Alisa. 37. New Hampshire. Married for almost three years to this wonderful, funny, smart guy. Previously married. Went through in-vitro fertilization to have my five year old magical son Keegan. Stepmother to the charming Isabelle (6). Gushingly in love with our baby boy Harper(1). Policy Wonk and dreaded bureaucrat. Lover of fine cuisine, honeybees, truly romantic moments and the underdog.
Curried Beef Short Ribs

Note: I found this was more realistically four servings.

Finishing this dish with lime zest and juice brightens its rich flavors.

Yield 6 servings (serving size: about 3 ounces ribs, 2/3 cup rice, and about 2 1/2 tablespoons sauce)

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 pounds ...continue reading

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Across The Universe

My paternal grandmother died over ten years ago after a short battle with colon cancer. About a week afterward I was running errands and accidentally locked my car with the keys still in the ignition. I was really upset because it was such a stupid move and I was going to be late for a bridal shower and the locksmith was in no hurry to rescue me. And suddenly I felt incredibly calm and the very strong sense that my grandmother had come to me. Then she left and I felt her rise above me and disappear. I am not the sort of person who normally believes in something like that but it was so real to me. I told my mom about it later and she must have told my dad. His response was not disbelief but rather bewilderment about why his mom didn't also say good bye to him.

I now know how he felt. There have been times when Erika has been going with some very difficult moments with Sammy's health related to his heart defect and has felt people who have passed from this life come to her to comfort her. One of those people is Tom. I am so glad that she has that comfort but I have never felt Tom come to me. In fact he has never seemed farther away than when Keegan is going through a difficult time. I would like to think that he is glad that I am here raising our son. That he would be proud of this sweet beautilful boy. But I would love a sign. Something more than my heart stopping when I see someone who looks likes him for the briefest moment. And even those times have become few and far between.

The other day in counseling Keegan made a heart out of sculpty clay. He told me later he made a heart because that is all that is left of Tom. "Daddy lives on in me, even after I die he will still live on. Even when the sun becomes a red giant and explodes."

With Each Goodbye, You Learn

Today is three years since Tom died. It feels like longer and sometimes it feels like less. The grief is not nearly as heavy and sharp as it was the first year. The year of firsts is the hardest of all. And for a while I thought letting him go would be about the sadness fading as the years go by. But it is not just that. I did not count on the new things that would hurt. Watching our son grow and knowing that Tom is missing it. This summer my brave sweet boy conquered new challenges. And each time he swam without a float, jumped off the dock, rode in the tube behind the boat I caught myself wishing Tom could see. Wishing he could share in the celebration that is in each milestone of raising a child. And as Keegan grows up his relationship with his father changes too. He still has those memories of moments with his father. But he also seems to be seeking something else. He talks about God. Despite the fact that we are not raising him with a formal religion he chooses to believe. He asks about angels. He believes in magic. He wanted to know if I believe in what Buddha believes. That people come back and have many lives. All I can offer him is the space to explore his beliefs and a hazy picture of my faith. And I can offer him the chance to say goodbye.

After I had scattered a third of Tom's ashes in Alaska in May 2007, Keegan and I talked and he asked to be a part of coming to Vermont with me to scatter the last. I knew he meant it but I wanted to wait until he was old enough to remember it later. With the anniversary coming I decided this was the year. This past Friday we took Tom's ashes to Vermont. I asked my mom to come because I felt I needed the extra support. We took Tom to the mountains where he learned to snowboard and where we spent many weekends year round. We also brought Pepper's ashes because she had always loved it there. Keegan showed some anxiety before we left and was worried about being too sad. I told him it was okay to be sad but also be happy we could say goodbye and put his daddy in a place he loved. We had lunch and he swam in the clubhouse pool before we headed over to the gondola. He chose the gondola with the design he liked and loved the ride up. Once at the top we took a hiking path to be up higher and also away from other people. We scattered Pepper first so I could show him how and we would both be ready for Tom. After scattering Pepper I asked if he wanted to find another spot. Keegan assured me that Tom would have wanted to be near Pepper. Keegan scattered Tom's ashes and kept repeating, "Goodbye daddy, goodbye daddy." And the calm and strength I had been hoping for all day was with me through it all. So I was able to be there for Keegan in the moment and not crying. I took pictures of the spot and also of the trail sign so that Keegan can have a reminder and go back if he ever wants to. Then went to the observation deck and had ice cream. And we put quarters in the viewer and took in the beauty of the mountains. Driving home I felt like we spent the day exactly how we should have and it was a truly special thing to have shared with my son.

Neutron Star

Tom's parents came up to have Christmas with Keegan. They wanted to make sure they could travel without the snow being a factor. This is the first time they have been up since April 2007. That was a bad visit. A very bad visit. The kind of visit that necessitated me getting a prescription for migraine meds for the first time in 9 years. The kind of visit that sent me to therapy. This past August I took Keegan down for their surprise anniversary party. At that time they asked if they could come up to bring Keegan his Christmas presents. I agreed at the time because Keegan loves them and maybe there is a way to make this work. So a few months ago we agreed on this date and I have been dreading it in the background ever since. But I do think I found a way to make it work. Even though they drove up yesterday we did not see them until today. That was my choice because Friday evenings are hectic and I don't need any more stress. Today they came over and Jeff had already left with Isabelle and Harper. Last time his mom was really rude to my family and the surest way to make certain it did not happen again was to make sure my family wasn't around. Jeff got to head down to the Reilly's for football so that worked out. The other part of my plan was to have a schedule. They came over and Keegan unwrapped his gifts and they gave him an Amish scooter. It was beyond freezing with the windchill so we rode it down to the park and turned around and came home. Then we headed to lunch at Pan*ra because I knew Keegan would eat there. After we caught a show at the Planetarium which was really cool. Keegan scored a periscope which he used to spy on us around corners. After another brief respite at home where we played with more new toys we went out to dinner. We just missed Jeff coming home (planned). By the time we got back from dinner they dropped us off and we headed in. The plan is to have breakfast together in the morning and they will head home. There was only one sad Tom moment from his mom. Most of the talk of Tom was happy memories. Those I love. But they do tug at my heart when I remember our adventures. Keegan loved the whole visit. And I love Keegan. So I could do anything for him.

The Freeze

Today is Tom's birthday he would have been 38. His sister Barb is honoring it by taking her family to DQ for cookie dough blizzards. He could consume a large in one sitting and I always overestimated my stomach capacity barely finishing a medium. He always helped out by eating the rest. It's funny what you remember fondly about people.

The Wisdom of Enlightenment

Dear Tom,

This past year of mourning you has been different from the first. The first one was so heavy with grief and l was almost numb at times from the sharpness of the pain. But this second was like a rubbing kind of wound with only the thinnest of scabs over the tender new skin. I still marvel that I can be so sad and miss you deeply still at moments and yet be utterly happy with my life. I think you knew that about me, that I had that capacity. And it is why you did not worry for me after the divorce.

Were you there? Two years ago at your service? Did you see me arranging the photos and the flowers. Greeting those who came. Your mother inconsolable, your father so still and quiet. Your sister, a rock, like she has been every day since. The faces of those who came to support me. So many faces I did not know of the people you worked with that I had never met. I wonder if they thought it strange for everything to be led by your ex-wife. Who so clearly loved you and was completely shaken by your death. And the monks who said a Buddhist prayer to purify your ashes. Twelve of the most spiritual minutes of my life.

Erika says she can feel you around sometimes. She believes you are a guardian angel watching over Keegan and Sammy. But I don't feel you near. I can not imagine you doing anything but gladly slipping the bounds of earth and being truly free. When you died I said that the best part of you lived on in Keegan. With each year I am more sure that is true. In the year after our divorce you and I thanked each other for giving us Keegan. We disagreed on so much but we knew he was the best thing that ever happened to either one of us.

Oh Tom, our boy is amazing. And I see you in him. His soft heart, the way his smile lights up his whole face, his love of animals, nature and climbing mountains. He wants to fly planes, skydive, hanglide. He must have the spirit of a bird in him like you. He also has your deep love of family and your excellent memory. Just the other day he told me that you had always taken good care of him and that you loved him. He will blurt out things you did together or one of your silly habits. What a gift that he still has those pictures in his head and his heart.

I wish I had someone close by to tell him all about you. I can only do it from the perspective of a wife and friend. Tom you were hard to love and hard not to love. He wants to know who you were as a boy. What you liked and what you did. I think he wants to see himself in you. And I want you here to love him in the way only his mommy and daddy can, to celebrate his triumphs and to worry with me when he goes off to find his own life. For he is an adventurer like you. Always wanting to explore and see the things he reads about and to travel the world and the universe. Already so independent at the age of four.

More years will pass Tom. And we will still miss you with the deepest parts of our hearts. I will still talk to you sometimes in my head, pass by the places that hold memories and yes even be angry with you for not being here. But I will love our son with every thing I have. And he will always know his father and how much you loved him. And someday I will get the strength to erase the last voice mail you ever left me.


Thomas Troy Butler
October 1, 1970 - September 9, 2006

Scars Remind Me That The Past Is Real

Tuesday I went into the office for a couple of hours while my mom watched Harper. It is frustrating to go in because as usual there is way more to do than can possibly be done in the amount of time given. We also did a welcome for our new secretary who started last week. She seems to be settling in. I just want someone who is emotionally stable, not drunk or hungover, has appropriate personal boundaries and can get along with others. There is a reason I left the mental health profession and I have enough spilling over into this job already. When I get talking about work issues I get excited and remember why I love it there most of the time. But being with Harper and looking at his chubby smiley face I really don't want to go back yet. I doubt I will feel differently in four weeks.

Having Harper has been completely different than having Keegan. I adored Keegan from first sight but the rest of those early times were extremely difficult. He was a colicky baby, not a good sleeper, I had a real struggle with breastfeeding, I had so many doubts about my abilities as a mother and my marriage was unraveling. I had been out of work for the year before and lost my sense of identity and self worth. It was the middle of winter and we lived way out from other people and I was so isolated. I did go to a mother's group each week and made other plans with some of them so I did get some contact. But I was drowning and didn't even know it. I would not say it was postpartum depression but my life was definitely miserable. I have said since that bringing a baby into your relationship highlights all of the weak points but can increase the strong ones. Unfortunately we had far more weak points. So instead of turning to each other and getting support we isolated even further. We literally lived two almost completely separate lives in the same house. Tom started looking for ways to escape. He thought the solution was to move somewhere new. But I knew that we would just take our problems with us and then I would also be without my support system here. He sent me links to houses in Colorado, Virginia and anywhere but here. I told him that I wasn't moving and that if he did I would treat as though he abandoned us and proceed accordingly. He didn't even respond. Nor did he respond to words like breakup or divorce. That is when you should know it is over. But I was not ready to just walk away from our vows and our history together. I proceeded to formulate five plans and carry them out over the course of the next ten months. Nothing worked. Because what we really needed was help and he said he was willing to do anything except go to counseling. You can't really love someone and then set limits on what you are willing to do for love. And one day I had just had enough.

I try not to compare then to now but I can not help it. Having another baby dragged everything back up. The first few nights after we got home from the hospital with Harper I dreamed about Tom. In each dream I was trying to get him to help me find a lost baby and he just brushed it off. I woke up mad at him. I don't want to be mad at him. Even though we were on good terms when he died I wish we had more time. I wish that there was still a possibility that we could have figured out what went wrong and he could have answered the many questions I still have. We apologized and forgave each other a year after we broke up. I know that he was happy for me that I was getting married again. I feel like he would have wished me well on the new baby. And sometimes I'm still mad that he left such a big mess that I am still cleaning up. But almost ten years ago he promised to love me until the end of his life. And he did.

Purchase And Sale

I got an offer on Tom's house Saturday. It was very low so I countered with reality. Today we agreed on a price. The contract is on it's way to the buyer for signature. I won't breathe true relief until I am signing the paperwork at closing. But this is a very good thing. It is time for closure on that chapter. I dread every time I go there. There is nothing left of Tom there after the flood but the memories are still strong. Every month I pay the mortgage and the bills and I am reminded all over.

Rainbow Bridge
Jeff took this picture that morning.  It is funny how they age right before you without you noticing.  I always loved her freckles.

Thank you all for your condolences.  We are doing well although we each miss her in our own way.  Her sister Matsi howls a bit for her when we leave but overall is okay.  The kids took the news well but they understood she was sick and now she is at peace.  We have not put away her things.  Her pen stands empty with her bed, dish and toys unused.  Her collar and harness are in my car from when we took them off.  I don't know what to do with them.  She will be cremated and returned to us this weekend hopefully.  We plan on scattering her a few places.  The lake where she loved to swim, my parents new house in Maine where she never got to swim, maybe a little here in the yard she hadn't played in yet because there is too much snow and with Tom when we scatter him in Vermont.  She would have loved to be free to roam.

A Very Good Dog

We took Pepper down to the animal hospital.  It is the nicest facility I have ever seen.  The cardiologist and his staff chatted with us about Pepper and her history.  They gave her a dog biscuit but she did not even have the energy to eat it.  Then he put her up on the table for the ultrasound.  They shaved a bit of her chest fur and turned the machine on.  Right away he could see a pericardial effusion which is when fluid fills up the sac around the heart.  Then he showed us where her aorta was not able to contract and expand and push blood very well.  And then he found the tumor.  It was pretty sizable and right on her heart.  It was made up of a mass of blood vessels and they were probably leaking and causing the fluid buildup.  It was most likely hemangiosarcoma, a very aggressive form.  The options were to leave her as she was, drain the fluid but it would most likely re-accumulate in 2-4 weeks or have it surgically removed and put her though chemotherapy which may extend her life 9-12 months.

Tom and I got Pepper from a shelter in PA when she was 8 weeks old.  She was my first dog that was all my own.  The following May she watched as Tom stopped in the middle of a trail in Shenandoah and proposed to me right in the middle of a trail.  I remember when we took her white water canoing and we went over these rapids.  We looked where she was between us and she was gone.  When we looked back up the river there she was clinging to a rock with her life jacket on waiting for us to come back and pick her up.  She also used to walk into the tent netting because she couldn't see it but she kept trying to get through the zipped door.  She moved north with us and loved the snow almost as much as we did.  And she was with Tom when he died.

She deserved to end her life with dignity and as much comfort as possible.  So we made the incredibly heart wrenching decision to put her asleep.  We debated bringing her home one last time to say goodbye but decided it would be too difficult to then bring her back the next day.  We told them we were ready.  They placed a catheter in her and let us have some time.  Then the vet sat on the floor with us and did the injections as we held her and told her what a sweet wonderful dog she was.  It was over in seconds.  We had time afterwards to kiss her and hug her and say goodbye.  Fortunately I have a very sensitive husband who loves animals and was upset right along with me.  So we were able to comfort and support each other.  It was just so quick and sudden and we had a hard time accepting the reality of our choices.

Tonight was quiet without her and we worry that her sister will miss her.  We will miss her for a very long time.

Go On Ride Your Way

Today is Tom's birthday. He would have been 37. Sometimes I have these thoughts that he isn't really dead. That maybe he found a way to escape this life so he could start over somewhere else. I think of that when I see people who look like him when he was younger or when a black wrangler pulls up next me at night and I can't see the driver but I get this feeling of him. And if he was out there somewhere alive. I don't even think I would be mad at him. As long as he was happy.

The First Year
One year without him as a father, brother, son and friend.

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"I do not believe
we go up in the sky
unless it is
to fall again
with the rain."

Throwing Matchsticks At The Sun

This entry is dedicated to a friend of mine who is privately struggling against people who would have her sacrifice her child for the good of the group.

Let me tell you something that I am still learning in my three and half decades. Trust yourself. And if you falter seek the counsel of someone you trust. She is doing so password protected on her blog and I am doing so with my therapist. I have been twice now and will go again this week after she returns from vacation. There is nothing like talking to someone who is objective and not emotionally involved to help you cut through all the noise and clutter. I needed to make sure I could walk in, tell the story and have someone just tell it like it is. And that happened at my last therapy session. If you know anything about me you know I don't take the easy way out. I take the right way even if I am scarred and bloody from the struggle. My parents taught me that. You are accountable for your actions. If you wrong someone you admit to it and make amends. You learn from your mistakes, you have a responsibility to your community, you protect the ones you love, you work hard, you may get beaten down by the negativity, the injustice, the sheer weight of the world. But you wake up every day and stay true to who you are.
So no wonder that with Tom's death and all of the fallout that came with it that I took the good and bad with equal willingness. I thought that being a good mommy meant taking the hard stuff no matter what it was doing to me inside. It took therapy to give me the conviction I need to say no to bearing any more than I can. Through her counsel I have decided the best thing for now is to not facilitate a relationship with Tom's parents. I love his sister dearly and she and I have talked about this extensively. We will continue our relationship but I will not be placing any expectations on her to mediate mine with the rest of his family. They are welcome to call Keegan and come to see him and have contact with him but I will not initiate it. I thought I had to because he is only three and a half. But I don't have to and I will not until the mental health issues are dealt with. I can no longer pretend that treating me in this way is okay. I can no longer accept being lumped in with all the other excuses for why Tom died. It is hard enough to mourn him without defending myself too. Of course I hope things will get better but I do not cling to the idea that they will suddenly wake up one day with clarity as I did before. Keegan loves them, I love them. But what would I be teaching him if I showed him that love means you get to hurt people just because they are family? It has been hard accepting that I can't fix something. Because feeling powerless is the worst. But I am beyond the immediate impact and looking toward the future.

Chapter One

When Tom died in September it was decided by his family that I would be named Executrix of his estate. When you die without a will or trust everything goes to probate. It took until mid December for the court to make it official. I took on the responsibility of handling all of the accounts, debts and property. The thing about most people who you owe money to is that they don't care if someone died. They just want their money. Because of the court delay I also couldn't access the life insurance payouts and therefore pay for things like his mortgage. Finally I was able to do so in January and made the payments two days before the house was supposed to go to foreclosure auction. Two weeks later I got a call at work from the property management company at Tom's townhouse. The pipes had frozen and burst in the third floor bathroom. I arrived to find the whole house totaled from the third floor down. I stood there in three inches of freezing water and watched the ceilings collapse. I spent the next three days with the demo company cleaning up and inventoring the contents. Thankfully most of the valuables and sentimental pieces had already been removed. Later it was determined that the furnace malfunctioned and so the heat wasn't working properly. I was able to ask the restoration company to save a few things including Tom's softball glove and ball. I thought that Keegan would want to put his hand inside it as he grew up. It took several more weeks to ready the property to be renovated and in the meantime I finally had a stroke of luck. My second cousin happened to live in NH and wanted to buy a house. I showed the property to her and her fiance and they liked the idea of being able to add their own touches to the renovation. Weeks went on with negotiating this with the insurance and property management folks and then I finally had a P & S drawn up and signed. I went twice last week to meet with the buyers and the contractor to finalize the selections and get everything set to close on Aug 30. Last night I got a call from my second cousin telling me they were not approved for financing and therefore unable to buy the house. What have I learned from all this? That you can do everything right and it still doesn't work. Sometimes crappy stuff just happens. So I called the contractor today and told him to cancel everything. I will meet with him next week, make my selections and then put it on the market. I don't really have any faith it will sell quickly because I'm still sitting in my townhouse that we've been trying to sell for ten months. What have I learned from all this? That you can survive and tolerate way more than you think you can. But I will be happy on the day that I never have to set foot in that house again.

Holding You Tight With Wide Open Arms

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On the morning of May 14 inside Denali territory Jeff and I took a helicopter to the Yanert Glacier. It was the first flight of the season and we weren't even sure until an hour before if they would be able to take us. It was just the two of us and the pilot. We flew over valleys and mountains until we reached the glacier. The helicopter landed and we got out. It was so peaceful and calm and quiet there.

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The pilot gave us a warning about where not to go and then I chose a spot for Tom. I scattered him on rocks that came from the tops of mountains during avalanches. The rocks are on 500 feet deep glacial ice and it runs down and forms the Yanert River. This river just happens to flow past where Tom and I stayed in 1999. So he will become part of it and part of everything there. I know he would have loved that spot. It was a perfect moment when I knew I was doing exactly the right thing. All I could say while I was scattering him was that he would have loved it there.

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Before we left, the pilot suggested I pick up some rocks as mementos. I picked up three: one for his parents, one for his sister and one for Keegan. Keegan has his perched on his bookshelf so he can see it from his bed. And he has seen the pictures many times.

And I will always have the memory of helping make Tom's wish come true.

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The Wings We Create

"How did daddy get dead?"
Keegan asked me right before lunch today. We had been watching TV and as we flipped the channels some actor was talking about putting a bag on his head and jumping in the water during filming. Keegan heard the bag over the head part and I launched into how dangerous that is. You could die. And then he asked.

I explained that Tom was sick, well, really that his body already had something wrong and when he got sick he died from it. I told him the name of the disease, Addison's. He asked if it was in his stomach and I said that it was all over his body. He scrunched his face and said," All over? Yucky." Then he wanted to know where his daddy is. And I always knew this would be a tough one. And I wished I had a belief in heaven to fall back on because that seems an easier concept to explain to a child. So I said he was out of his body. That when you are dead you don't need a body. Your spirit is energy, like light and it is everywhere. I told him that daddy's body was turned into dust and we had put him in places that he loved. I told him that I had taken him to Alaska. Keegan wanted to see the dust. So I brought him up to the computer and showed him the helicopter, the glacier and the place with Tom's ashes. He was mesmerized. I asked if he would like to help sprinkle the last part of his daddy in Vermont. And he said yes. Then I gave him the rock I had brought back for him from the glacier. And he brought it to his room and put it on his headboard. After he ate lunch and was tucked in I sat on the couch and replayed what I had said. It was a surreal conversation. I couldn't believe it even while it was happening. It was a conversation I thought wouldn't happen for a while longer. But here we are home on a random day and there it was. And if I know him like I think I do, he will ask to see the pictures many more times and he will ask questions. And he will explain it all to his bear Manny the same way I explained to him. And he will do it matter of factly and with the certainty only a child has.

Slippery Slope

Tom's parents came up to visit Keegan this weekend. He swam at their hotel pool Friday afternoon and then we got dinner and ice cream at our favorite outdoor place. Saturday he rode his bike and showed them the neighborhood and then we went mini-golfing. He didn't stay entirely focused but liked to hit the ball into the hole and loved being in charge of holding the flags. After his nap he swam at the hotel pool again and my parents came up to have dinner with us. Sunday we went up to visit their relatives in Maine. Keegan rode their property in a golf cart and flew a kite and went pretend fishing with a stick and basically had a great time. On the way home we picked up Isabelle and then the kids rode bikes while we walked the dogs. Tom's parents left right before dinner time.
Sounds like a good time. But under it all were so many factors. Most importantly the in-law factor, the divorce factor and the grief factor. And unfortunately they added up to a not good time for the adults involved. I don't know what to do with the situation right now. We're definitely at a standstill and some time and space is needed before we take the next steps. Bearing in mind the tremendous grief they are experiencing. Bearing in mind that I and my family need to be respected. And things were said. Things that were like what used to be said to me when I was married to Tom. But now they are even deeper because they are also colored by loss and pain. I have a responsiblity to maintain the relationship for Keegan. I have a responsiblity to protect my family and myself from the stress and emotional bombs. I have absolutely no ideas on how to move on from here. I called for my referral for counseling today. I am out of my league here.

Out There

I wote this last Friday night.

I should be in bed trying to sleep which is what I usually do when I'm upset. Not posting. But that book threw me off for the rest of the day. So I finished it tonight because I both wanted to get it over with and also wanted to see what happened. And along the way add in the son of the dead loved one, two years old. It's almost more than I could take. But like sad movies, reading through tears never stopped me. And there were lessons in there. Even though someone who loved you is gone there are still so many people left who love you too. And the part about it taking one year and a day to mourn someone. Which reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with R. on the one year anniversary of when her husband left. She was celebrating having gotten through "a year of firsts." And on that day I realized I never got my year of firsts with my divorce because Tom died before then. And how it never occurred to me that my year started all over on September 9th. And the grief is in waves now. So many good days followed by a sad one. I spoke with a counselor at work a few weeks ago about something unrelated to Tom. She asked me if I had had time to grieve. And I started crying. She asked if I wanted to talk to someone and I asked her if it seemed like I needed to. She said all the supportive friends and an understanding husband is wonderful but sometimes you just need a place to talk. And I almost asked her for a referral that day. And again today. But I keep thinking that time will make things better. More like passing milestones will. When Spring comes. When the estate is settled. When I take him to Alaska. When its been six months, seven months, eight.
I had this awful thought. That maybe Tom's death was what happened because I got so lucky with Jeff. That you don't get love like that without a price. And that Jeff was what I got for my marriage ending. And my marriage ending was what I got for getting Keegan. You can torture yourself for hours that way.
Odds are if I post this at all it will be in the morning and not at 12:26 am when I wrote it. It's good practice to think these moments over before releasing them to the world.


I know it would give away the plot but books should come with a warning if the main character's significant other dies. Particularly if it is billed as being a comedy. I suspected it at the start of the book but it wasn't confirmed until 207 pages in. I have 385 more to go. I will no longer be reading it during my lunch hour. Because crying at work is no good.

"I hate all this past tense stuff. And it is not about me, it's him I'm worried about. I'm so afraid he'll freak out when he discovers what's happened. He'll be so pissed-off and scared and I can't help him. Rachel,' I said, and suddenly I couldn't bear it, 'Aidan's going to hate being dead.'"

Takeoffs & Landings

Most of the time I enjoy the travel part of my job. But this last trip I didn't want to go. I left the kids and Jeff behind grilling and playing in the yard. I wanted so much to stay with my family. But off I went and it was actually a good two days. I learned a lot and made some great connections. I was not able to see Andra because I really needed to go to dinner and smooze. Fortunately she understands these things and wasn't offended. I am sure to see her the next time I go down there in August. I got back last night around 8pm and snuggled on the couch. I swear airplanes kill brain cells because I always feel out of step the next day. This morning I forgot the kids' lunches and had to go home and retrieve them and go back to school. So I was late for my conference and I hate missing the pre-agenda coffee chats.
No travel for two more weeks when we leave for Alaska. We'll have a few days on our own before my conference starts. It is basically pre-season there so a lot of things are unavailable. But we'll rent a car, drive up to Denali and stay there. That is where I will spread Tom's ashes. We'll actually take a helicopter and land on a glacier. He would have absolutely wanted it that way. I want to get him as close as possible since he never realized his dream of climbing McKinley. I have been dreading this trip. It was making me stressed out and I cried just thinking about what that moment is going to be like. But I decided to re-frame it in my mind. Instead of thinking about it as sad and another goodbye. I think of it as a good thing, carrying out his wishes, setting him free. Because most of all he wanted to be free. And it's working because now I can talk about with positive language and smile. I am sure to cry when we're there actually letting him go but I won't be nearly the wreck I was imagining.

Silver Lining

Keegan and I ended up having a very productive day. We watched Curious George on PBS, had lunch and then he laid down until we had to leave for an appt. We went to three different attorneys today. First the city prosecutor, then the probate attorney and finally the trust attorney. We squeezed in a super cute haircut (for him) and grocery shopping. It's days like this I think I could be a stay at home. Well for a couple of days a week.
He talked about Tom all day. He remembers the most amazing details. And he talked about going to counseling. He even remembered what color markers they used to draw Tom. When we were heading the store he sang a quick little happy sounding song where the chorus was, "Daddies don't die." I had never heard it before. I am guessing he made it up. I was glad that on a day he seemed to really need to talk about Tom that we were together.

You Who Are Silent

On Saturday Jeff and I went to see "Reign Over Me." I knew that it was going to be sad, of course it would be where the premise is about someone who lost their family. I love a tear jerker though. When we were in line someone said they heard it was good but the ending was anti-climactic. I thought the ending was good. It was real. In real life everything isn't magically fixed. But hopefully you come to a better understanding. You aren't the same person you were but you find some peace.
It is terribly obvious or should have been that I would feel a connection to the story. The loss, the grief. But I was still surprised. Fortunately I have a husband who understands how deeply I feel things and is not embarassed by a crier. A dark movie theater crier. I saw it all in the story about how much his children loved him and I thought about Keegan and how a child's love should be pure and free and not weighed down by loss. And about reliving the last thing you said to them. The sifting through of every memory looking for regrets wondering if they knew who you were and wondering if you knew them the way they wanted to be known. The inability to remember how it felt not to feel the weight of them. How normally they become a part of your every day. In six months time it is not a raw as it was but still not natural. How you simultaneously look forward to completing the tasks that will give you closure and dread them as well.
I thought about how with Tom gone there is one less person on the earth I loved. And one less person who loved me. That is the loneliest feeling of all.

More Better

Today as I was about to drop him off at school Keegan asked me if daddy will get better. I realized that he is basing this on my being sick and then saying I was better. I also realized that this didn't necessarily mean he hadn't gotten the concept of death as I was certain he had. But he needed clarification. So I reminded him about the eraser exercise with the counselor. Gone is gone. I also explained that you cannot get better from dead. It sounds terrible but with toddlers you have to be concrete. He seemed fine with the explanation and the drop off went fine. But I always carry these conversations around with me for at least the rest of the day.
I gave his teacher a heads up in case it came up again during the day. She told me that she lost a friend of her's this weekend. 27, two young children. She had MS but actually died from falling and hitting her head. What a loss. And she said that losing someone so suddenly just made it hard to believe they were really gone. I know exactly what she means. Erika and I talked about this the other day. And there will never be another person that gets the things I want to talk about regarding Keegan in the way Tom would. Noone knows what it is like to be his parent but me. And it was a few days ago I almost cried driving in the car when I realized that for me, dead is dead. And I cannot find comfort in the afterwards because I have no reason to believe in one. And after confronting death I actually feel worse about it than before when I excepted it as inevitable. I am hoping that the next year will bring more healing. I am certain that once I get to stop having to deal with Tom's estate every day that I will be able to find some peace. Please add to your new year's resolutions getting a will and/or trust. Especially if you have dependents. We never expect to die suddenly. It is an icky subject to confront but you really must do it. More later on what a terrific nightmare you leave behind if you don't prepare.

My Christmas Wish For You & Me

Let It Heal

Listen to the song and let it tell you how
be quiet be quiet be still
let the angels put their hands on where it hurts and
smooth be quiet be still
ask for prayers around you and bathe in song
be quiet be quiet be still
sit in children's laughter twice a day
be quiet be quiet be still
leave your thoughts for another time
wrap yourself in daylight
knit yourself a friend tighter than you imagined
let good people close to you
move away from those who suck from you
be safe be quiet be still

if you have no hands
if you have no feet
if you have no voice
and a chorus will carry you
if you have no eyes
if you have no arms
be thankful be quiet be still

and the pouring come upon you like holy water
and the healing a new plant

break the ground
emerge clean and willing

sorry and thankful
new and quiet
like children at kickball
wise like grandmothers on the stoop
ready to live
and whole
and whole

Ruth Foreman, Renaissance

Golden Child

On Friday Tom's parents drove up from PA to have Christmas with Keegan. I was glad that they had decided to come. They had not seen him in the three months since Tom died. And little kids tend to change a lot in three months. I was nervous about it beforehand. I just didn't know how things would go. How he would be, how they would be, how I would be.
I picked up Keegan early from school and they met us at my house at 2:30. He ran to them across the driveway. They presented him with his first gift which is a really beautiful bike with training wheels. He took it for a short spin and then we went inside. The rest of the afternoon he opened gifts and they watched in delight. We all laughed as we setup the enormous Thomas the Train tent complete with engine and two cars. We laughed harder as I tried to get in and then back out. We almost hurt ourselves when Pappy did the same. Just when he was done unwrapping he got to Aunt BJ's (Barb) gifts she had sent along. A genius invented the view master projector so now you don't have to fight with your siblings to see the pics.
When Jeff arrived home we headed to the Outb*ck for dinner. Keegan was a dream. It was like all of his good behavior and manners manifested at the exact same time. On the way home we even sang Christmas carols. It was almost unbelievably quaint to me. They helped get him ready for bed and tucked in and said goodbye. It could not have gone any better. Their plan is to come back in April. I wish they would come more but I understand their unwillingness to drive in the snow. And we all did so well not being too sad. They saw some of the pictures of Tom in Keegan's room. And they brought him a collage of pictures from their trip to the beach this Aug. Tom is laughing with Keegan playing in the pool. And his face is so perfectly Tom. I always loved his smile. It is what I think of when I remember him.
I saw them again the next day when they went to get some things from Tom's house. They hired movers to carry furniture into the uhaul. We also had them put some things in the garage out of the bad weather that is sure to come. And as I hugged them goodbye his mom broke down. But I don't blame her because I cried most of the drive home. Until Barb called at the perfect moment. I do not envy his family this first Christmas without him.

A Wrinkle In Time

My new staff member was cleaning out the files in what used to be my office. She found an email I sent Tom on June 3, 2005.

"I just wanted to tell you that I am sad that this is the last week we will ever live together. I will miss seeing and talking to you every day. Although we have had some rough times, we had some really good times too. You've been my friend for 11 years and I will miss that. I can not forget all of the things that we supported each other through and all of the hurdles we tackled as a couple. Thank you for loving me, for taking a leap with me and for giving me Keegan. You are a good guy with a loving heart and I truly wish you a happy life."

His response:
"You will see me...I hope you remember that.
But thank you, I will miss you a lot too. I will also remember the good times that we shared and a piece of my heart will always belong to you. Thank you for giving ME Keegan. You gave me a lot and taught me a lot and I wish you the best also."

This why I needed to see him one last time, why I needed to help with the arrangements, why I needed to speak at his funeral, why I needed to grieve him. And this is also why I am able to continue to build a life for our son. As long as we live, love lives.

The Front Seat

Keegan went to grief counseling this morning. It will be his last visit unless something comes up. He is exactly where he should be with this now. We can expect him to revisit Tom's death for the rest of his life particularly as he reaches milestones. He will never go back to the first stage. Acceptance is permanent. But there may be anger and sadness. I wonder what the people in the waiting room think when this see this little guy waiting for his appt. He knows the building when we drive by. The place where he "goes to talk to the lady about daddy." Today I watched through brimming eyes as he drew a little boy with her. A little boy who's head is filled with memories signified by scribbles they made together. A big heart filled with love. Tom's love. And then they colored in other people's love. Mommy, Jeff, Isabelle, Nana, Bampa, Bammy, Pappy, Aunt BJ. Keegan added Uncle Scottie with his green marker. She told him that his heart was always big enough to fit more love. He can love daddy and everyone else too.
And she told me that I had given Keegan what he needed. That I had taught him how to cope. That he knew it was okay to talk about daddy and love and miss him. There is a place for Tom in our lives. And she is right I think Keegan is ready.
I don't know if I am. There is still anger and sadness. The grief is not so heavy. Now I am surprised when it comes over me out of the blue. Watching Keegan at sports class Sat. I was struck by the image of him standing there with that little glove throwing a ball and then the tiny bat as he swung at the ball. Tom would have loved that. And last week we were cleaning out the cabinets and found a pack of pictures in a basket. Our old life doesn't bother me. I keep those photos as my history. But then I came to one of Keegan sleeping in Tom's lap at our old house and they are curled up in front of the softly lit window. It is the most peaceful thing I have ever seen. That one makes me sad. I framed and put it in Keegan's room. But I had to move it up to the shelf because it was right on top of his dresser and I kept being struck by it every time I open the drawers. I want to remember but I don't need to be kicked in the gut multiple times a day. I have been thinking about a grief group. I want to be with people who understand. I want to hear what their days are like, what is normal and what they do with their thoughts. I am not having trouble coping. It is just that my process has been on hold. I needed to bury Tom, take care of Keegan, plan and get married and sort out the resulting financial implications of his loss. The latter is still up in the air but now I feel like I can have energy for myself. I will not miss the rollercoaster when it stops. The exhilarating joy, the plunging sadness. I think the highs can be as high with out those bottomless lows. I just want to be. I want to be the me I can realistically expect after everything this year.


Yesterday Keegan had a Halloween parade but I didn't get to go because I had a meeting at the exact same time. I picked him up after school and we zipped home to light the jack-o-lantern and put out the treats. He ate supper while I manned the door. When Jeff came home we got Keegan back into costume and Jeff took door duty while we went out. We are fortunate that living in a townhouse community little kids don't have far to walk. Keegan was really excited about going door to door. As we turned the first corner I was struck with deja vu and I missed Tom terribly and tears filled my eyes. We had both taken Keegan last year through this same neighborhood. We were supposed to be doing it together this year. I think Keegan missed him too. Maybe he has some shadow memory of last year. Because after we finished the street which he clearly enjoyed, we came home and he was one sad little boy in the bathtub and when getting ready for bed. We talked about daddy and hugged. And today at school they said he seemed tired and sad. We see the grief counselor next week and hopefully that will give him a chance to talk it out more. I also think he is adjusting to being back home and daylight savings time. I think that perhaps the holidays will always be hard.

Highest Blessing

When people ask I usually tell them I am okay. And really I am. Sort of holding the line in the middle. There are times when I am great and times when I am not. I have grown accustomed to grief. I have gotten used to it's presence. Because to deny it will only prolong the process. I see it, name it embrace it and keep going. I allow myself moments of teary eyes when struck with a thought or image of Tom. I think of him multiple times a day. I will miss him every day of the rest of my life. In an entirely different way then anyone else. I had gotten to the point of knowing he would be in my life on the peripheral. That we would have contact and see each other and talk but never be truly friends. Only friends in the way of two people who were bound together with a vow but promises were broken and now we had the memories, our love for our son and the knowledge that we would be forever bound in another way. I do not mourn him as my husband because he was not that in my life and I did not carry any romantic feelings for him since we split. I mourn a person who shared twelve years of my life, adventures, firsts, struggles and the miracle of creating Keegan out of love and science. I mourn who he was at 25, 30 and 35. I mourn our history and the fact we will never have a future raising our son. I even mourn the struggles we were sure to have in the future. It was a month yesterday since he died.
Right now it is like walking with a heavy backpack over a river of thin ice. I inch along to where I see the safety of solid ground. And I do not think that I could carry one more thing in this pack. I am petrified of the ice cracking. Every day I get closer to relative safety. But I feel the heavy in my chest. I breathe past it. I breathe. I think about the weeks, months and years ahead. I know I will never be the same. I know that there are so many tasks that lie before me. I try to tackle them in small amounts. I accept the things I can not do anything about. I try to anticipate the things I can control. Sometimes I look around and I can not believe that life has gone on. That for the most part the days are the same as before. But I am not. I need life to go on. I need to get lost in the future and the good things ahead. I wish that for everyone who mourns Tom now. I wish a little peace for his family. I wish peace for him.

Silver Linings

Keegan went to counseling this morning. She said he seems to be doing well accepting what happened and dealing with his feelings. Now we are working on talking about his memories of Tom. She wants us to come back again in a month.
I had a meeting near home today so I stopped by to eat lunch here. The doorbell rang and I was handed a giant basket. It weighs almost as much as Keegan. Attached was a card from my Selfish Mother's Club. There was a toy for Keegan and a bottle of red wine for me. Also it was filled with all kinds of gourmet goodies. I have to survive being alone with it in the house tonight since Jeff is in Maine for last minute details before he sells the house tomorrow.
Last week at my conference I was elected to represent our region at the national organization of people in my position in each state. It means more conference calls and one more business trip each year but a real opportunity to work on national level policy issues.
Oh and my grade came from Harvard a couple of weeks ago. I received a B. I can handle that.
I used some of my Selfish Mom money to get something for Keegan. He really wanted a camera of his own. It was pricey but worth it. He absolutely loves it, has no problem framing people in pictures and loves to review the pics after he takes them. I hope it will be a lifelong activity for him and help him make a record of his memories.

What Happened

Today is Tom's birthday. He would have been 36.
Three weeks ago Tom left me a voice mail on Sat morning while we were at gymnastics. He said he was sick and didn't think he could take Keegan as he usually did Sat afternoons into Sunday. He asked me to call him back. I did but he didn't answer so I left him message and told him I was all set and to let me know when he felt better and wanted to see Keegan. I told Keegan that daddy was sick and were going to let him rest and get better. I didn't hear from Tom the rest of the day and Sunday. I was worried but thought he was resting. Monday morning I was surprised to not hear from him. I called and left messages at work and on his cell. I told him just to call and tell me he was okay. I spent the rest of the day up north in a meeting. When I left the office that evening I tried to reach him again. Then I called his sister Barb. I told her I was probably being silly but could she check with her parents to see if they talked to Tom on Sun as was their habit. She called me back to say that they had tried him three times but couldn't reach him. Everything in my body reacted and I was filled with fear. I asked Barb to call his work and find out if he had shown up or called in. She called me back crying saying they had not heard from him. She had the number for the local police and I told her she should call and get them to check his house. I ran through calling ERs in my mind but I knew that if he was in a hospital we would have heard. I went and picked up Keegan from school and was almost home when Barb called back.
5pm September 11, near the Hess Station on Main Street when she told me Tom was dead. I will never forget the sound of her voice.


Left the house at 6am this morning and am leaving tomorrow at 5:40am to commute to a conference in Maine. I am trying not to leave Keegan more than necessary. I will stay over tomorow night in Maine because of a late day program tomorrow.
On Monday he told one of his teachers that his daddy died. Then he explained that he was very sick and was resting his eyes. I talked to him about it and assured him that it was okay to talk to others about it too. I think it is progress. But I still don't think he understands.
On Tuesday I received a package from my Selfish Mom's club. I was supposed to have hosted that week Tom died. They sent me a card and my selfish mom money so that could use it if I liked. One friend included a children's grief book for Keegan. She wrote him a note and said that the book was a little mature for him now but he could use it later. She also told him how she lost her father when she was 10. People continue to amaze me.

When I die if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I've known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.

You can love me most by letting hands touch hands
By letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn't die, people do
So when all that's left of me is love
Give me away.


Into The Ocean

One year today since the divorce was final. It feels like longer, it feels like no time at all. I still can't believe I am even really a divorced person. It was never in my plan for myself. But neither was getting married a year later. And well that is a wonderful unplanned thing. It's another chapter in my life. It's all part of the same novel. No regrets though. I am not so arrogant that I think that I have had my fair share of hardship and it's a rainbows and butterflies from here on out. There will be more even though I can't imagine bearing it at this time. But you can not have the heights without the depths. And I know this about myself. When I love someone, I mean it forever. No matter how our relationship changes I love to the absolute ends of the earth and beyond. And I am grateful for it all. I tell you with all honestly that nothing gets taken for granted in my life. I did not think I needed another wake up call. But something in the universe is trying to teach a lesson and I hope this time I learned it.

Boxes And Bags

Saturday was Tom's funeral in his hometown in PA. I could not be there. But according to Barb it was very nice and very meaningful for his family. I think the first week after his funeral here was a lull for me. I am back to thinking about him more and more. It could also be because I went by his house again. I picked up some things for Keegan I promised him from his daddy's house and some more things for the dogs. I went farther than the garage this time. But even the garage is full of memories. Camping equipment and his snowboards, even his boots. Eleven years together holds alot of mental snapshots.

"In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and some are better than anything that can ever happen again."

Willa Cather

All Around Us

I returned to work yesterday. It was good to get back and I was so busy the day went by quickly. But every time I am left without something to do the thoughts are there. My eyes have only filled with tears, no out and out crying. And I have not taken a sleeping pill for the past two nights. Sleep has been pretty good. Returning to work also gives me a false sense of normalcy, like nothing bad happened. I had to go by Tom's house tonight and put out the garbage. It felt like he was just away on a trip. Except that I could only go as far as the garage.
Keegan went to counseling yesterday morning. It was what you imagine. He drew pictures and talked about Tom. We will see her again in two weeks. She said it is good to give him a break. The plan is to help him understand what it means to be dead (gone) and to help him learn to express his feelings. He has sad moments and angry moments. But he is able to tell me he is sad and then asks for hugs and to sit in my lap. The counselor will also talk to his school to give them advice on how to handle questions. It is a simple as saying that Tom died. He is gone. But he will always be in our hearts and we have memories and stories and pictures. It is okay to be sad and ask questions. Toddlers don't need much more than that.
I am not getting any formal counseling. I talk to friends about it. They let me be angry or frustrated or sad or fine. When we got our divorce I mourned the loss of a lover, husband, partner and a future together. So that part is done. Now I mourn the loss of a friend, the father of my son and a really good hearted person. But I see life all around. I still see joy. There is so much more here that still is and can be.

Thank you to Bari for sending us "Life Prayers : From Around the World : 365 Prayers, Blessings, and Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey."

There Will Be Ups

Today was a good day for Keegan and I. A Selfish Mom club mom came by earlier and brought us a lasagna, garlic bread and her son to play. Jeff headed back to Maine with Isabelle to take care of some things at his house and drop her off. He should be home by 9pm. Keegan had mentioned wanting a haircut yesterday while we were at gymnastics. Since he has always been afraid I figured I'd better take him up on it. So we headed to the local walk-in haircut place. He was amazing perched on the booster wearing an animal print cape and staying perfectly still through the clippers and scissors. Tom would have been so proud and it was hard not to call him. Keegan and I celebrated by going to the bookstore and choosing three new books. I looked at some helping children cope with grief books but they were all so complicated. He has been talking about Tom and we have talked about memories. He finally took a nap today and went to sleep telling me he was looking at the pictures I put of him with Tom on his shelves. He loves the one of me, Tom and him as a baby. The rest of the day was without the meltdowns that have been an every hour event the past few days. We played together and he helped me take the dogs out and feed them supper. He asked to stay downstairs with the dogs which he has never done before. Usually they bowl him over. But he was gentle and they were gentle back and I had to retreive him for supper. He keeps telling me that I don't have to be sad. This is the first day I haven't cried alot. I have not cried in front of him at all the past few days. But kids are smart. I told him it's okay for both of us to be sad sometimes because we love daddy. Tonight at snuggle time on the couch he reached over and took my hand. And once again I silently thanked Tom for giving this magical boy.

Only Peace

When I look back on this time I will remember much more than the loss. I will remember the gifts I was given. The gifts of kindness. I have been so amazed and strengthened by the outpouring of support. All of the calls, email, comments and cards. The people who have sent us prayers and thoughts.
At Tom's service Thursday some of my friends from the teen center I used to work at showed up. And not only that, they brought the Cambodian Buddhist monks I asked for. The Buddhist prayer must have been ten minutes long and was so melodic and comforting. I really wanted Tom's ashes to be purified. Now when we spread them in the river in his home in PA, a mountain here in NE and Denali Park in Alaska they will purify all whom they touch. Tom was not a religious person but we read about Buddhism when we were together and he had been very interested in the various principles. I think it would make him happy to be free. To not be bound by earth but returned to an energy source. Afterwards I spoke on behalf of his family, his girlfriend and our son. And I shared two pieces.
“Make yourself a light. Rely upon yourself: do not depend on anyone else. Make my teachings your light… My disciples, my last moment has come, but do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body. The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death. But the true Buddha is not a human body: -it is Enlightenment. A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in truth and in practice….”

The second one is something we can all do.
In the days and weeks following the death especially for the first 49 days one can help the dead person's mind/spirit by avoiding harming others, generating love and compassion, doing kind actions, making charity and specific prayers and practices that their spiritual teachers recommend and dedicating this positive energy to the mind/spirit of the deceased, wishing only peace and happiness for them and rebirth in the presence of their God or Buddha.

Miles To Go

This has been such an incredibly long week. Time is a blur and frankly I don't want to remember all of the details. I have a pain that fills my chest. It fills me to where it pushes to get out and yet I feel empty at the same time. I want to write about it. I need to. But today was the service and I feel so overwhelmed by everything up to this point. Thinking about the days, weeks and months to follow are too much. I'm okay. Keegan is okay. I can not believe how many people love us. How many people love our son. I guess he is just my son now. I hold the responsibility for raising him. There will be help and support. I made plans with Tom and I made promises. They are promises I made again when I said goodbye to him Tuesday. I knew I had to see him or I would never accept the truth. I sat beside him and I told him I loved him and how much Keegan loved him. And I repeated our promises and told him I was grateful that we said things that I could have put off. And I touched him one last time and I did not want to say goodbye but he was already gone. I went through everything and I planned the service and I went to his house. I went to help his family and to bear witness. To bear witness for my son.
Keegan does not understand. I told him last night. I told him just the way the counselor said. But he can not fathom it. We will visit the counselor throughout the grieving process so that I can be sure we're doing okay. I expect questions. I expect to repeat it all over the years. I was prepared to raise a child of divorce I was not prepared to raise a child without a father. But we will remember how much his father loved him. You can see it in Tom's eyes in every picture. They only had eyes for eachother.

A loss

Hi everyone. This is Erika.

Alisa asked me to post for her - Tom (her ex-husband) passed away unexpectedly on Sunday.

Needless to say, this was a shock to everyone and Alisa's doing all she can to take care of herself and Keegan. She'll post more when she's ready to, but she wanted to let others know what's going on.

Please keep them in your thoughts.