Nitty Gritty Dirty Grief


Our life is full.

But there are holes, holes where Samantha would have been.

So we try and fill the holes; trips to Hawaii, ski vacations, weekends away….

Is it enough?

Does it fill where she should be?

The answer this year has been ‘no’, it is good, it is welcome, but it does not take away the ache, the vacancy of where she should be.

But this weekend, ironically, the one year mark of Samantha’s passing, I felt full, grateful, happy and satisfied for the life we had with our girl.

We rode with the Courage Classic, the annual bike ride for the Children’s Hospital.

It started on Friday, the day of registration. I waited for my packet and stated my name while still talking on my phone (important business call). The volunteer brought me my packet….

“Number 41!” she cheered

“41!” Exclaimed the volunteers.

I stopped my phone conversation, “What?”

“You were the 41st highest fundraiser last year,” she said. “Congratulations”

Inside the bag was a plaque that said “#41”, I got tears in my eyes because the only, only reason I was 41 was lill‘ Miss and her supporters.

Thank you.

The ride went on without issues, we made it up Vail Pass, Battle Mountain, Swan Mountain. We rode with purple and green ribbons in our helmets. We rode with our “Summits for Samantha” jerseys, her smiling face on the back.

When not riding we sat in the hot tub with a glass of wine and ate yummy dinners (we did ride 50 miles a day after all!) ….it was a good weekend.

On Monday, I rose with apprehension and looked at my watch, 6:30….a year ago she was still alive.

At 8:00 we started up Freemont Pass, I was grateful for the clear sky, my pounding heart and a chance to clear my head.

8:00, she was still alive.

I felt a burning in my legs, my lungs and my heart as I continued to ride….looking into the sky for s sign of her.

At Freemont Pass, we stopped for a picture of our team and a man approached me, “I’m looking for Heather,” he said.

Ironically, I was standing next to my friend, Heather and still trying to catch my breath.

“Which one?”

He looked at me confused. Heather pointed at me, “She’s the important one.”

I looked at her, “Oh I am not important, you’re important too.”

The man sighed, “Which one is the important Heather???”

“I guess I am,” I said.

“My wife told me to give this to you.” And he pulled out a gold box from his riding jersey. Inside the box was a pendant with Samantha’s and Jack’s name and the birth date on the other side. It was beautiful, heartfelt and perfect.

I started to cry….ugly cry….and hug this poor man who had never met me….stinky long hugs….poor guy…and my team cried and hugged this poor man.

“We know today might be hard,” he said.

Thank you poor man who dealt with my stinky, ugly cry. I never got his name.

11:00, we had lost her

My friend Jill did this ride for the first time; after day one and two she said she that it was great but would not do it again.

On day three she said….”I get it. I have been so in my head, so afraid I couldn’t do this or keep up with the team but today I saw someone going up Freemont on a hand cycle, and a team on a tandem and told them good job, and they said the same and I thought ‘what the f*$# is my problem? This isn’t about me. This is about the kids who live everyday just to be here.”

I love this ride.

At the finish, I saw ‘Grandpa Jim’ who volunteered for Team Courage this year. He rode a tandem bike with his 15 year old buddy Abe. Abe has Cerebral Palsy and cannot do this ride alone.

Jim rode with Abe 120 miles this weekend.

As we all crossed the finish line, I thought, we would not be here without her. We would not carry Abe 120 miles, we would not have organized a team to ride 150 miles for Children’s Hospital, it would not have meant enough as it does now.

And I felt full….of love, gratitude, and overall yumminess of who she has made us and the community she has brought together.

And that was enough. I felt full.

Thank you Lil’ Miss

Nitty Gritty Dirty Grief

Post from the Past

Happy Birthday Lil’ Miss….

We have made it through another anniversary date and we brace for the mark of one year.

As we move through the days, I thought I would re-post an oldie but goodie because through all of this, one thing remains….


The Blessing Bowl:

July 14, 2007. Numerically it’s a very good day. 07-14-2007, fourteen is divisible by seven and two times seven equals fourteen. I figure this is a sign of good luck. I’ve been doing this lately; looking at long strings of numbers to see if they could divide into themselves. I’m not sure why. Maybe my brain is thinking of ways to keep itself entertained. Regardless, it’s a good date. I like the number seven. It’s a good prime.

This day fell on a Saturday. The day that we were going to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday. She doesn’t turn one until the 18th but Saturday’s are easier to get the family together and I liked the numeric’s.

Samantha’s birthday has been the cause of some anxiety for me. It’s a mixed bag of emotion. I am thrilled that we are celebrating a year of her life but saddened at how hard this year has been for all of us, especially Samantha. We have spent 61 days in the hospital, two flight for life helicopter rides, numerous 911 calls and late night trips in the ambulance. Well, Samantha rode in the helicopter. My husband Bart and I had to follow in our Malibu station wagon, dodging traffic and cursing at slow drivers as we rushed to keep up with the chopper. Helicopters go faster than cars, especially in rush hour traffic.

How do you celebrate this year? I knew how I didn’t want to celebrate. I didn’t want kids her age running around as a reminder of where she should be in her development; playing with her toys as we watched and hoped Samantha didn’t have another seizure. This may sound bitter but I’m the mom and I knew what I was able to handle. No toddling toddlers.

We did need to celebrate. But to have a party and pretend like nothing happened this year didn’t seem right either. Samantha had been through hell and back in her first year of life. We needed to commemorate that.

We kept the party just to family which still turned out to be quite a gathering. I frosted 16 white cupcakes Saturday morning. Well, really 20, my husband ate 4. As I prepared chicken and brats for our barbeque, I felt a sense of peace overcome me. We made it. Our daughter was still here, kicking at her toys on the floor. Our marriage was still intact despite all of those times I was tempted to take off in the Malibu for Mexico. All of those things were worth a celebration.

To honor Samatha’s first year, I had asked people to bring a trinket, a stone, a poem, something that brought them peace or felt good to them. Samantha didn’t need another toy. Samantha needed good juju. I went upstairs in search of a bowl for her well wishes and noticed my great-grandmother’s sewing box. It was made from pine and had a heavy wooden handle. I imagined my great-grandmother toting it from room to room as she quilted or mended socks, sitting peacefully in the corner. She was a lover of children and stray animals. I knew Grandma Burbank was out there, looking over Samantha. I opened the top and inhaled the musky scent of the past. Thread and yarn were wrapped around tiny sticks to keep them from knotting. There was an old rusty Sucrets box filled with buttons still waiting for a shirt. No, I thought. This is not the right container for Samantha’s trinkets. Too much history.

I looked around the room and found another antique of Grandma Burbank’s. It was a simple bowl, the color of sand. Hearty, solid and held the test of time, just like my great-grandmother. Perfect. I carried the bowl downstairs and set it on the table.

I ventured outside to my garden to find my contribution to the blessing bowl. I love my garden. I am continually impressed with the cycle of life perpetuated every spring. I plant tiny seeds in the dirt and they turn into beautiful zucchinis or luscious tomatoes. I found a rock that was smooth all over except for one small side which was jagged and coarse. Perfect, I thought. Samantha’s bumpy beginning…the rest of her life will be smooth. I held it in my hand. It was warm and felt right. I also snipped a bloom from the lily I planted the summer my husband and I were married. The bloom was a buttery yellow with brown spots on the petals. There were three petals, for the three of us in our family.

I was on a roll. I bounded upstairs and found the small, pink, baby bootie charm I wore religiously when I was pregnant with Samantha. In the bowl. I also found one wooden angel wing. I’m not sure where the rest of the angel went but one wing seemed to do the trick. In the bowl. My final contribution was a wooden puzzle piece painted as a big, pink pig. Samantha is about to go on a high-fat, extremely restrictive diet which we hope will help with her seizures. Piggy belonged in the bowl too.

I was done. I set the bowl back on the table and went about getting ready for our guests. I smiled to myself as a Natalie Merchant song came on:

With love, with patience and with faith, she’ll make her way.
She’ll make her way, hey, hey, hey

“That’s you, my baby girl.” I said dancing for my daughter on the floor. She happily jabbered back.

I put Samantha down for her nap promising a wonderful evening all about her if she would just sleep for a couple hours. Amazingly, she closed her eyes and drifted off.

Flowers showed up from my brother and sister-in-law in St. Louis. I clipped off a sprig of daisies…in the bowl.

Samantha woke up on her own at precisely 4:00, when the party was going to start. She’s on so many anti-seizure meds that fully waking her up can take about an hour. Yet today she was lucid and playing in her crib; ready for her party. I put her in a blue dress with yellow daisies. I’ve been saving that dress for a year and a half; waiting for her to be big enough, waiting for that first year. The blue brought out her red hair. I placed her tiny tortoise-shell glasses on her nose and laughed to myself. She was absolutely the most precious thing on earth.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, filed in and kissed Samantha. Wine bottles were uncorked, hummus and brie laid out on the table. The mood was festive as everyone toasted to Samantha’s health.

As the evening progressed and the dinner plates were cleared away, it was time for our blessing bowl ceremony. Samantha was still awake, babbling to her Grandma and seizure free.

I brought out my great-grandmother’s bowl and set it in front of our family and studied the faces in front of me. I thought of what a long haul it had been for everyone; the sleepless nights, the worried phone calls, the private tears cried away from the hospital, all for our daughter.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, I cleared my throat and thanked my family for being there. I reached into the bowl and pulled out my blessings for Samantha, the lily from our wedding, the rock from the garden, the baby shoe, the angel wing and the piggy puzzle piece. I also pulled out the daisy from her aunt and uncle.

The last trinket I presented was a jade necklace from Hong Kong. My sister-in-law Poling, is from China and went home for a visit in May. Her mother gave her the necklace to give to Samantha for good luck. Thirty four years ago Poling’s little brother wore the necklace for good luck, good health and safety during his babyhood. Now it was being passed down to Samantha. The span of people loving and praying for Samantha had traveled thousands of miles.

I passed the bowl onto my grandmother, Samantha’s great-grandmother. She pulled out a silver bell. The handle was carved in the shape of an angel, “because Samantha is our angel.” When my talkative Grandma gets emotional, she is a lady of little words. She passed the bowl onto one of Samantha’s Grandmas, her Nonnie.

Nonnie pulled out a perfect sand dollar she found on a California beach. “I chose a sand dollar because it comes from the ocean. The ocean is a beautiful, constant, volatile source of life. The surface can be calm or stormy but we never really see what is going on below. And there is a whole different world below. This reminds me of Samantha; we don’t really know what’s going on underneath the surface. But there is a beautiful world full of life.”

My aunt Tracy pulled out a small silver heart. “I have carried this heart with me for twenty years. It has brought me good luck all of these years. Samantha, I now hand it onto you.” Tracy had become a great friend since Samantha had been sick; visiting in the hospital, sending cards and notes of encouragement. She is a little superstitious. Tracy’s silver heart was her beating heart . It went in the bowl.

My sister-in-law Poling went next. She brought a prayer from a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong. It is a prayer for health and longevity. The Chinese characters were printed in red ink on beautiful brown parchment. Poling passed the bowl to her daughters who had made tiny paper balls while in Hong Kong. The balls also had Chinese characters printed in red ink. The girls had also knitted purple and pink bows for Samantha. I pictured them sitting at a table while on vacation in China, knitting bows and making tiny paper balls for their small cousin; presenting their craft to their mother for approval and thinking of how Samantha would like them.

The bowl was passed to my mother, Grandma Judy who had also chosen shells. The first was a brown and white spiral I had found years ago during a family vacation to Florida. The second was from Tahiti, another beautiful, smooth shell, chosen a thousand miles away years before Samantha was born. My mom and stepdad love the ocean and are avid scuba divers. “The ocean” my mom said, “is a constant source of life. It is where life began. It harbors so many mysteries that we aren’t aware of.”

My cousin and his wife presented three candles for peace, harmony and health. The bowl now smelled of sandalwood and lavender.

My dad went last. He had a small stuffed dog dressed in a karate uniform. When you pressed the dog’s stomach it yelled out “HY YA!” and other ‘karate’ sounds. My dad has had this dog for years. It was his kick butt dog. It reminded him of how Samantha fought the doctors and nurses in the hospital and how she continues to fight. HY YA!

The blessing bowl ceremony was over. The bowl felt alive in my hands; full of love, health and good thoughts.

Cupcakes were served. As I lit her single candle, I felt giddy. One year of life.

Samantha’s dad helped her blow out the candle. We fed her frosting and pieces of mushy cake which she smashed between her fingers and toes.

More wine was poured. The men smoked cigars outside. The women (except for my grandmother who stayed outside with the boys) closed the windows and complained about the smell. Samantha rolled around on the floor, too wound up to sleep.

The night came to an end and we said good bye to our families. I finally got my tired, over-stimulated daughter to sleep. My husband went to bed. I wandered through the house remembering the night. I took the lily and the daisy out of the bowl and placed them in our big family Bible to be pressed for safe keeping. The Bible was my Grandfather’s who passed away over a decade ago. Its black leather cover holds family trees, obituaries and birth announcements through generations. As I thumbed through the pages I found a red rose, perfectly pressed between the passages. I don’t know the origin but I felt compelled to put it in the bowl. It was my grandfather’s wish, his blessing for Samantha.

I continued to roam through the sleepy house and then collapsed on the couch with a glass of wine. I sighed, happy to have a quiet moment to myself and reflect on the past year. We have asked so much from our families, friends and people we don’t know. They have spent countless hours in the hospital, brought meals, coffees, contacted other family members, held and loved Samantha, prayed, sent jade pendants from Hong Kong. How do you give that back?

Gratitude, I thought. I am grateful that I could wander through the house looking for parts and pieces of our life to put in the bowl. Grateful for my daughter’s pink cheeks, for every breath she takes, for a seizure free birthday; that neither my husband nor I decided to take the Malibu to Mexico and leave this life behind. I am grateful for family and friends that could give their silver heart up for the blessing bowl.

Someday I will repay the world for their acts of kindness to our family. I will make meals for someone else. I will send their family good wishes for good health; and visit the hospital with coffee and fresh brownies. Right now I can only reflect on the joy of the night and be grateful.

Nitty Gritty Dirty Grief

The Common Denominator

In the world of small talk, children are the common denominator.

Do you have kids? I have kids? Aren’t kids great? Kids are great. We now have something that ties us together, we both have kids. Let’s talk, talk about our kids.

I love kids. Kids are funny, they think I’m funny, they are easy to please, they can wear a princess dress and get away with it. Kids are great.

But our kids are not here.

And it tends to break my heart.

And although conversations about children are considered polite dinner conversation, broken hearts are not.

Perhaps that is why small talk now tends to make me a little nervous. I get itchy when the conversation turns to kids, afraid that I will get asked the dreaded question……

“Do you have children?”

I fashion an answer in my head……Should this person know my past? Do they deserve to know my past? What will my reply do to this light, casual, conversation?


Last night I was traveling with colleagues; only one knew my situation, seven others didn’t. The conversation during dinner turned….to kids.


Suddenly, the two dads, who had been searching all night for the common denominator, found it in their children. Their faces lit up talking about soccer games, swim lessons and fireworks.

I, on the other side of the table, wished I had the Wonder-Women capability to turn invisible.

Since I cannot turn invisible, I tried a mind-meld…..I looked at them both intensely and thought…

Please stop talking about your kids.

Please don’t ask me if I have kids…

It didn’t work so I tried it again….

Please stop talking about your kids…….

Please don’t ask me if I have kids……

In the end, I was one for one, they didn’t stop talking but they never asked me….perhaps because I buried myself in my phone, trying to collect my email.

Ironically, my phone decided to run out of battery at that time. I had nothing to do but sit there and hope they didn’t call on me.

Stupid phone.

And then the Creme’ Brulee came…..hello dessert, nothing diverts the conversation like dessert.

I wanted my Creme’ Brulee to have a hard, burnt, sugar-crusted top, kind of the way I was feeling; hard, burnt, go ahead, try and crack me.

Instead, the top was mushy and the creme was cold and funky tasting. Nothing to crack, only pudding to smush. I pushed it away and turned to another co-worker who was equally disappointed with the lack of Brulee’.

“Yuck,” I said, “What happened? It tastes like Sugar Smacks,” I said to my other dear-non-children-conversing-co-worker., “You know, the cereal with the frog? What was that frog’s name? He had a hat.”

And suddenly, the conversation about the best kids’ soccer camp stopped. Everyone wanted to know the name of the Sugar Smacks Frog.

My co-worker pulled out his i-phone, “Actually, it’s now Honey Smacks instead of Sugar Smacks. the frog’s name is Dig’Em.”

“Ah….Dig’Em!” said the man across the table. “Dig’Em was my favorite. So much better than Count Chocula.”

And the conversation turned to the best kids cereal.

Lucky Charms- they are magically delicious.

Kid Conversation: 1

Generation X trivia: 1

Creme’ Brulee: 0

Thank you Dig ‘Em.

Nitty Gritty Dirty Grief

What I Want to Hold True

I made a conscious decision to not follow the Casey Anthony trial. It upset me too much and I try to avoid things that upset me. But my work is peppered with flat screen TV’s that play CNN through the day. Every time I left my cubicle to get a soda or run to a meeting, the bathroom, the copier, there was the Casey Anthony trial.

I just want to pee!

It bothered me to hear the horrible details but kind of dismissed it. I knew in my heart of hearts that she would be found guilty…..of something. Our justice system would prevail, wrong would be right, this case would be over and I could go back to watching the stock market while I got my Diet Coke.

On Tuesday I was innocently eating my turkey sandwich when I pulled up MSN and found out that Casey Anthony was found not guilty; on charges of 1st degree murder, manslaughter and child abuse.

I could not finish my lunch.

I had to talk about this.

I turned around to my fellow pod-mates and said, “Casey Anthony was found not guilty.”

My entire group turned around.

Nooooo S*&t,” said my production manager.

“You have to be kidding,” said another.

And we took time out of the day to talk about what just happened. I felt relieved that others felt just as violated and angry as I did.

Because there are certain truths that we want to believe no matter how often we are proven wrong; children should not die. Mother’s should not go out partying when their child is missing. Parents should not be allowed to not report their child missing for 31 days.

We want to believe that we all take care of our children, otherwise we no better than those crazy fish that eat their young.

It felt good in the middle of the day, when ‘work’ had to be done, to express how wrong it is. We connected as a community….me and my pod mates. I felt human, emotional and empathetic and then I could back to doing important marketing ‘stuff’.

A couple months ago I went out with a friend who told me how angry she was for me. “I am so mad that this happened to you!” She said through her tears. “None of this is fair. What kind of world is this?”

It felt good to have someone be mad for me.

It now feels good that people are mad for this little girl.

I read today that Florida has filed a bill that would make it a felony for a caregiver to not report a missing child after a 48 hour period. They are calling it ‘Caylee’s Law’.

This makes me feel better, that others are giving actions to our words and our thoughts that this is wrong. It makes me feel better that in this crazy nonsensical world we are trying to find what we can make right.

Perhaps that is what I want to hold true.