Monday, February 24, 2020

Morphing with Memories

When Daniel died, he left behind toy trucks, plastic dinosaurs, a joke book, and lots of clothes. In a bereavement magazine I saw an ad from a woman who made memorial quilts. I called her and after learning more about her quilts and the cost, I commissioned her to make a twin-sized quilt from Daniel’s pants and shirts. Cotton shirts are the best, she told me. In his room, which had been taken over by his baby sister, I sorted through his clothes. Some were in his laundry basket that had sat untouched in his closet since his death. This will be the last time I’ll get to do Daniel’s laundry, I thought. Downstairs I placed his clothes in the washing machine and watched the water, detergent, and fabric blend together.

Once the clothes were dry, I boxed the shirts and pants and sent them to the Quilt Lady in Nebraska. About a month later, I received a box from her. I had seen photos of memorial quilts before. But I was not ready for the emotions that came when I saw one that held squares of clothes that had belonged to my child. At first I couldn’t look at the swatches of the clothes he’d worn. The Barney dinosaur in the middle of the quilt brought back memories that made me cry. Daniel had that shirt on when he was diagnosed with cancer. He’d been three.

But as the years progressed, I was able to drape the quilt over the sofa or over an arm chair in the family room and run a finger over the blocks of cotton and embrace the memories. Barney and the other shirts held stories that were precious. One of my favorite memories came to me when I saw a blue and green squiggly swatch. That had come from a shirt with a label that read Wild Boy. Daniel had been energetic--knocking over houseplants before he could stand, jumping into puddles, and peeling off his messy diaper after a night of sleep. We called him Wild Boy. He laughed at the name. I think he was proud to be wild.

As we enter onto the journey of parental bereavement, our whole world changes. In a matter of seconds, we morph into different creatures. These new creatures have different eyes and hearts, causing us to see and feel things we did not know were valuable. To the rest of the world we look like we used to. But we know we will never be just like we used to be. Now we cry when see a toy, a picture, or when we hear a certain song on the radio. We even cry when we experience a new quilt.

Life has turned upside down. From the simple tasks like the way we drive a car to how we celebrate Christmas are under scrutiny. Even our faith and religious beliefs are questioned. Spiritual platitudes that perhaps we used to quote get shot down by our new world-view. We replace them. We toss out the illusions about life we once had. Perhaps we used to believe that wearing a seat belt offered all the protection needed, until someone we love died even though they had their seat belt fastened. Eating vegetables and fruit, exercising, and being positive don’t guarantee a long life. The control we thought we had was a myth. We have selected new thoughts and methods, dug deeper into our faith to see what is real and differentiate between that which is scriptural and those false securities that were never promised to us. We have fashioned our quilts out of what is honest and true. We have not hidden from reality because we can no longer do that. We are weathered and real and growing each day into new creations.

When I teach grief-writing workshops I ask participants: What squares of truth have you incorporated into your grief pattern? How have your thoughts changed since the death of your child? What swatches of fabric are you carrying with you on your journey? And perhaps the most important question to grapple with: How can you rid your life of things that stifle you from becoming that precious being you want to be?

I think that the key is to focus on a memory that makes you smile. Recycle that moment over and over and refuse to let the negative ones or the ones that make you feel guilty live in your heart. Always choose life-giving memories. Let them bring the sunlight you need. The wise gurus say we can't change the past, so there's no point in going over it and disciplining ourselves as we think of all we should have or could have done.

When I look at the memorial quilt, I see the energetic and fun boy Daniel was. The quilt makes me smile.

Carrying happy memories into each new day opens me up to grow into that bold, loving, and fun being I want to be.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Our Memories Fill the Stars

When a loved one dies, all we have left are memories. While the memories are sweet, they are never enough. We wish for more.

When my son Daniel died, I felt cheated that I had only four years of life with him. But after the horrific pain subsided, slowly, I was able to think of the happy memories I could hold onto and carry with me.

I'm no artist, but I did go to Michael's many times to find items I could paint or decorate that connected me to my son. On one trip to the arts and craft store, I got a plain basket and some paint. I also picked up wooden objects from various bins. These were already cut and painted, which was great since I don't think I could draw a boy in a blue-striped shirt to save my life. Daniel had blond hair and a blue-striped shirt, so that made me pick that wooden piece up and put it in my shopping cart. I got a boot because he had cowboy boots and a pig because he once fell on a prized pig at a petting zoo and the pig bit him. (Security contacted the owner of the pig, but he never showed up.) I also picked out a watermelon slice because there are many stories about Daniel revolved around that juicy red and green delight.

I painted the box with gold, red, and blue. I managed to paint a few yellow stars, too. I wrote on the lid: Our Memories Fill the Stars. The quote is one I came up when I stood under a velvet sky and watched the distant stars. I cushioned the inside of the memory basket with a red bandana that Daniel was given at a Make a Wish event the last autumn of his life.

Each wooden object holds a precious memory. My memory basket gives me a way to take out the pieces, touch them, smile, and remember.

At first when Daniel died, I thought he wouldn't be remembered by many. His friends were only four and five years old. Perhaps adults would keep his memory alive, but I couldn't be sure. At his grave, I promised that I'd tell Daniel stories. Over the years (there have been 23) I've discovered that no one can steal the memories. They are life-giving and connect me to the Daniel I love and miss every day. While I have had to struggle (immensely) with the events that surrounded his demise and death, I don't cultivate those memories. I've learned not to dwell on the treatments for cancer he went through and the shock of his passing.

Those of us who have lost a loved one discover how to recycle the memories that bring sunlight. We tell the stories again and again, and each time, we feel the boldness that lets us know it's not only okay, but acceptable, to talk about our beloved child. No one should try to shut us up. Our child died, but he also lived!

May the memories we choose bring joy today and always.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Cooking with Author Leanna Sain

Today we have author Leanna Sain as our guest on Cooking With Authors. She's got a recipe and a new novel. Welcome here, Leanna!

First the recipe . . . 

Frutti Mare with Fettuccini

1 lb. prawns - shelled & deveined 1⁄4 c. olive oil1 T. shallots – chopped1 T. garlic – minced

1/3 lb. scallops1 c. ripe Roma tomatoes – finely chopped 1 c. chicken broth or clam broth2 T. parsley – finely chopped1⁄2 tsp. oregano1⁄2 tsp. cayenne10 small fresh basil leaves3 T. Brandy8 steamer clams1⁄4 lb. calamari cut into rounds8 mussels – well scrubbed1⁄2 lb. Dungeness crabmeat1 lb. fettuccini

            •   Cut the shrimp lengthwise in half. Set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring about one minute. Add the shrimp and scallops and cook, stirring about one minute. Add the tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Let simmer about one minute and add the parsley, basil, oregano, cayenne and brandy.

            •   Add the clams, calamari and mussels and cover tightly. Cook until the clams and mussels open, about one and a half minutes. Add the crabmeat, stir gently and remove from the heat.

           •   Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add fettuccini. Boil for 10-12 minutes until al dente.

           •    To serve, divide the fettuccini and add equal portions of the clams and mussels to the top and then pour over the remaining fish and sauce. Serves 4.

About the novel . . .
She dreams a murder before it happens. A young woman is strangled while her killer sings the words from the lullaby, “Hush, Little Baby.”

Lacey Campbell’s life is full, but not idyllic. As head chef for a chic restaurant and primary caregiver to a mother with Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t have time for the nightmare and at first she tries to deny it. But the next day, she discovers it's a disturbing reality. When she dreams the second heinous murder she knows it’s time to tell the police.

Detective Ford Jamison is called back to the little coastal town to help with the case and soon notices an alarming trend: the killer is using the lullaby as a “blueprint” to target women who resemble Lacey. This doesn’t slow the killings and now Lacey is afraid to fall asleep at night because the next face she sees in her dream might be her own.

As a hurricane churns ever closer to the little coastal town, danger and suspicion spin out of control. Time is running out. Can they stop the killer before the last verse of the lullaby?

About the Author . . . 
Leanna Sain, earned her BA from the University of South Carolina before moving back to the NC mountains. She calls Miracle Hill Farm home, but she lives mostly in her imagination. Her Southern suspense or “GRIT-lit,” showcases her plot-driven method that successfully rolls elements of best-selling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Nicholas Sparks, and Jan Karon all together, making it her own. She loves leading discussion groups and book clubs. For more information or to contact her visit:

**Note from Leanna: I wrote Hush while my mother was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. To honor her, I’m donating a portion of book sales to Alzheimer’s research. Please help by getting a copy, spreading the word, and writing a book review.

Where you can find Leanna:
Website and blog