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(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

Last night my son and I stumbled on a video my daughter and her friend created when they were in high school—we had a great time laughing at how early this silly video shows up on a Google search for her name. Just imagine her future employers finding it—and seeing a little bit of who she was on one day in the year she was sixteen. Heck, I even make a cameo appearance in the video—and I am sprinting—not bad for a younger/old gal, right?

But the nostalgia for those days pulled at me and reminded me just how much water has passed under the so many bridges she has crossed since then. While watching, I longed for those simpler days—the before when so many things seemed easier.

Until I looked at the date stamp. The time frozen in that video was not an easier era—it was just one golden moment in the midst of a very dark period. The moving pictures showed a seemingly ordinary good day made all the more extraordinary by my discovering the date when it happened.

Just goes to show you that images are not always what they seem and that even when life is difficult, there are often moments when we shed the weight burdening us and live with joy one moment to the next.

My daughter graduates from college in two weeks—two weeks!

May she always remember that life is full of golden moments, even in the darkest of times. We may have just this one goofy visual reminder of a day when she smiled and I sprinted, but we also have smiled and sprinted on many other days, too—and still do. The trick for anyone is reminding yourself that grabbing small, beautiful moments, such as those shown in that video, is always possible. Always.

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(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

2014 Sherman Lambert photo of sidewalk chalk art

2014 Sherman Lambert photo of sidewalk chalk art

Years ago—almost two decades ago—my husband Sherman and I attended classes at church based on a series of short stories and essays—more often secular than not—where readers were challenged to hear God in the words, even if the author had no intention of addressing God from a faith tradition. Over time we studied all four volumes in the Listening for God series.

I liked the classes. They reminded me of the “Portraits of Jesus” class I had taken in order to meet the religious course requirement at my college. I wouldn’t have signed up for the course, but I was studying abroad and had to rely on my fairly unconventional advisor to register me for the next term. I was surprised he had chosen this class for me after receiving my instructions where I told him to find me something different since “I had gone to church and Sunday School all my life.”

But, boy was I wrong about what that course was about. The first day of class the professor handed each of us a sheet of paper with various facial features for us to cut and paste into a portrait of who we thought Jesus was. Dr. Wolff presented Jesus in the varying Christian gospels, from readings from other faiths, and through all sorts of secular literature and movies where we looked for the Christ figure. He did not tell us what to think though I knew for a fact he attended a Lutheran church close to campus. Surprise, surprise, but at the end of the course I still thought Jesus was the guy I was taught he was while growing up, even though a bit grittier and more nuanced.

Our church is revisiting the Listening for God story series and this time Sherman is taking turns teaching the course with the woman who originally taught it back in the 90s. Sadly, since I sing in choir now I can’t attend most classes, but I’m still re-reading the stories so I can work with him as he ponders the coursework.

What I realize is that these stories are much darker to me now than they were the first time around. I and the world have changed. I see depths I could not see then—I am not quite the sunny optimist I must have been years ago. Is this part of the natural process of aging or have my own life experiences dimmed my ability to read with a more objective eye?

Frederick Buechner’s words in “The Dwarves in the Stable,” an excerpt from his autobiographical Telling Secrets hit me hard, especially now that they were so personal to me. In it he discussed a time in his life when his daughter was dangerously anorexic and how trapped he felt in his fear. He compared himself to C. S. Lewis’ dwarves who cannot accept the food and drink offered by the lion Aslan (of the Chronicles of Narnia) because they are so afraid that they cannot see love when it is offered.

“Perfect love casteth out fear,” John writes (1 John 4:18), and the other side of that is that fear like mine casteth out love, even God’s love. The love I had for my daughter was lost in the anxiety I had for my daughter.

This time I really got what he meant when he stated, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.” Maybe it was the daughter part—which I now understand to my core having lived something similar—but somehow in earlier days I hadn’t connected with how fear—of anything—drives out God’s love. Maybe all fear for me pales compared to the fear for a loved one’s life.

Oh, the darkness was always in the stories but now I know fear much more personally. Unlike Buechner, though, apparently I have not done enough of the hard work of putting aside my fear in order to receive the love freely given to me.

That God’s love is greater than fear and darkness is a lesson I seem to have forgotten. As I once read those stories from a place of innocence and light, my bigger task now seems to be re-learning to see the light that is also in all those stories—and all around me.

Fear not, indeed. And so I renew my search for light—and continue listening for God.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

There are no guarantees when raising children, no matter how hard you try to do the “right” things for them—for some families, getting those children to adulthood leaves behind plenty of scar tissue for all involved. For the most part you try to move forward despite the scars. Then something is said or happens that is like a spark to the tinder that is your buried emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and whatever else connects you to the pain.

From personal experience, I understand my children are not easy to help, so I do have some empathy for those educators and mental health professionals who worked with them. However, I’d have appreciated receiving empathy back from more of them. It’s hard enough to deal with challenging situations with your kids without encountering people whose presumptions get in the way of resolution—when the people in the helping professions turn the problems back at parents based on what they assume is true, we parents feel very alone and begin to lose trust in finding answers from professionals.

For example, just because one of the big problems facing educators today is uninvolved families or families who do not support those in authority does not mean that every student having difficulty fitting into a school system has that problem.

Two of the closest friends I met through PTA and school accountability committees also raised boys every bit as beat up by their school days as my boy is. Again those families had two parents in the home, regular family dinner times, attendance at church, expectations that they would respect authority, and parents who volunteered with the schools and participated in the community activities. In our own ways, we were the Ward and June Cleavers of our generation. We were the families whose kids should have fit like gloves into the schools, but did not. And when our families turned to the schools for help, we were rebuffed. Of course, we also looked to outside help—paying for counselors and tutors—but first received few answers from the schools and little empathy. Each (now) young man and his family continue their educational struggles to this day.

Our son’s troubles began in grade school while our family was dealing with his grandfather’s terminal cancer. Those troubles never went away, but we did keep searching for solutions. High school found him older, but us not much wiser about dealing with his difficulties or how to work in partnership with the school.

Despite having read the 27-page educational analysis report our son had received after costly consultation with a trusted local university, the special education director at our son’s high school asked him questions such as, “Do you want to be here? Don’t you think you should do your work?” Nothing the report said or that his experienced tutors said in 504 accommodation meetings ever changed the school’s willingness to follow the university’s suggestions.

And for us, “Do you check the school’s online system often to see if he’s turned in his work?” Of course, she knew the answer—the system recorded logins. We had stopped checking frequently because the data was updated too infrequently for us to base consequence decisions on what we saw. Besides, why did she think we spent money out of our pocket to have his abilities/difficulties assessed? Partly because we wanted to see if some knowledge could help him to keep up with his work better.

Meanwhile, while our family life had become more and more disruptive due to the homework battles waged with our son as we tried to be responsible parents who supported the school, our daughter was falling apart. She did her work—and worried about her twin brother. She tried just as hard not to cause any more trouble in our family. Add in one grandmother on her way to becoming lost to Alzheimer’s and our girl became one sad kid. Did the family conflict and her grandmother’s illness cause her depression or did her biology exacerbate the problems?

What I do know is that when she was finally hospitalized for those problems it was hard to find mental health professionals who really attempted to recognize the role of biology within her difficulties. So much focus from them fell on the family. My kid didn’t do chemicals or sneak out of the house, but was treated as if her depression were a form of rebellion and we were treated as if we were just too stupid to see that she was lying to us—just as all the other kids did. We tried so hard to complete the prescribed family counseling (20 weeks or so) but finally stopped when we realized it was making things worse for everyone. I could have understood if they taught us and her to work with her biology but the program acted as if biology had little to do with her problems.

What did I learn from these experiences with schools and mental health treatment? First of all, that too many professionals believe that a one-size-fits-all approach works for all. And, secondly, that if it doesn’t then the problems stem from the family.

So, we muddle on on our own. Thankfully, we have met helpful educators, disability coordinators, tutors, student services advisors, and counselors along the way—I thank them with all my heart.

But to those who questioned our devotion, just know that if we could have made our kids fit better into the world just by trying, it would have happened. Please stop blaming the families who seem to have been dealt more challenging cards than others—so many of us are trying so much harder than you’ll ever know. Somehow the systems also need to try harder to figure out how to help those who don’t fit the molds.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

You know my messy table isn’t really the problem—it’s just an obvious sign that deep down all is not well with my soul.

This is one of those years when I can’t talk myself into seeing the happy endings—or at least the unhappy endings that lead to deeper understanding and long-term happier endings. No matter what I said about wanting to be done with talking about unhappy topics, I am not. I can’t will myself to come up with the neat and happy moral of the story that will tie up a less-than-hope-filled post.

Although I’m feeling a bit like George Bailey on the bridge, I’m not looking to jump into the river. No, I just want to take that suitcase I bought with happy travels in mind—and run—anywhere that isn’t where I’ve been.

You see, I know God is hearing my prayers, but I’m having a hard time saying them. The good thing about God is He hears the prayers that have sunk so deep within us that we can’t even use our voices to speak them—they become so much a part of us that they rise from our very pores.

If nothing else, perhaps He’ll send me a bumbling Clarence to show me a better path than the one I am on.

Sometimes no amount of research or any continued pursuit for new solutions can fix a problem. And you especially can’t make someone else choose to see the hope in their situation if they prefer to see only loss.

You’re probably thinking I must be talking about myself, right? See, that’s the irony, isn’t it? So easy to see how to solve someone else’s problem, but then you look in the mirror and realize that maybe you’re so busy trying to solve someone else’s problem because it makes it easy not to be responsible for solving your own problems.

The years of trying to help others with celiac disease, dementia, depression, and ADD have taken their toll on me. I’m fresh out of perky solutions that are always met with a big “but”—because after all I have no idea how bad it is for someone else.

Well, the truth is they don’t know how bad it has been for me to watch them suffer. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and remove the problem. Would be much better than searching for other possible solutions that will never be good enough because the only solution the person really wants is to wake up completely healed.

They also don’t know how much I’ve suffered watching them refuse to consider anything but Plan A when I would fight to find them Plan B through Plan Infinity to aid in their movements forward. This week I realize I’m done being the pep squad. All that energy spent helping those who at this point won’t help themselves is making me feel like a failure. I know I am not—I tried, as God is my witness, I tried. Maybe I tried so hard that they didn’t think they needed to do so. But in the end all any of us really can do is help ourselves.

And during all those times of caregiving, I did not help myself. In some ways it’s just not possible to take care of yourself in the midst of others’ crises, but in other ways you have to be careful not to see any results as the only proof that what you did mattered. Some problems can’t be fixed despite anyone’s best efforts.

And so, I need a Clarence to come show me how I helped even if I could not beat back the demons of the diseases. I need to know that without me this place would have become a Potterville. Maybe I have a bit of a savior complex, but, by God, I’d like to know that sacrificing my potential trips around the world made some difference to others.

But short of that, the only thing I can control is the direction of my own footsteps in the future. A future where I stop trying to find solutions for everyone else and start looking for my own regardless of who is coming along with me on the trip.

Clarence, are you ready to earn your wings? Then help me climb down from this bridge so I can pack my suitcase for the trip of my lifetime.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

My grandfather was a man’s man. From my youngest days he used words in everyday conversations that I was never allowed to say, kept his refrigerator stocked with beer, and played pool almost daily with his cronies at the Elks where he tended the “gentlemen’s” bar into his 80s. But every winter when the light turned low in Nebraska, he got restless. I think he had what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Well, I’ve said it before, but I will probably declare it each and every year once Black Friday arrives: I am an Advent person. Advent is the church season preceding the Light coming into this world at Christmas. Advent is all about waiting with expectation and hope for the light that will brighten our days—and our nights. But we are not a world much into waiting these days.

In an era when our culture seems to be experiencing an extended period of SAD—global economic uncertainties, financial difficulties in our own homes and neighborhoods, political stalemates and hostilities, and a real absence of long-term feelings of hope—shortening our Thanksgiving celebrations to jostle in lines to get those shiny new big screen TVs and other devices that run on light is not going to provide long-term light therapy.

No, what we need in these darkest of days is to turn to the true light from true light.

Advent—not this too early, too long, and too lacking in Christ-centered way of celebrating Christmas—is what is lacking in our collective focus.

Even though I am also tempted to forget to seek that true light, my own personal needs have again brought me to my knees. While my grandfather experienced winter blues, most likely my grandmother suffered depression during even the sunniest of days, just as my daughter does. These seasonal changes hit us all, but are often darker for those who struggle with darkness year round.

So I ask for prayers from friends both close and far away, as well as try to pray without ceasing myself. I pray for her, but also I pray for discernment and ideas, as well as for those people, professional and otherwise, who can help her.

What can we do besides pray to reduce the darkness? For one, we got her a light therapy box. Crazy, but the blue lights remind me of Advent and its liturgical color of blue.

We sent her back to college with that box, so our own access to that type of light therapy will have to wait, but for me, light therapy also comes in the lyrics I’ve learned from my choir songs. When darkness overwhelms me so much that I can’t even rest in the peace of sleep, those words arrive unbidden to voice the hope I do not always feel.

I like to think God is telling me to look to Him for the light, while pointing us to resources and support. And, so, in this quiet Advent period (well, in our house anyway) I ask Him to help me to wait, knowing He will in His time dispel the night—and SADness will flee away.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This past Sunday our church members lighted candles honoring those living with mental illness. Once upon a time, I would debate with myself whether ADHD was mental illness enough to justify lighting a candle. I know it is, but as much a part as it played in our lives, we seemed to have a reasonably functional family life.

Now that we know how a family can be changed by major depression, there’s no question we need God’s guidance as well as prayers—I don’t debate about lighting candles anymore.

While acting to ignite a wick is a choice, I don’t always have such a choice over which songs pop up unbidden in my head. As I’ve mentioned before, songs stick with me easily—whether or not I want them to do so. Maybe it’s the years of running, when a good rhythm can help keep me on pace or when I’ve even used the time to memorize songs. More likely it’s just one of the quirks of my brain—with a mother like mine, no doubt I began hearing music while still in the womb—before I ever saw this world, let alone walked or ran a step.

Raised on music, but fascinated by words, how can I help but be drawn to the combination?

Though memorization isn’t my strong point, words and notes start to sink into my brain when heard in tandem. Even then, I’m more likely to paraphrase than to store everything just as heard or read.

Seeing all those candles lighted by people who also must know mental illness too well stirred up songs and lyrics again for me. I wonder, how many, like my daughter and me, get hung up in the wrong part of The Fray’s “You Found Me” lyrics?

Where were you when everything was falling apart, all my days were spent by a telephone that never rang and all I needed was a call that never came . . .

Still, much of the music in my head comes from hymns and songs absorbed over years singing in church. Since I don’t have many bible verses memorized, often the biblical words I do access come from those songs. Now that I’m back in a choir, I have added more songs and words available to me in random moments.

My favorite bible verse—which I mostly have memorized—is Micah 6:8b: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? And yet, I had never really paid attention to the previous verses until singing them—or not singing them, as it often turns out when my throat stops my song mid-note. Micah 6:7b asks: Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

I know that verse 8 declares no child nor living being must be sacrificed, but then why must my daughter be set upon with feeling so abandoned by my God—the God she felt so clearly as a child yet now wonders where He is. While she questions how He can be her God, I often fall to anger, asking how He could do this to my child, my firstborn, to whom he has given many gifts yet seemingly not the gift of believing that who she is matters to Him and to so many others in this world. Once again, I am stuck on the wrong section of the lyrics.

Just as Micah’s words tell me that God has shown me what is good, The Fray also sings:

You found me lying on the floor, surrounded . . .

I only have to look at all those candles to know that God has surrounded me with others lifting up my family. When we ask where God is, we need to look around us. Just because the healing we want doesn’t happen as we want doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. If we can’t hear Him calling on the telephone, maybe we’re looking for the wrong Caller ID. Everyone walking humbly with us is walking humbly with God. In the end, God doesn’t have to find us because He is always with us—and in all those who walk beside us in our darkest days.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I’ve been down before, heck I’m most likely down now thanks to assorted losses, but that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to have major depression. What I’ve experienced is more that feeling where you hit a bad spot, but you keep problem-solving or trying different things to feel better. You know, you believe that “someday” you will feel better, even if you don’t have a clue when that someday will be.

Major depression, however, seems closer to not believing in that someday.

And as much as I don’t know what that’s like for me, I do know what it sounds like in my daughter. When someone you love has fallen into the abyss of major depression, you just can’t give them platitudes such as “just deal with it” or let them experience every natural consequence of their actions.

To each person who tells me to relax and let her get herself through this blue period, there is this gut response that tells me we can’t afford to see if that will work—the potential cost is just too high—and Sherman agrees.

Until we’d walked with her on this path before, I would have thought they—especially the experts—were right.

This time she didn’t cry for help as early. You see, she’s older and wiser, which may actually mean she is deeper into depression this bout because of the coping skills she has gained over the past few years.

So why, during this period in her life, is this the semester she is studying The Bell Jar? What is purely literary or a treatise on various aspects of society in a time and place long past becomes something more to those who identify too well with the narrator’s thoughts. I’m an English major, for goodness’ sake, but this book has long since moved from the academic to the personal for me—and I still don’t really “get” what Plath is saying in the same way my daughter does.

While I did what I could to get her connected with help within the university, I cannot assume it is enough, even if we’ve been really blessed to encounter caring, knowledgeable professionals—and believe me, after our previous experiences with her depression, we do not trust someone just because of a title or supposed experience. Still, at a time when I do not live where my daughter does, it helps me to have these contacts who can reach out to her if she stops reaching out to them or those closest to her.

Constant vigilance—despite the cost for me. Yes, this is supposed to be my time—to either move on to what’s next or at least to mourn my losses—but I no longer feel this discord with our daughter is something personal or natural to this age in her life.

No, I believe major depression is talking for her, drowning out the sounds of possibility and hope that do exist in the midst of all that seems so hard right now. The good she minimizes while amplifying the bad.

I must fight for the someday of her feeling better while her defenses are down, even as I and others direct her to believe that she can fight for herself. Someday can’t come soon enough—especially for her.

And so, I also pray without ceasing all the day long.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Lately I’ve been seeing stickers on cars that read “Who rescued who?” Of course, first I have to correct the grammar—“whom” I shout—but I still know what the sticker means, thanks to every dog I’ve ever had in my adult years besides Furgus, the puppy.

Just Monday our foster dachshund crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. We don’t know how old he was, but when the rescue group found him emaciated and wandering the streets three years ago, they thought he was twelve. Despite his sketchy background and his pronounced health problems, he lived a full lifespan.

We weren’t being totally altruistic when we let him come to our house—in fact, Christiana was convinced having a small dog, specifically a dachshund, was an anecdote to the sadness she felt late at night when Fordham, our love sponge of an English Springer Spaniel, had retired to his cushion for a long night’s sleep. And though Sherman and I weren’t looking for another dog—especially a small dog—we were in favor of anything positive that would help her through the night.

Besides, he wasn’t supposed to be our forever dog. According to the rescue group, we were just supposed to have him for a week or two. But the economy hit dogs and rescue groups hard—our contacts with the group became fewer and fewer, until we knew we must be his forever family—how could we break a heart again that had already been so broken?.

(c) 2010

Although he never won over the jealous Fordham, he did worm his way into the rest of our hearts, even if he could only give so much love before he seemed to need to retreat. Christiana was disappointed in that, but she understood brokenness enough to love him still.

I would not have chosen to bring home a dog with a small dog bladder or an enlarged heart. I had dealt with hypothyroidism in dogs before, but not in this era of constant expensive blood tests and not with a dog with such a resistant thyroid function—he ended up taking almost as much thyroid medication as I do even though his weight was about 90% lower than mine. And, I had never even heard of the dog lice that apparently arrived with him and required expensive treatments for both him and Fordham.

And, yet, there was something about how jaunty his short-legged run was every time we returned home. He liked us; he really did, just in a very different manner than a spaniel does.

(c) 2010

When Christiana left for college, he became our responsibility—a responsibility we had never pursued. But both dogs—not just “our” dog—were our comfort in those days when we learned to live and thrive in our empty nest.

Though Fordham’s possessive behavior and big dog klutzy ways made Abel nervous, he never stopped wanting to share his company. When Fordham’s final illness became evident, even Abel seemed stressed.

For about six weeks after Fordham was gone, when Abel’s thyroid level was ideal, he seemed just a little younger and a little more relaxed. If Christiana had not brought him into our home a couple years earlier, we would have really felt the emptiness of our arms after losing my mother and Fordham one after the other. Abel settled into the stillness that was that time and took care of us.

We are essentially people who crave the chaos and over-the-top love that comes from English Springer Spaniels, but we will always be grateful to Abel for helping us through our dark spring.

When I returned from my puppy fever road trip, I saw how much Abel had aged and just how late it was for him. I prayed he would not be too stressed by the newest family members and that we still had a few more months with him.

(c) 2011

In the end, Abel was a guy who rolled with life, accepting Furgus and Sam into what was now his home—and even acting a little envious of their young limbs and ability to play together. I’m so glad that Furgus calmed down enough in Abel’s last few weeks to begin napping and sleeping with Abel, giving him a closeness he had craved with Fordham but never experienced.

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert


Abel required a lot of care in these past four months or so, but what I want to remember is his joy on car rides as he got to sit on my lap while the big dogs were confined, the excitement he showed on our mountain camping trip, or how happy he looked when he accompanied the boys on their walks—from the seat of a converted baby umbrella stroller. He longed to be part of a pack and to the end, he was.

Crossing over was hard work for him, but he did it here—in his forever home—with us all under the same roof.

In a year of so much loss, I know who rescued whom, even though loving him also added to my losses.


Today’s my birthday and I’m getting a pretty big present: my daughter.

What a difference a year makes. We took both kids to college—six and a half hours away—in late August. The distance is just a little too far away for many weekend visits and when they do come home during the school year, they really aren’t in town for much longer than 36 hours. Their physical absence from home was pretty complete.

And yet, kids today communicate differently than we did. It’s hard to cut the apron strings when you can be in constant contact through texting, chat, and e-mail.

Those first weeks, Christiana found herself in a less than warm dorm situation while Jackson was having the social time of his life. Although she had plenty of time to call us, I knew she needed to be connecting with her life there and that I wasn’t supposed to be trying to solve all her problems from a distance.

Most of us find it hard to let go of our kids these days, but even agreeing to have her go to school so far away was difficult for me after her dance with depression.

I tried to set up her medical care through the college’s counseling center, but they bungled the care enough that neither she nor we trusted them to come through for her. Continuing to work with longtime trusted providers so far away from where she was living was only slightly better than having no providers at all.

Just when things seemed darkest for her, Christiana figured out—on her own—what she needed to do to integrate better into college. She found a roommate who was living in her brother’s dorm building. Won’t go in to the whole long story, but that place became home.

Which—unfortunately for us—meant she, like her brother, stopped talking with us much.

I know our kids are supposed to separate from us at this point in life, but here’s where I go back to sounding like that really old-timer again. Really, kids today do communicate differently. Because they can contact you at all hours, they don’t contact you regularly. I know from talking with parents that I’m not the only parent who has this problem with their college-aged kids.

Despite being able to talk almost at will thanks to today’s technology, we just don’t. Or at least our kids can’t slow down enough to talk with us during the normal waking hours for middle-aged parents. I think my kids were more disconnected from me than I was from my parents for my three months studying in Spain. We talked once for five minutes, but wrote very detailed letters.

When you only hear from your kids when they are in crisis, you don’t know if they are in a constant state of crisis or if they are only having a bad moment. You lose the connection with what’s going right in their lives and you can’t say whether your perspective on what’s going wrong is very accurate.

Christiana interviewed for and was offered a full-time summer job at school. Although we wanted her to come home, earning for four solid months seemed a pretty good opportunity during these times of high unemployment for young people.

Despite the fact we helped her get set up for staying the summer and then moved her to her new apartment, we just felt distant from her. Without a whole lot of communication or time together, she seemed to be someone we didn’t know anymore.

Meanwhile Jackson came home. He’s been here for almost two months. Even though he rarely called us while away at college, being around him in person has been a joy.

Something just didn’t feel right about Christiana’s being gone still—maybe it’s too soon for this separation, maybe the situation wasn’t right—but when she explained why she’d like to come home, things finally felt right. After working another couple weeks, today’s the day we welcome her back into our home.

Although we haven’t been empty nesters since Jackson returned, it’s still going to be a big adjustment to have everyone in one house. All I know is though I was ready for her to go away to college, I wasn’t ready to feel so far removed from her life.

Welcome back, dear one! Time to create a new normal in our changing relationship.

Happy birthday to me.

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