and strong. And she leaves behind two amazing, beautiful daughters. My cousins truly are two of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.

The thing is, my Aunt Pat and my Aunt Sue, in many ways, had very different lives. And yet, as I sit here and think about them both with an aching heart full of grief, the one thing I can say about them is that they LIVED. Both of them knew what they wanted from life. They were both daring enough to go after those things with all their hearts, until they molded out the lives they wanted. They lived to the fullest and left behind so many people who loved and cherished them: husbands, children, nieces, nephews, brothers-in-law, a sister. When I think about the hardships they faced and the sheer strength and courage they both had … Well, it amazes me. I can’t think of another way to describe it. It amazes me and makes me proud that I come from two such incredible women.


And now, I realize that, when I grow up, I want to be like both of my beloved aunts. I want to be strong and full of courage. I want to be bold and daring enough to go after the things I want — to chase them down with a free spirit and with my whole heart. I want to learn how to LIVE.