And Then Grief Shows Up –

The one thing I’ve noticed on my morning commute train route is that every once in a while, a beautiful white birch tree pops up along the way. This reminds me of that morning about 4 years ago when I walked into my mom’s apartment and found her sitting up in bed looking out at the beautiful white birches just outside of her window (the ones pictured above). As she usually was still asleep whenever I would arrive, her being awake threw me off.

“I’m trying to figure out how to tell my friends why I don’t drive,” she said.

I went and sat next to her while she recounted that morning she had a tia (transient ischemic attack) while driving my dad to an appointment. She told him she wasn’t feeling well. “Pull over!” He said. But there was so much traffic, and it was moving so rapidly that she couldn’t. So she pulled into the middle turning lane (they were on a very busy road in Florida) and just sat there.

Initially, when dad told me this story, he said they sat in the turning lane for about 10 minutes. But as mom recounted it to me that morning four years ago, she said it was more like 45. In a turning lane, with the engine off and the hazards on for 45 minutes.

Mom said that at the 30-minute mark, she felt better and thought she was okay to go. But dad said, “no, let’s wait,” so they sat there for another 15 minutes before turning around and heading back home.

As an ER nurse, my mom had that “we’ll get through it” mentality that most of my ER buds have. But as she sat next to me in bed, staring out of the window at the white birch trees, she quietly said, “I never wanted to drive after that; I’d never be able to forgive myself if I ever hurt anyone.” So my brother and I did all the driving, and when she returned to Rhode Island, she had additional help from our friends.

Here are my points:

1. It’s so cool when you see that compassionate side of an ER nurse (retired or not) show up like that (yeah, that one – the one that’s buried underneath the 90 mph “we got this” mentality).

2. Even after four years, grief has a way of showing up – a little more gently, in the form of a white birch seen from the window of a train on a cold, rainy November morning – not as overwhelming, a little more reflective – but with the memories and insights that go with it. No matter where you are – work, home, or venturing out and about- sometimes grief will just show up and catch you off guard.

My suggestion is not to push it away but to be mindful of it so that you can navigate through it and cope accordingly.

My favorite books on grief are here:

  1. It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand
  2. Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss
  3. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One (A Compassionate Grief Recovery Book)
  4. The Sad Dragon: A Dragon Book About Grief and Loss. A Cute Children Story To Help Kids Understand The Loss Of A Loved One, and How To Get Through Difficult Time.
  5. Grief Journal for Kids: Guided Prompts for Processing Grief & Finding Emotional Healing

Question: How do you handle those unexpected moments of grief that show up for you?

Full Moon – Mt. Hope

I kept hearing about the upcoming full moon and thought it would be great to get out and take some photos. This is the Mt. Hope Bridge from the Bristol, Rhode Island side. I love how the reflections from the light of the moon add texture to the water and the lights coming off of the bridge. This photo was taken around midnight so the decreased lack of traffic and stillness of the water definitely made for a peaceful adventure.

I Had A Feeling We Were Being Watched

S.A.Leys Photo “Don’t Fence Me In”

I woke up early the other morning; a result of my cat informing me that it was time for her to have food and some fresh air. I sat up in bed and looked outside. The view was amazing. It was one of those days that’s great for a photographer – early morning sunlight throwing shadows all over the place. The birds in the trees greeting each other. The plants in the small park outside of my window drenched with color.

Yes, Callie received her food, a nice hug and an explanation of where I was going as I grabbed my camera and headed out the door. About a half hour later, one of my friends joined me (it was such a beautiful day – I decided to wake people up) and we went for a stroll down one of our favorite alleys where the neighbors take great care of their gardens and back yards. I took photo after photo as we walked along – admiring and colors and texture of the day.

As we came to the end of the alley, my friend said “I feel like we’re being watched”. As I felt that same way, we stopped and looked in the yards and then at the very bottom of the fence that was in front of us. It’s where we found this guy – vigilantly watching our every move. He didn’t bark, instead he just watched us silently as we walked along. For an instant, I thought of reaching down and petting his cute little scruffy head but then I thought it would be better not to as we hadn’t been officially introduced and I wasn’t sure if there would be a ruckus. So we continued on our journey after telling him how cute he was and what a good guy he was for guarding the fort.

I’m not a dog owner but I love how loyal and friendly they are. We have a lot of them in our community and we’ve gotten to know them so well that every time we see them, we greet the dog first and then the owner (Pretty sure they don’t appreciate that but it’s always good to see both of them!).

A few of them are pictured below:

Take Paws for pets!!

Endangered Florida Manatees

I remember when I first saw a Florida Manatee – I had been walking along a street that overlooks the Intercoastal Waterway close to my parents home. I heard what sounded like a snorting sound similar to an old man who was about to “hack a loogie” as my friends say. The glitch was that when I turned around to see the old man, there wasn’t one. There wasn’t anyone nearby and in looking I realized I was the only one on the street.

Until I saw the fin come out of the water – about 50 feet out into the bay. I stopped and watched as the snorting continued and then realized I was looking at a Manatee. As there were two or three of them together, I grabbed my phone and took this video (above).

Manatees are an endangered species that need to be protected. If you are near one, please be careful (especially if you’re in a boat as they frequently swim very close to the surface of the water).

A Walk In the Woods

Last weekend, a friend of mine and I took a walk in the woods to see the bluebells blooming nearby. It was fantastic to walk along the path and see the gazillions of beautiful periwinkel blue flowers as we walked along.

Don’t you just love Spring?

I sure do, with the beautiful blues of the bluebells and the brighter sky above and the greens in the leaves of the trees as they start to bloom. The birds are awake at 3:00 in the morning singing up a storm before heading down the street for coffee and giving us all a few more hours to sleep in before the day comes to a full start.

Bluebells Along The Path – S.A. Leys Photography

There was something about looking back at the bluebells along the path and then looking over at the stream and hearing the flow of the water and how soothing it all was. Videos like the one above have a nice way of calming “life”. As I started to record, I realized that I could have recorded for about 10 minutes instead of just one. But it’s nice to have the video to refer back to whenever life become stressful and you just need a minute of beautiful, soothing calmness. – Enjoy.

Bluebells – S.A. Leys Photography

I Love The Winter Weather

Spring is slowly coming but I still love the winter weather. Last week we had a few inches of snow that fell early in the morning. It was nice to go out and just sit and watch the snow fall. There’s something about how quiet it is – early in the morning when the only thing you can hear are the snow plows pushing snow off the streets so everyone in our village can get to work.

As I sat there and watched them, I thought of the days I used to go skiing when I was younger. At the end of the day, before my last run, I’d stand at the top of the trail and look over the mountains and the snow on the branches of the trees. It was just as pretty as the picture above.

A Legacy; A Quilt


I still feel nauseous when I think about it.

Two years ago, when my mom died, the assisted living facility where she lived gave me 30 days to pack her belongings and move them out of her small apartment. As much as it seemed like 30 days was a long time, it wasn’t. As we had relocated to New England from Florida, a few months prior, some boxes remained unpacked as we struggled with the transition. I felt like I had completely lost my sense of “home” and couldn’t imagine how, at 86, she must have felt during this challenging transition.

But I realized I just needed to stay in her room at the assisted living place and finish everything while we also planned a memorial service for her and my dad. Some boxes were easy. Sometimes, I knew immediately what to keep and what to donate. Other times, when I would open a closet or a drawer or look at a picture, I felt the immense sorrow and grief that went with missing mom.

Every time I opened the door to her closet and looked at her clothes, I felt sick. My sadness went on for another week and became more uncomfortable until I knew I had to do something because I was running out of time.

I took all of her clothes out of the closet and separated the ones I could donate from the ones I knew I needed to keep because of all of the memories they carried with them. Slowly and meticulously, I went through piles and piles of clothes.

When people die, I heard that there are websites listed on the internet where you can make quilts out of clothes. As I skimmed from site to site looking, they all seemed robotic and impersonal. When I told one of the staff members at the assisted living place that I was thinking about this, she said: “I have a relative who makes quilts.. all by hand.. they’re beautiful; let me ask her”.

A few days later, she returned with a phone number and said, “she hasn’t made a lot of quilts but would be willing to help you; just call her.”

So as I sat on mom’s bed among the piles of clothes, I called her and introduced myself and asked her about her willingness to help me with a quilt. She agreed and told me about the quilts she would be able to make and asked: “are her clothes dark colors?”.

I looked around at the piles of (mostly) shirts alongside me. “No,” I told her, “there are mostly bright colors; mom loved bright colors.” I hadn’t realized how bright the colors were, or how distinct some of the patterns were. But as I looked at them, my memories came flooding back. I saw the shirt she had on when we sat on the back deck of the boat cooking dinner as we looked out over the harbor in Block Island, and then one she was wearing more recently when we cruised around the neighborhood in our golf cart in Florida. I saw the one she was wearing when we sat together on a bench eating lunch as we looked out over the intercoastal waterway watching the dolphins. That shirt was a “must-have” in the quilt because of how beautiful that day was. Looking at the pile of clothes and remembering those days, I realized that, as sad as I felt, everything would eventually be okay. I wasn’t sure, I felt a little better, but I still really missed mom.

Mom and I with the “must have” shirt that I needed to have included into her quilt because of how wonderful this day was. The day I taught her how to take a “selfie” – best day ever!

“What should I do with the remainder of the clothes that I use or the ones that I don’t?” she asked. “Keep them,” I said definitively. I couldn’t explain why but the thought of some of mom’s bright colors going into making a quilt for another person – another family, seemed like a perfect idea.

Aristotle once said “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” I felt that spreading all of the bright and dark materials, colors, and textures that mom wore broadened the perspective she brought to us all. When I ended my conversation with my new quilter friend, the intense sadness I felt became a little more manageable.

A friend had told me about a “fluff and fold” place about a mile away, so the next morning, I filled two large duffle bags with the clothes for the quilts and dropped them off. A few days later, when they were ready, I took them to FedEx and sent them to my new favorite Quilter in Virginia.

There were only two additional emails from the Quilter which followed our initial call. When she asked about an idea for a pattern, I sent her a photo I had of a quilt that mom’s grandmother had made for her. When we discussed size, I told her that a 60-inch by 60-inch quilt would be perfect and asked if she could make two of them, one for my brother and one for myself. I also told her to take her time as I wasn’t in a rush and knew that our loss’s most difficult memories were in good hands.

Six months later, I received an email informing me that our quilts were ready and on their way to my home in New Hampshire.

“I hope you like them,” she wrote.

Since sending her the two duffle bags of clothes, I had consistently thought the day I received them would be like Christmas morning. I knew I would receive a beautiful gift but had no idea how they would look.

They would be sent by a woman I’ve never met, who had agreed to preserve the legacy of someone she has never met whom I loved very much. Sometimes the world is impressive.

The quilts arrived in October. It was precisely like Christmas morning, and I couldn’t help but stare at them because of how beautiful they were (and are). I took pictures and sent them to friends as I was so impressed with the result. The hand stitching was lovely, as was the juxtaposition of color and texture in the materials used.

I told one of my friends, “it feels like I’m looking at a legacy in color and texture.” I remembered that poem, “The Dash,” about the quality of your life from when you are born until the time you die but in the form of the colors, textures, and fabric we wear.

When I think of all of the decisions I’ve made since mom died, having our two quilts made is one I will never regret. I challenge you to consider where your thoughts go the next time someone mentions the importance of “living your dash.” If you’re like me, maybe the subsequent thoughts you have will be more related to colors, texture, and the time you had that shirt on when you did that thing that you remember because it was such a great time.

Live your life; foster your legacy.

5:00am Wake Up Call

This photo was taken at around 5:00 in the morning in the summer of 2009. We (Mom and Dad who are sound asleep in the v-birth up forward) and I are on the boat in New Harbor, Block Island. Trey has decided that every morning he is going to wake up (around 4 and jump on my bunk because he wants to go outside to circumnavigate and perform a full inspection of the boat before anyone else wakes up).

The glitch here (and every morning that he does this) is that it’s very hard to open the sliders on the back of the boat without waking anyone else up. You sort of have to lift them – and then slide quietly to give Trey the space he needs – and then keep an eye on him because he’s walking around the boat without his little kitty life jacket on.

If all goes according to plan – Mom and Dad will remain asleep until (about an hour from this time) – Mr “Andiamo…Andiamooooh!” Aldo’s bakery delivery service – will come singing loudly in his boat while he delivers fresh baked goods to everyone anchored in da hahbah. This is the point he (loud singing guy who is somehow related to Aldo) will wake up dad who will mumble “oh jeez – that guy” and thus our day will begin.

I miss those days – and the challenge of keeping everything quiet until this point knowing that with Trey, all bets were usually off.

Not A Selfie – An Us-ie

“Usie” / S.A.Leys Photo

Teaching my mom to do a “selfie” or in this case, an “usie”. It’s almost been two years since she died and I miss her a lot. This is one of my favorite photos – not only because of how great she looks (and her smile) but how priceless it was that we got to spend the time with each other that we did.

A few months after she died, I went to Acadia National Park / Cadillac Mountain where she and my dad had brought my brother and I when we were little. I found myself getting frustrated as so many people were taking selfies that I went up to as many people as I could and said “please – can I take that picture for you?” thinking it’s always better to have arms around each other than it is to have them outstretched in front of you.

I took photos of over 25 families that day. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces.

And who wouldn’t love seeing a view like this with the people they love the most?

Enjoy your families this holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone.

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