book review, Compassionate Friends, grief, Heal Your Grief, Uncategorized

September Vaudrey coming to Dubuque, Iowa


colors of goodbye
“This book is beautifully written. I have to admit, having a 19-year-old artist daughter myself, I spent the majority of time reading this book with tears streaming down my face. I even sobbed through a couple sections. That said, I’ve been through tremendous loss myself, so it was a cathartic read. Though I’ve never lost a child, reading Vaudrey’s story helped me understand my daughter’s terrible loss. We all loved our Jacob, but for a mother to lose her child is heart-rending. Still, Vaudrey manages to give hope and light to a topic that needs to be talked about. Her daughter Katie was a beautiful soul, and her mother does her and the topic of the loss of a child justice.”- from my June 13, 2016 Goodreads review

The author, September Vaudrey, will be speaking Friday, November 2, on “Boulders Leave Craters,” as part of the Heal Your Grief retreat at Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque, Iowa. Those who wish to hear her speak do not need to sign up for the entire retreat weekend, but can pick and choose from a roster of speakers and workshops. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite Heal Your Grief. 


Finding light (and a bicycle) in the darkness

Q. How many widows does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. One. It just takes one widow, but she needs to make the effort to get out the ladder, and climb to the top of it, or ask for help.

For six months, the downstairs hallway remained dark. It had been even longer for the upstairs hallway. It was something my husband David had always taken care of, and for whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten around to replacing the lightbulbs. Nor had I asked my sons to perform the simple chore, or mentioned it to my two youngest daughters who still lived with me. Instead, we learned to work around the darkness. I’d leave the upstairs bathroom light on in the evening so we could find our way up the otherwise darkened stairwell, and if we needed something out of the downstairs closet, we’d just prop open the bathroom door across that hallway, and turn on the light to illuminate the dark depths of the closet. In other words, we adapted to the darkness.
Then during one of her Sunday visits, my older daughter Rachel offered to help me clean out a cabinet I hadn’t touched since her Dad’s death. While transferring some things to the hallway closet, she asked why the light switch wasn’t working. When I sheepishly admitted that it wasn’t the switches, but the lightbulbs, her younger sister Katie gasped in astonishment.
“You mean all this time the hallway lights worked, and you just needed to replace the lightbulbs? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought they were broken.”
I mumbled something about a fear of falling off ladders, but the truth was, I had no real explanation as to why I hadn’t changed the light bulbs. Within minutes, my two daughters had located the ladder and climbed up to replace both bulbs. When they flipped the switches on, the hallways were illuminated with brightness for the first time in months. We no longer had to live in the shadows.

The first year of widowhood was much the same for me. A light inside of me had gone out with the death of my husband. It was as if I’d lost all joy. The reality was that I got used to living that way. For a long time, the fog of grief permeated everything. I felt wrapped in a cloak of sadness. Initially, I’d feel guilt with my rare burst of laughter. I’d wonder if I’d ever truly feel joy again. Just as the bathroom light illuminated the dark closet, there were brief moments when I’d catch a glimpse of brightness. But for the most part, I adjusted to living in the dark night of the soul.
Like the simple lightbulb I’d put off replacing, I discovered there were things I could do to bring lightness back into my life. Allowing for contemplative silence and prayer helped. So did reading devotionals or books written by those who had gone down the grief road before me. Finding a support system in a Bible study was important, and so was writing and journaling. It wasn’t just one of these things, but a combination of all of them that brought me to a place of healing five years out. I’d had access to the lightbulbs, or the tools of healing all along. We all do. We just need to discover what works best for us.
Representing just how far I’ve come, last week it was me who climbed the ladder to change the smoke alarm battery that had begun beeping.
And today, the day after the 5th anniversary of my husband’s death, and on what would have been his 66th birthday, I bought myself a bicycle.

Like the lightbulbs, I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t purchased a new one two years ago when I desperately needed it, but David had picked out my last bicycle, and each time I’d looked at them, I felt incapable of completing the task. I’d walk away, empty-handed, feeling more alone than ever.

I was determined to accomplish two things today; finish up an essay I was working on for a Chicken Soup book, and buy a bike, and I managed to do both. The essay writing seemed appropriate. I’d been working on one about marriage the week David died, and it was my first piece published afterwards. The essay I submitted tonight was also about him.

The bike buying was surprisingly easy this time. I prayed before I went into the store, and I prayed as I stood in front of the display, but the choice was easy. It was as if I recognized it, my blue bike.

When I got home, I test-drove it to the cemetery.


butterflies, death of a spouse, grief, loss of a spouse, love

Something Blue

I stood there, transfixed, while my daughters and grand-daughter went on ahead.

blue buttrerfly display.jpg

I’d specifically chosen Waterloo as a destination for a day-trip for the newspaper. Waterloo, neighbor to the Cedar Falls area where I’d met my husband and we’d attended college.  I knew if I was given the assignment, I could cover the Grout Museum, with plenty of time left to visit the small Sunrise Zoo on the grounds of the Cattle Congress where David and I had taken our older children many times.

She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. – George Eliot

Not only has grief become my constant companion, I occasionally ask it to dance with me. To return to the small zoo and the museum where David and I had spent time together was to dance with grief; to purposely put my arms around the memories of a past I hold dear, even if that promenade might result in tears.

David would have enjoyed this, I thought as we toured the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium. He loved science. He would have loved the historical war displays, I found myself thinking as we toured the Sullivan Brothers Veterans Museum. He loved history. Even now, four and a half years after his death, I consider what David had enjoyed, what he is now missing. What I lack in his absence; a partner to walk with, talk to, hold hands with, share laughter and stolen kisses.

I may have gasped out loud when the girls and I turned a corner in the Museum of History and Science and I caught sight of the butterfly display.

Weeks before David died, he and I had shared a conversation that was unlike our usual bantering. We were in the car, talking about the opportunities that had opened up for me just in those past few months; I’d started teaching workshops and been hired to do a weekly couponing column for a newspaper. I was working on a book that I’d acquired an agent for. My husband was not only thrilled by my recent success; he truly believed there was more in store for me.

“You’re flying! This is your time to soar,” he’d often say, and I’d reply that I couldn’t do it without him; He was the wind beneath my wings.

“Would you be okay if something happened to me?” he asked that day, and I replied with a vehement no. I would not be okay. Our marriage was the best it had ever been. I was looking forward to growing old with David.

I’ll never forget the look of real fear in his eyes at my answer. Where had this come from? David was a five-year cancer survivor. He was 60 years old. We had every reason to believe we had many years together ahead of us. I hated seeing him fearful, so I hastened to reassure him I would be okay. To lighten the mood a bit, I asked him how he would show me he was okay if he did die before me. He never answered, but I told him to make sure it was “something blue” so I’d recognize it came from him.

David died unexpectedly a few weeks later, the day before his March birthday. Seven months later, in mid-October, I signed a contract for that book he’d encouraged me to write, the book that had initially been his idea, and that he believed would become a reality, despite my failure to sell it with two different agents. The day I signed the contract, I ran across the street to tell my son Dan. As he stood smiling on the porch, I noticed the most beautiful blue and black butterfly flying nearby. I stared, open-mouthed. I must have said David’s name out loud, because I remember my son shaking his head at my proclamation that his Dad was showing his approval.

Months later, at the very moment I submitted the completed manuscript for that same book, my wedding ring cracked. I clicked on SEND, heard a distinct “ping,” and felt a sharp pain in my finger. I looked down, and the ring had cracked in half.

I’ve thought about that butterfly many times since then, bemoaning my lack of a photograph. When a gray butterfly with delicate blue markings dropped out of the sleeve of my husband’s old winter coat I’d hung on the line on September 18 of that year, I’d taken a picture, distinctively disappointed that there wasn’t more blue.

butterfly with blue marks

Why hadn’t I thought then to take a picture of the extraordinary blue and black butterfly? I’ve wondered about it many times since. How rare was it, because I hadn’t seen one before, or since.

And there it was; the same kind of butterfly in the display case at the Grout Museum.

blue butterfly.jpg

I took photos while my girls waited for me further down the hall. What majesty in the wings of God’s creatures, what intricate beauty in the design of the display. A man passed by. “Someone likes my butterfly display,” he smiled, and I immediately felt as though I was in the presence of someone holy, for him to have been responsible for such beauty.

“Did you do this? Do you know how rare those blue butterflies are?” I asked.

“I think they’re very rare, but Mark Lane and his daughter collected everything in there. He’d know for sure.”

It was then I noticed the small plaque attached to the case. I snapped a picture, determined to find this Mark Lane and daughter Katie.

butterfly mark lane and daughter katie

Thanks to Facebook, I did find him, and he told me the 8-year-old daughter Katie was now 26. His answer to my question about the rarity of the species:

“That butterfly is called a blue Morpho, more specifically a Morpho Deidamia. They range from Panama to Brazil… That one is from Guyana. The only US butterfly close to that is called a red spotted purple or Limenitis arthemis.

I started crying as I read his answer, but tears of joy as I remembered that October day, and the beautiful butterfly I’d seen with the distinctive black and blue markings. I believed anew that it was a message from the man who had loved me with every fiber of his being, or from the God he now resides with. I realized I had experienced a kind of love that even death couldn’t rob me of. To see such a beautiful butterfly appear on a momentous occasion was awesome enough. But could it be that I’d seen a butterfly that wasn’t even indigenous to the United States? That would be even more remarkable.  I told this man, a stranger who no longer felt like one, my story, and asked him if he thought I could have seen it here in Iowa.

“… There is NO way that Morpho would ever be here… There are no host plants for it they are only found in tropical areas!” Then he added “But there are a LOT of things that can’t be explained!!”

There are a lot of things that can’t be explained, that’s true. I’ve experienced more than my share of remarkable experiences; the blue butterfly, the cracked ring, a Neil Diamond CD appearing in my locked vehicle, a shiny penny in a closed money box where only bills had been a moment before. I’ve made a list and it covers six notebook pages. I don’t know where these kinds of “messages” come from; the person we loved and lost, or God.

But I do know one thing; sometimes a dance with grief ends in joy.

POSTSCRIPT: (from the man responsible for the butterflies in the display, after he read this blog post and saw the butterfly that fell out of my husband’s coat) the dead butterfly in the grass is called a “Mourning Cloak”