Thursday, October 29, 2015


6 years ago today I stood before hundreds of people who knew and loved Jeanne and Mike and spoke these words.  I was surrounded by my sisters as we each took our turn to talk. I was at the most peace at that moment that I had felt since the accident.


Good morning and thank you everyone for coming to be here with our family.  Words can’t begin to describe how much we appreciate the love and support we’ve received over the last several days.  Please know that even if we have not yet been able to thank you personally we know how much our family is loved and are blessed by the prayers for us and the girls.  K and I would especially like to thank our friends and K's family for helping us get through this and taking care of our boys.  We are truly blessed to have you in our lives.

Several times during the last few days, as appointments have been made and jobs have been doled out amongst ourselves, I’ve found myself going through my head making a plan and deciding who is going to do what.  Whenever it involves us sisters together I’ve automatically thought, me, CA, Jeanne, C and S.  The five us have always been a unit.  Moving forward without Jeanne is still unbelievable.

As those of you who know us well, we are an extremely close family.  C and I joke sometimes that at times we’re in each others lives a little too much.  From E’s latest swimming achievement, to A’s broken arm to the latest antics from W and I, the family communication system goes into effect and within hours or sometimes even minutes, we all know what’s going on and a shared laugh is circulating or help is on the way. 

The family communication system is never more effective than when we are sharing the sporting lives of our kids.  And Jeanne and Mike were the ultimate sports parents, whether it was showing a good example to their kids of a healthy lifestyle with their running and biking (usually with a dog in tow and jog stroller), or cheering loudly from the sidelines or pool decks.  One of my favorite things is our Monday morning phone conversations recounting scores from the day before and how our respective little athletes had performed.  This is actually one of the only areas that I was able to give Jeanne some advice and I liked that my "big" sister would listen to me when it came to soccer and the girls.

It goes without saying that Jeanne and Mike were amazing people and parents.  Jeanne taught me how to be a mom.  She is always my go-to person with questions, from how to set up a nap schedule to what to do with fevers and homework.  She has been my lifeline.  I wouldn’t be the mother I am today without her.

But Mike and Jeanne also had their wild side.  My sons A and D love me to tell the Aunt Jeanne legend about when she ate her entire hotdog dinner before we had even said grace.  I’ll never forget the phone call mom received one Monday afternoon from the principal at O’Connell that Jeanne was in trouble for going off-campus during lunch and getting a diet coke.  When I was a senior in high school, my sister-in-law Sonya and I travelled to James Madison to see the campus and stay with Zhea and she actually bought us beer.  Mike taught me how to smoke a cigar.  Or who doesn’t recently remember K’s 40th birthday party or any of the McNutt Christmas parties, where Jeanne and Mike were the life of the party and more often than not the last ones to leave.  Even then, they both showed us how important family and friends were to them.  I can’t remember any party or family get together that didn’t end with a huge hug from Mike and him telling me we have to do this more often, getting our families together to share a meal, drink a beer (or two), play some waffle-ball or just share time together.

Mom and Dad, I am so sorry for your loss.  As a parent myself, I can only imagine what you’re going through.  But please know, that our closeness and the love we have shared as sisters is because of you.  Your example of love, patience, humor, and forgiveness has helped us beyond measure.  Even though our world is forever changed I have faith that this bond you’ve created between us will never be broken and will help us in the days, months and years to come.

Mike Sr., Molly, Tim, Sara, Joe, John, and Andrew I am also so sorry for your loss.  Please know how much Mike was loved by all of us.  He had the great honor of being the first brother-in-law.  And he truly was our brother.  His love, patience and kindness to all of us sisters was amazing.  From early on he was at every soccer game, family event, home project and important family moment.  I know that he has helped K, DG and CS be the wonderful brother-in-laws, husbands and fathers that they are today.

E, M, MG and KT.  All four of us were there within minutes after each of you were born.  I have never seen your parents happier than on each of those days.  Your parents loved you the moment you came into their lives and it has multiplied each and every moment of every day.  You were the center of their lives.  Please remember that even though they’re not here, that love will never go away.  Their immense love pulled all of us into your lives.  Your parents left us that legacy and we will always love you and will do our very best each day to remind you of that love and take care of you.

I really don’t know what else to say and then at the same time there is still so much to say.  Jeanne and Mike I love you and I miss you.  Again, everyone thank you for all of your love and support, please keep us and girls in your prayers.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October 24, 2015....6 Years of Balloons to Heaven

MG, L and KT

Sister C, A and M

D, K and Sister S

M and D

Sister C and cousin W

The men of the family

The twins that are not twins

Brothers J and W

Our sweet M

Cousins I and MG

D and M with baby cousin S (with A in the back)

My parents

The whole crew (minus E)

Just the kids

Me and K

My family

The boys

Our family's goofy picture

The family

Cousins and siblings

L melts my heart with that smile

The littlest cousins H and S

It was a good morning overall.  I was very tired from a late night the night before travelling to and from to see E and delivering her balloons (she was touched and grateful). As the kids played and adults talked, I was able to hide behind my camera and capture all the love in our family alongside the bittersweet reason for our gathering.  I had a good cry on the way home from A's cross country meet by myself in the car.

Later that night the cousins (minus MG and KT) all hung out at sister S's house while the adults (minus my parents, CA and KM) went out to dinner and had a few beers.  Telling funny stories about Jeanne and Mike minus the kids around was nice.

I feel emotionally hung over today.  We've been busy with lots of soccer all day so tonight has been the first time I've had to post.  I'm hoping to move through this week of remembering the days after the accident as just that, moments to remember, not another round of heightened anxiety.

Another year without them.  Another year of moving on.

I love you Jeanne and Mike.  I miss you every day and hope you know how much.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Last night L and I got home about 7:30 after his soccer practice and I was immediately barraged by the 15 year olds.  A's foot is sore with a little bit of tendinitis and he's worried about his run on Saturday (side note: based on when he's running, he can come to balloons!!).  He's buying a tiger salamander and since the last pieces of the habitat he's making arrived yesterday he wanted to know when we could order it.  M on the other hand wanted to give me a detailed explanation of why their biology lab report was going to suck and how it's not her fault and she thinks one of the girls is faking a concussion to get out of doing the work.  She also needed a hug.  And then another.  And then for good measure just hang on me with her head on my shoulder.  L meanwhile needed to get his gear off and was hungry.  Simultaneously E was texting me from school NOT to come to the meet tomorrow because "her body is completely nonfunctional in the water" and I should just come down to bring her to dinner.  This was all after my dad called me on the way home to say, "Take it or leave it, but I think M might be in a funk and I wasn't sure you noticed."  Really grandpa?  You think? Thank goodness D was at soccer practice.

As all their needs were pelting me, I had this sudden feeling that I need to be bigger than myself this week.  An image of myself as Baymax from the movie Big Hero 6 popped into my head.  Blowing myself up to be their cushion and comfort. Expanding myself to be more than I really feel like being this week.

What I'd like to do is stay under the covers all week.  Watch mindless tv.  Listen to songs that trigger some good therapeutic cries. Do lots of nothing.  Sit and be little sister Peg who lost her big sister and wants nothing more than to be able to talk her one more time.  Hear her laugh again. Give her one more hug.

But that Peg can't be in the cards much this week.  The kids need me to be present and let them know everything is ok.  My parents need me to show them we are all alright.  My sisters need me to be the rock.  

So here's a pep talk to big Peg: We'll get through this week. You got this.  You've done it before and you'll do it again.

I believe in this road we’re on, but grace going nearly gone,
Days are quick and these nights getting long
I see you wonder if you will sit alone, my heart’s always with you but I fail with my skin and bones
Great lights in darkness have been shown
I hear you laughing still, oh conquer worlds we will
Warmer waters are waiting near for us, but leave right now my dear we must
For I fear our love grows cold, but if we go we will save our weary souls
Oh cling to me promise you will, as we travel through these valleys and hills
When all is said and done I will seek your name still
For love is no grandstand nor a pocket piece, when my hands are not dirty it shakes me to my knees
And all the world sees, that it’s gone from me
My heart and my soul are home in your eyes, so bring just yourself leave the rest behind
This body of mine oh it would move a mountain for that body of yours shining in the ocean
I hear you laughing still, conquer worlds we will

--Save Our Weary Souls, The J Band

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What You Can't Know

This post is for the several people this week who have said to me, "It's been 6 years since the accident?  It must be not as bad after all that time."  Or for good measure, "The girls are doing so well and seem so happy.  They must be over their parents dying."  To those people, this is how this week feels.

As irrational as it sounds, it feels like we are going to live the accident and the aftermath all over again.  The anticipation is physically and emotionally draining.  The trauma of that night is permanently imprinted in my mind.  As the memories come back in spurts throughout the day, I have an anxious feeling in my stomach, my chest feels tight like a heavy weight is sitting on it and I get hives.  I feel sleepy and tired. The only way to escape this feeling is to close my eyes and try to take a quick nap.  20 minutes sleep can often reset my body and mind.  This is all after years of therapy which have helped with my day-to-day, but can't stop the tide of feelings this week.

6 years is actually a very difficult number.  The accident happened on a Saturday and the anniversary this year also falls on a Saturday.  This means that the accident day and all the days following will fall exactly on the same days.  You may think that it sounds silly, but that makes it even worse.

Triggers for the trauma come in all forms. Sunday night we ordered Chinese for dinner because we had a crazy day.  I didn't think anything of it, until I sat down to eat and was transported back to a Saturday night 6 years ago when the Chinese food arrived minutes before I got a phone call from my sister that there had been an accident.  I couldn't eat.  In general, I'm having problems eating (see above paragraph about the anxious stomach).

Grieving while parenting grieving children is hard.  E and M are both struggling.  Thank goodness I was able to get M into an extra therapy session last night. The boys are worried about her and have been giving her extra hugs and attention.  L is very clingy and wants to make sure everyone in his family is alive.  A is worried that he is going to miss balloon day because he's running varsity in the championship cross country meet this Saturday. He knows how important it is for him to be there for M.  I think my physical symptoms are worse because I bottle up my own grief in order to support the kids.

The accident suddenly took away two people in our family.  We miss them terribly, but it also was absolutely devastating to the fabric of our family.  The decisions surrounding who was going to take the girls and ultimately splitting them up were gut wrenching.  Those decisions have had permanent negative impacts on our relationships.  My parents have never been the same.  Guilt, hurt, jealousy, and anger have seeped into our family bonds.  It's hard to handle at times.

I've documented for years here in this space how our immediate family has been affected.  In many ways, we have been defined by our trauma.

Grief can be very isolating.  There are often feelings of an "otherness" that you can't understand unless you have experienced it. Empty statements of support or canned phrases like "it will get better with time" only make me think something is wrong with me for feeling this way.  It sometimes feels like we're living in an alternate universe.

So for those people who think we've "gotten over it" that is definitely not the case.  Other people may not have the same reactions, but this is my reality.  A reality I wouldn't wish for anybody, let alone my children.  Unless you've been through something similar, you can't know how this feels.  So rather than offering platitudes or, as a friend did last night when I told her I was struggling, text me stupid pictures of kittens hoping I have a better day, simply say, "I'm sorry."  "I'm thinking of you." "I love you."

Anything else just makes an already awful situation worse.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It's Coming

9 days till the accident anniversary.

The crisp fall air and changing daylight are triggers.

Talking lots with L about dying, funerals and heaven.

M is throwing up all kinds of red flags that she's struggling.  Fake injuries complete with dramatic limps and moans.  It's tiring and sad.  My patience is being sorely tested.

E was home for fall break which was nice.  I could tell she is feeling it too.  She doesn't want to come home for the balloon release, but asked me to drive down the day before to see her swim and be with her.  It will be hard to do the trip down and back in one day, but I will be there for our girl.

My brain is a fog.  Physical signs of anxiety stretch throughout my day...anxious stomach, hives, tight chest.

As with the last 6 years the days leading up are always worse than the actual day.  Trying to keep that in mind to trudge through the coming days.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Rock

I have a friend, G.  She is moving.  To Houston.  I am really sad.

We first met at our neighborhood tot lot (across the street from my house) after we'd been in the neighborhood for a few years.  When we first moved in I would dutifully walk across the street with A and D on Monday afternoons when all the kids that go to public school would hang after early dismissal.  I smiled. I tried to enter conversations. But I was pretty much ignored. It was a tough crowd to break into.  First, I was a working mom (granted I work 3 days at home), but due to my schedule I couldn't participate in any of the organized play groups to meet other moms.  Then, as my kids got older, we didn't go to the local public school putting us further on the outside of what seemed to me at the time as an impenetrable fortress.

Then one day my boys were sitting watching some older boys (as in one year older than A) play football.  I could tell they wanted to play but were too shy to ask.  Then suddenly a mom who must have seen the dynamic walked up and yelled over to her son, "Hey Lou! Why don't you ask these boys to play?"  While the other boys rolled their eyes, sweet Lou walked over, introduced himself and asked them to be on his team.  Now nobody would throw them the ball, but after D tackled a few of the big boys to the ground a little acceptance was gained.

I walked over to thank this nice mom and we got to talking.  Turns out we both like to read, have similar senses of humor and take similar attitudes towards parenting.  A friendship slowly started building.  When L was born, her oldest daughter became my "mom's helper." I loved hanging with her kids and got mad soccer props from Lou for being a "soccer mom" who could actually play.

Then the accident happened.  Family tragedy can be a clear litmus test for friendships.  G was always there when I needed her.  She never tried to be intrusive in our shock and grief.  Lots of  people would drop off dinner, but then try to stay and "get the scoop" about what really happened and how the girls were. One of my favorite memories of her help was when I called and told her we had no toilet paper and within minutes a package was on our porch with no questions. All of this while her own mother was dying.

A week after the accident was Halloween and many people avoided our house thinking we wouldn't hand out candy or that our boys wouldn't trick or treat.  I'll never forget sitting on our porch waiting for someone to come so I could hand out the candy in my giant bucket watching kids and parents pass by our house.  Then out of the dark up walked Lou who gave me a huge hug and told me how sorry he was (okay tears forming in my eyes just thinking about that night).

Over the years our friendship has deepened.  Her husband is one of my favorite people. She is my late night text buddy.  Most days don't go by without her making me laugh.  G gives me tough love when I need it. She is my go-to person with help with rides for the kids (this seems like a trivial thing but you need to understand that my kids don't like riding in cars with other people besides me and K--she is just that special).  My kids love her and I truly know that she loves my kids.

She is the only in real life (IRL) friend that reads my blog. 

So this post is a tribute to my rock.  One of only a handful of people I truly know is my friend and who I always know I can count on. 

Love you G. I'll miss you.  Thank goodness my texts will still reach you in Houston.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mr. Independent

We had one of our normal busy weeks last week.  Lots of school, sports, work stuff all jumbled together.  Things got a bit disrupted too with all the weather related cancellations, practice moves, etc. 

Somewhere in there a postcard project on a country from South America got lost in the mix.

Backtrack a few weeks ago, when L came bounding into the house after school and declared he had a project to do in Spanish and he was picking Chile because Daddy used to live there and Granddaddy E goes there all the time.  "Sounds good buddy!' I declared and filed it away in my every expanding and contracting index card holder in my brain off all the little things that need to get done in our family.  I think I might have vaguely asked when it was due and I think his equally vague response was "sometime in October."

Flash forward to Saturday night about 7:30 when K, D and I rolled in from a soccer game about 2 hours away.  L stayed home with A and M (and a friend of A's) because it was a rainy day he wanted to stay home with the big kids.  As we walked in and I asked how the day had gone, L declared that he finished his Chile project.

I looked at him surprisingly, "You did? When is it due again?"

He looked up at me and very matter-of-factly declared, "Oh it was due on Tuesday, but I told her that I had completely forgot and she said she'd give me an extension.  So I just did it."

First the wave of mom guilt hit me that I didn't have any idea when the project was due and wasn't there to help him.  Then I thought that I'd better make sure I check it over because how good of a job could he have done pulling the information together on his own? Especially with all of the shenanigans that most likely went on while we were gone with the teenagers, I was very doubtful about how well he had completed the assignment.  Then I got distracted by being shown video evidence of the shenanigans and completely forgot about the late assignment.

Flash forward again to Monday morning when I looked through his backpack to make sure I signed everything in his test folder.  Low and behold there was the "postcard" about Chile he had written and including a drawing of an Easter Island statue.  I started reading and much to my surprise he did a great job!  It hit all the major points he was supposed to make and he even had a joke (very signature L).

I sometimes feel bad that L gets the short shift right now in our parenting.  The big kids take up a lot of time.  Our little L as the youngest has always been our "no fanfare" just get my shit done kid.  He gets home from school, grabs a snack and does his homework.  He rarely asks for help.  Even the fact that he told the teacher he forgot and then took it upon himself to be responsible and get it done is so very unlike the other kids.  The other kids would have brought much more drama (tears) and most likely an email from me to the teacher explaining that "we" had forgot.

In some ways being the youngest stinks.  In other ways, though, L is getting the skills that will do him very well in the future.  I am always proud of him, but this one kinda took the cake.  He's a pretty cool kid.  Love him.