Friday, December 17, 2010

The Holidays, missing you

This is the first Christmas without our Ann. Thank God for all of you and your support and love. I don't think I could go on without you, my daughters, my son, my grandchildrenm my brothers, sister and their families and all of Ann's"extended Family".
Today is December 17, our 6th wedding Anniversary, I'm getting ready to visit the "scene of the crime" as you called it. Sunny,cold and just a kiss of fresh snow (just like the day 6 years ago), don't have to start a fire in the shelter this time to keep the wedding party warm though.
I will cry and smile and walk and have you close to me today........and always. I'll listen for the geese (wedding joke). By the way, all our Christmas shopping is completed (I think)and wrapped,the earliest ever. Be happy,be pleased, You are Loved.
The day after Christmas will be 6 months since you left us, but only physically, OK,OK, I won't talk dirty. I see the plaque on the wall in the kitchen every day..."Live,Love,Laugh"...I'm trying...........we're all trying.

I Love You with all my Heart and Spirit.................Stay.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Facing and Fighting Death: Ann's Journal

Months before she died of cancer, my sister Ann Chapin Morgan wrote a journal, The Side Door, with the hope of helping others face what she did.

This is a highly personal account of facing and fighting death.

Through the struggles and joys of being with the man she loves in a place she loves, the Florida Keys, Ann faces her future in a way that challenges and instructs all of us.

We hope you will read her journal and be touched by Ann's incredible spirit, Ann's story can be found at

Ann's account of her struggle may inspire you to share your own stories. If so, please do so at Ann's Tree,

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ken, I don't really know you but I feel as though we are both in the same funk. I would love to tell you that the pain will eventually ease, and it probably will. I am still waiting myself. But the memories....hold on tightly to those! That does sometimes help. I know what you mean when you wish you could hear Ann laugh, see her smile, hear her voice. I want the same from my husband. You and Ann were so dear to send flowers when she was so ill. But that was Ann. I can tell you that she is now surrounded by family, friends, and she is still with you. I believe that. Hold on to that. Talk to her. I believe she'll hear you. Maureen

Monday, August 2, 2010


I'll write, but not now, nothing there.
My God how I miss her, fill me again with her laughter. smiles and her love.
Thank you for my Ann,........ our Ann.

It's September 15, and I'm still lost, hollow.........
I thought after my other losses I would be able to move on, but I can't, I miss you with all my heart. I'm stuck, you are my life, my love....stay in my heart.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Miss Her

I write a popular blog but I hate writing about myself. It is the most difficult writing of all - give me a snack food to review any day.

Until Ann's death, I didn't realize how much she impacted me. Which surprised me since I had been anticipating this death for a couple months.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to say good bye, and tell her what she meant to me. I drove 15 hours to say, "Thank you for all you have given to me." and, if you knew her, you can guess what she said back to me.

"Thank YOU for all you have given to ME."

I know it isn't a contest, but I still think she gave me more than I could have ever given her. She helped me to live life more fully - to grab each day. She shared my children, and I think she may have loved my husband more than I do :) (she just LOVED his accent)

I wish she could have been here longer (many more minutes).

Just One More Minute

My oldest son Aidan and I share a tradition which I care deeply about. I am not sure when it started, but I am at times dismayed by the inevitable end of this tradition.

On the rare evenings when I am home at the boys' bedtime, we read books together as a family. After everyone has had a turn reading, Connor likes to go to his room and have Kate rub his back as he drifts off to sleep. I stay with Aidan and we chat for a bit. After a few moments I will say to Aidan, "Alright son, give me a smooch. It's time to go to sleep." Aidan invariably looks up at me at this point and asks, "Just one more minute, Dad?"

Perhaps it was an inexplicable sense of the impending tragedy that the next day would bring, for when Aidan made this request on Sunday night, I was gripped by it in a way that I had never been before.

I realized that I too wanted "just one more minute."

It was as though I was being devoured by the sense that each minute that I had spent with my mom had been precious, and that they were slipping away.

She passed away on Monday, 7/26/2010. As I watched her take her final breaths, I fought the overwhelming temptation to ask, "Just one more minute, Mom?"

Just one more minute to see you smile.
Just one more minute to hear you laugh.
Just one more minute to be encouraged by you.
Just one more minute to be believed in by you.
Just one more minute to admire you.
Just one more minute for you to love my wife and boys.
Just one more minute to love you.
Just one more minute to be loved by you.

The crushing reality is that just one more minute would never do. That is why Aidan asks night in and night out. He is yet to be satisfied. I know that I would never be satisfied with just one more minute with her. I too would ask again and again.

I am comforted by the beauty of the last minute. She was surrounded by her family. She had spent the previous evening and the morning breathing laboriously. And then my beautiful Aunt Marilyn, a woman that my mom admired and loved beyond explanation, began to read to her. These are the words that Marilyn read:

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John witnesses to him. He proclaims: 'This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.' Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received -- one gift replacing another, for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. This was the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He declared, he did not deny but declared, 'I am not the Christ.' So they asked, 'Then are you Elijah?' He replied, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' So they said to him, 'Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?' So he said, 'I am, as Isaiah prophesied: A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord. Make his paths straight!' Now those who had been sent were Pharisees,
25 and they put this question to him, 'Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the Prophet?' John answered them, 'I baptise with water; but standing among you -- unknown to you-- is the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.' This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising. The next day, he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, 'Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. It was of him that I said, "Behind me comes one who has passed ahead of me because he existed before me." I did not know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming to baptise with water was so that he might be revealed to Israel.' And John declared, 'I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptise with the Holy Spirit." I have seen and I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.' The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, 'Look, there is the lamb of God.'
37 And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?' They answered, 'Rabbi' -- which means Teacher -- 'where do you live?' He replied, 'Come and see'; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, 'We have found the Messiah' -- which means the Christ-- and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas' -- which means Rock. The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said, 'Follow me.' Philip came from the same town, Bethsaida, as Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.' Nathanael said to him, 'From Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?' Philip replied, 'Come and see.' When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, 'There, truly, is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.' Nathanael asked, 'How do you know me?' Jesus replied, 'Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.' Nathanael answered, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.' Jesus replied, 'You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You are going to see greater things than that.' And then he added, 'In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man.'

While Marilyn read, my mom's breathing eased, she found comfort, and she let go. It was beautiful.

I don't remember a lot of what followed, aside from the overwhelming sense of desolation. I do, however, remember my uncle Mike saying, "When I think of Annie's story, I think it's a success story, due in large part to the people in this room."

Of that there is no doubt. Her story is a success story. And I know that after hearing it told, or reflecting on it, I will always want just one more minute with her.

I love you mom.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


As the weeks have passed and the reality of my mother's impending death has settled densely upon my chest, I cannot help but be aware of the fact that, for most, life simply goes on. The paradoxical reality of a well-wisher expressing regret and fellowship in your misery one day and the next musing on the mundane is almost too duplicitous to endure. The most distressing aspect of this is that I have been guilty of this opprobrious insensitivity in the past, and there are not sufficient words to express my profound regret. Perhaps most of us are not capable of the type of solidarity needed to truly be a party to the overwhelming grief of another until we are faced with devastating grief of our own. So it goes.

As with any good generalization, there are numerous exceptions. For those of you who don't know Ken Morgan, my mom's husband, allow me to reveal to you the epitome of just such an exception.

It would be useful here to report that Ken and I have always enjoyed an implicit affection for each other based on our mutual love of my mother. Useful, yes. Truthful? Certainly not. Our relationship began somewhat precariously.

When I was 11 years old, my mom officially began to raise my sister and me on her own. The reality is that she had been raising us on her own for several years prior to that. After her divorce, my mom worked three jobs to afford my sister and me the opportunity to stay in Wheaton and complete our schooling with our friends. I doubt if she intended deliberately to become my hero, my model for proper living, but she did. And as each year blended into the next, my admiration for her expanded and multiplied. As any of us who have survived the rigors of adolescence can appreciate, many times I had shoddy methods of paying her back for all of her sacrifices. However, despite the many vices that I battled during these years, my love for her could never be questioned or minimized, and the same, thankfully, can be said of her love for me.

(This is the point where the dramatic music begins in my head, signaling a change in the tone of our story. Not quite the "Da-dah...Da-dah...Da-dah" from Jaws, but something similar)

Enter Ken. The first man to infiltrate my mom's life that had not carried with him an assortment of self destructive behaviors that he would be all to willing to share with her. The first man that actually liked who she was sober, and encouraged her to remain that way. The first man that had the courage to pursue and fall in love with her despite the blatant disapproval of her son. I know what you're thinking. The exact same thing I was thinking when Ken arrived.

"Where the hell does this guy get off," right?

Alright. So you're probably not thinking that. Thankfully, I am not thinking that either...any more.

My discontentment with the genesis of their relationship was rooted in the natural guardianship that developed in me over my mother. I had witnessed first hand the destruction that was her marriage. I had observed the lineup of nincompoops who had tried to win her favor by feeding her demons. And now, irrepressible in his pursuit of her was Ken. I was able to distinguish, almost immediately by the glimmer in her eye, that Ken possessed a capability that I had not seen for many years and that scared me to death. My mom had fallen in love with Ken, and in so doing had bestowed upon him the potential to break her heart. And I would be damned if I was going to let that happen without a fight.

I suppose I've learned a little something about perseverance from Ken, too.

The most concise way to describe what happened next and brings us to today would be simply to tell you that these two people, my mom and Ken, loved and continue to love each other more than most. They have made an art out of encouraging and caring for each other. They have learned the intricacies that exist in each other, and valued them. Despite each others flaws, undeterred by each others weaknesses, they have complimented each other perfectly.

I could not have asked for a greater gift for my mother. I could never tell Ken how thankful I am that he endured my dissatisfaction and pursued her. Her life was never better than it was when her soul was affixed to his. The years that they have shared have been truly remarkable and we have all reaped the benefits.

I happen to have the amazing good fortune of being married to a positively awesome woman who is also the epitome of an exception to the generalization made above. I was in our room earlier, and I came across some photos that she has been collecting of my mom. She was preparing to put these into a collection for me. What struck me about these photos of my mom is that Ken is in damn near every one of them. By her side. Smiling that genuine smile of his that transforms his face into little more than teeth and glasses. And there are pictures of Ken at our wedding. And there are pictures of Ken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of Ken at our boy's birthday parties.

The photos that moved me the most, however, are the photos of Ken holding each of my sons mere hours after they were born. The affection that is present on his face in those photos is not something that can be manufactured. It is genuine. And it struck me that, at some indistinguishable point along the way, I finally realized what I had been so vigorously fighting all of those years ago. Ken is family. Ken is Grandpa. Ken is a man that I admire. Ken is a man that I love.

As these days have progressed and Ken has been handed more and more responsibility for my mother's care, I have cherished him more and more. Ken has never complained. He has never asked for help. He has loved my mother fiercely and has eased her pain. What a joy it has been to see the same glimmer in her eye when she sees him today that I witnessed years ago. For now I realize that, in Ken's care, my mother was never vulnerable to having her heart broken. She was allowing him to mend her heart and he did, and then some.

In a rare moment of emotion recently, Ken related to me that after a tragedy befell him in the past, he felt as though he was losing a piece of his future. His voice cracked and he continued, saying, "In losing your mother I am losing my whole life."

I certainly understand that feeling, but Ken will not get off that easy.

After all Ken, there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' weddings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' birthday parties.

You are family. You are Grandpa. You are a man that we admire. You are a man that we love.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Thanks to the generosity of The Melton Family and Faye Bernhardt, we have now raised $600 toward the realization of Ann's Tree. That's 25% of the way there! This is encouraging progress and Ann could not be more touched. Thank you all.

In lieu of flowers, Ann would prefer a donation be made to Ann's Tree so that we may honor her in this way.

Quickly, Ann is now home under hospice care. Ken is working tirelessly to ensure her comfort. Sher has been in great spirits and has spent her days laughing and having a great time. What else would we expect, right?

Thank you all for loving my mom.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Elephant Salve

Thursday the nightmare began in earnest.

We sat in my mom's room at CDH awaiting the arrival of a representative from a hospice care company. She was officially charged with explaining to us how, from this point forward, non-curative care would be given to my mom and also with ensuring Ken signed the phlegmatic paperwork in all of the appropriate places. From my perspective, the function of this meeting was to announce the beginning of the end. We all heard that message clearly.

Prior to the hospice nurse's arrival and anticipating the meeting, the mood in the room was somber. Sensing this, my mom started to petition my Uncle Mike to tell us stories. Now, my opinion may be biased because I esteem him so, but my Uncle Mike can tell a story like no one I've ever met. I imagine Twain, Hemingway and Fitzgerald enthralled and laughing right along with us as my Uncle tells his stories. I have told him that he should write a book.

After entertaining us with stories of drag races that ended with his rival's car firmly planted on the steps of some poor woman's house, my mom requested that he tell us about "Elephant Salve." At first he didn't seem sure as to what my mom was talking about. But then his face brightened and his story began.

He told us how my Grandfather, Bill Chapin, trusted wholeheartedly in the remedying power of Petro-Carbo Salve. A precursor to Neosporin, my Grandfather apparently spread the greasy cure-all on whatever ailments presented themselves, big or small. When asked why it was referred to a "Elephant Salve," my Uncle Mike giggled and said, "I don't know. Maybe there was a picture of an elephant on the tin. Or, maybe in the Chapin household, it was believed that the stuff could fix anything, even something as terrible as being stepped on by an elephant."

Uncle Mike has always been great at communicating the truly extraordinary points of his stories. He finished the story about "Elephant Salve" by telling us that, when my Grandfather passed away, Mike found a his trusty tin of Petro-Carbo Salve in a drawer next to his bed. Mike took the tin and has it to this day, admiring fondly the traces of my Grandfather's fingers that still remain in the residual salve.

This story could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. I have found it nearly impossible to grasp the reality of what is happening. Life is not delivering an outcome for me that I believe I am capable of handling. In many ways, I feel like a giant elephant is crushing me beneath his heel.

When circumstances in my life had threatened to leave me shattered and hopeless, I have persevered by relying heavily on my mom. She has been my "Elephant Salve."

My sincere desire is to become the type of person who is clever enough to utilize the lessons that I've learned from my mom and become "Elephant Salve" to my wife and my son's. I can think of no better way to honor her.

And as I see the joy with which Connor hits the ice and learns hockey or the creativity displayed by Aidan as he works on his latest drawing or Lego project, I see the traces of my mom's fingers in the residual lives of this family tree. And I am so thankful. I am so proud.

Thank you, Mom.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Mother's Love

For Ann

A mother's love cannot be simply told.
The threads of crystal memories entwine,
Creating unsung tapestries of gold,
Attuned with understanding wrought by time.

Perspective now enlightens, as we see
The fires of love and honor glow and blaze
Endearments to Ann Morgan, mother true.
She fiercely fights, yet peaceful are her ways.

This cleaving paradox is one we know,
As we who heed her gather and embrace
to celebrate the one whom we love so.
Her joy and courage strengthen us with grace.

All legacies enrich our lives each day.
Ann's soft and golden love will always stay.

----- Dolores Donohue Andrews

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wow, Ann. What can I say? I think what stands out in my mind most was when I first met you. You lived in Milwaukee and one Friday evening my brother took me out there to meet you. It was a real nice apartment and I believe there was a fair going on right down the road and we could see it from your front window. Anyway, you made me my very first ever alcoholic beverage...a Sloe Gin Fiz. After drinking some of it, I felt it and asked if you had any "Fast Gin"! You thought it was great and you had a board or a sign or something that you wrote funny sayings on, and you wrote that. You made me feel so special, and for a kid who was still in High School, that meant a lot. Love You, Ann. Maureen (MO) Westhoff

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Thanks to the generosity of Jamie, Scott and Tina we are moving closer to the goal of creating a tribute to Ann by planting a tree in her honor at either Herrick Lake or The Arboretum. For more information, please read "Purpose" posted on the right of this page ------->

Thanks you three. We love you!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oh Ma, How Burley You Are

In the fiction of the prolific American writer and poet Wendell Berry, there are a few characters that quickly win a place in a reader's heart. For each reader, it may be a different character. For some, it may be Elton Penn, the notorious hard-worker whose intense intimacy and commitment to his land would inspire the thoroughest urbanite to sell all of his or her possessions and become a farmer. For others, it may be Jayber Crow, Port William's barber and resident theologian, whose existential wanderings somehow redeem those of Berry's readership. Still others may connect with Mat Feltner, one of the most reliable, steadfast and true people in the whole heritage of the Port William community. For me, I am attracted primarily to Burley Coulter.

Burley Coulter is one of the most loyal members of the Port William community; he does not, however, tend to abide by its conventions. He comes and goes as he wishes; he escapes by himself into the woods for sometimes weeks at a time. He never married, for he was a free spirit that could not keep or be kept. He once told Jayber Crow, "I don't own anything that I can't carry on my back or that doesn't follow me when I whistle for it" (in reference to his fox hounds). You never know when Burley is going to show up or when he will leave, but you always know that when he does, a piece of his being will be left embedded in your very self.

There are many ways that Ma reminds me of Burley Coulter. (For those of you who don't know me, my biological mother is "Mom" and Ann is "Ma.") As I have experienced Ma, she is one of the most loyal people I know. She proved this to both J.J. and me time and time again, showing up, for example, to our high school football games only to watch us count the number of splinters we would retrieve from our butt pads. She trusted our ability to succeed in whatever we did. If we said something ambitious like, "I'm gonna hit that half-back so hard his grandma's gonna fall down" (knowing full well that we'd likely line up across from said half-back maybe once in the game), she would pour a smile of beaming pride upon us. And let's not forget, she'd then remind us not to get hurt.

Ma was an adventurer. To my knowledge, she never slipped away into the wilderness for extended periods, but her posture towards life has been one that views the world as a constant opportunity. I don't know if many of us can quite grasp how special this quality is. She has the gift of being persistently and acutely aware that each choice we make matters, particularly choices about how to treat people. We didn't understand this growing up. We didn't see this gift when she thwarted our efforts to fraternize with those she deemed "undesirables." We didn't get her beauty when our hormones emerged and we were interacting with girls for the first time, when we would pray to the god of pubescence that Amy would bring a friend over while we were there. [And yes Amy, every one of us had huge crushes on you back in the day.]

There is something about Ma. When she shows up, there is a new conscientiousness, one that she models in how she gives dignity to those around her: to nurses and counter clerks, to old and young, to the familiar and the foreign. It is an art, really. What is natural to her in her interactions requires an intentional exertion of the will for most of us, and even then it feels fabricated and phony and therefore never sustains. But in that moment--like the one I observed a few weeks ago when she spoke to a girl taking our order at Portillo's--in that moment when she practices and embodies her art, there is something inspiring and a part of Ma becomes embedded in those around her. Perhaps it is only a memory, an altar that we raise in our minds that from time to time calls us back to itself on our own journeys, to remind us that there is something beautiful that we know and by whom we are known. But for many of us, it is more than that. It is like a spring board within our souls upon which we wish to plant ourselves only to be propelled into a new medium through which we live our lives, one through which we may practice and thereby redeem that tramped-upon and trivialized word we call "love."

In eulogizing Burley Coulter, Wheeler Catlett spoke of Burley as a "wild man." He intimates, "Burley's wildness was in his refusal, or his inability, to live within other people's expectations." Ann has come face to face with expectations in the past, and it was perhaps her wildness that gave her the courage to follow her dignity when it led her beyond the expectations of her social milieu. I, for one, am grateful that she had the wildness and fortitude to defy societal taboos and divorce, in order to raise Amy and J.J. as her dignity demanded. She did great work! She has also come to face to face with the expectations of numbers. In her fight over the years against the persistent enemy of cancer, she has demonstrated her wildness thoroughly, laughing at numbers that spoke against her. And now, part of her doctor's task is to set her expectations concerning her body. They seek to set her expectations regarding that beast called death. When faced with the choice of giving in to the expectations of doctors, statistics and odds, she has responded with the same feisty refusal to live within other people's expectations that she seems to have passed on to her grandson, Connor. She continues to give life to those around her. She flies in the face of expectations as if to say, "You can tell me what you want, but I'm going to live." For her, life is more than the avoidance of death, it is gaining interest on the opportunities that we have to give life to others. Living her life as she has, she appropriates those immortal words of John Donne, "Death, thou shalt die!"

Ma, we love and cherish you! Hugs, kisses and "marijuana music"! :)

Monday, June 7, 2010


Thanks to my 80 minute round trip to and from work each day, I find myself with ample time to reflect upon the state of the world. Like any good freeway highbrow, I have come to believe that I have indeed discovered the root of all of the worriment that plagues humanity.

Alright, that's probably an overstatement. I do believe that I have firgured out why there seem to be so many unhappy s.o.b.s in the world however.

I have come to believe that the genesis of many of our societal issues stems from our relentless struggle to project a socially "acceptable" or esteemed appearance rather than our true dispositions. Now, I'm not suggesting that by focusing on revealing our true selves all of our complications will dissipate. What I am suggesting is that we would all be aware of what we were getting ourselves in to with each other, and that's a start.

I have had the incredible good fortune of being close with a few outstanding people who have lived their lives each day dispensing the gift of their natural selves. While some who have crossed their paths have not appreciated their honest constitutions, most have loved them beyond measure.

My mom is one of these people. She has lived her life free of pretense and I have realized how amazing it has been to behold. My mom speaks impulsively, offering up an honest assessment of any given situation, most times regardless of whether or not she had been asked. With most people, offering up an unabashed opinion or comment would be graceless and lumbering. With my mom, it is usually pleasing and strengthening. This is her natural flow.

It has been amazing to watch this principle in action as this process has unfolded. With each new nurse or doctor that enters the fold, my mom is ready with a extraordinary greeting. It has been amusing to see the looks on the nurses' faces when they meet my mom for the first time and she says things like, "Hey Beautiful, aren't you cute?" or "You are gorgeous. You look like you should be on that Gray show. You know, the one about the hospitals? You are much cuter than those girls." They usually smile awkwardly at first, but after mere moments, you would swear that they were old friends of hers, laughing and giggling.

Even more amusing has been watching my mom talk to the male doctors. She is prone to using cursory words to describe the imposing procedures she is facing. For instance, when referring to the utilization of radiation to remove her brain tumor, my mom distills this complex scientific wonder down to either "Zap" or "The Zappy Thingy." I have seen some doctors seem exasperated with this type of description at first. The internal dialouge must sound something like, "I have gone hundreds of thousands of dollars in to debt, spent years of my life in school, and you are referring to my expertise as, 'Zap?'" By the end of most of their visits, the sheer force of my mom's personality has disarmed these doctor's to the point where they have dropped any semblance of intellectual superiority and have usually adopted her description of the process. I can't help but wonder if any of them have visited their next patient and lost some of their patient's confidence by utilizing my mom's terms. "Good afternoon Mr. Jones. After reviewing the film of your latest CAT Scan, I am fully confident that by employing The Zappy Thingy procedure, we will be able to remove this mass." My mom has ended an increasing number of her counsultations with requests for a kiss from her doctors. Requests which have evolved into directives as the days have passed. While none have obliged to date, I think that she is wearing them down.

It is her confidence in herself, her ability to offer her true self in the face of so much charade that makes me esteem her. I wish I had her courage. I am thankful that I have been treated to the experience of knowing and loving her. Even more, I am thankful that I have been treated to the experience of being loved by her. Because it is love that is without constraint and with the utmost fidelity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


There was nothing cooler than knowing that Jen and I were headed to Wheaton for the weekend. I'd had my time with Amy, knowing that we were older and had LOTS OF IMPORTANT STUFF TO TALK ABOUT, which usually meant the two of us sprawled out on her bed with our yearbooks, dissecting which boys were hot, which ones we "liked," which ones liked us (well that was more of Amy's category, LOL) and then playing various games of MASH to figure out who we would marry. These are EXTREMELY important things to girls of our age.

In the meantime, our spastic younger siblings would undoubtedly be A) destroying something, B) running around... a LOT, C) sitting under the kitchen table or D) bothering our EXTREMELY important boy rundown.

One weekend, the skies greyed very quickly and the winds picked up. It got very scary outside and Annie told us to get away from the windows. I was nothing short of terrified. Other than nuclear war (these were the early 80s, after all, and I admittedly had an amusing and terrifying list of phobias) but second to mushroom clouds were funnel clouds on my list of unholy fears.

I believe that I retreated behind a couch, cried, and started saying "Hail Mary"s and wishing that my parents were there.

Annie eventually found me and scooped me up in a big sympathetic hug, saying, "Oh honey, you're not used to these DuPage storms. You're going to be all right." Then we sat and watched the storms and she kept an eye on me and I was a lot less afraid.

A few years ago, I was at my therapist appointment in Glen Ellyn when the sirens started going off. Ann (my therapist) suggested that we head to the basement. We continued my session in the stairwell. I can remember thinking, "Oh, it's just the DuPage storms. I'm used to them now. I'll be all right."

I don't care what age you are, it always feels really nice to know that someone like Annie is keeping an eye on you, and more importantly, making you feel safe.

Thank you, Auntie Annie, for making your friendly yet neurotic little companion REALLY happy to be leaning on you that day. I love you!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My rock

The past year has hit me with several unbelieveable situations--many of which I didn't know how I would face--or how I would get through. There were many times when I didn't know what to do--at these moments Mom would whip out an answer in reply.

I think all kids think at some point that their parents just don't get it, are stupid or just wrong. We all think we are "right." However, this past year I have become extremely close with my Mom. She is my best friend and I decided when she would whip out a reply--I would do something NEW--I would LISTEN.

It has amazed me how many times my Mom has been right. I would tell her what I was dealing with and she would say "Amy....." I would think she is not right. But I would be quiet and listen. What do you know, not one day later, I would call her and say "Mom you were Right!" She would just be quiet and say, Honey I know....

My mom is my best friend. We have laughed, we have yelled at the world and it's tough situations together, we have cried and she has supported me when I didn't know how I could make it. She is a strong woman and an example of having humor and grace under fire.

She is my rock.
I love you Mom.

A Termination Notice For Roy G. Biv

We all learned in school about the spectrum of colors... red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, which of course introduces us to our acronym friend, Roy G. Biv. Granted, most of us just think of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, completely ignoring the hippie-sounding "indigo" and renaming the gothy "violet" with something less easy to use in poetry. C'est la vie. Said redoing of the spectrum leaves us with the unpleasant and slightly gastrointestinal sounding Roy G. Bp, which, in light of the oil spill, was probably some good foresight on the part of the color-teaching higher-ups.

In any case, the reason for the above rambling diatribe is because one of the first memories I have of Annie has to do with colors. It must have been Christmas (or some other present-y holiday) and Amy and J.J. had been given sleeping bags. (If I remember correctly, I think that Jenny and I may have been given sleeping bags the same year, showing some awesome teamwork on the behalf of the D'hues and the Holeshas.)

I was probably about 5 at the time and in the throes of newly-acquired Holly Hobbie sleeping bag ownership. Amy and J.J. simultaneously tore open their oddly large and sleeping-bag-shaped presents and squealed with joy. I distinctly remember Annie looking at Amy's present and enthusiastically saying, "OH!! Pretty pink!!" Now "pretty pink" is kind of a girly, accepted phrase. My cynical, 5-year-old wordsmith self mentally braced for what awesome phrasing Auntie Annie would come up with for J.J.'s robin's egg blue sleeping bag, because Auntie Annie ALWAYS phrased things in the most awesome of ways.

"... And pretty blue!"

"WHAT??! Pretty BLUE? That's not a phrase!" I thought.

That's the great thing about Annie. OF COURSE "pretty blue" is a phrase. Hell... "pretty burnt toast" or "pretty infected pigeon wing" are phrases in Auntie Annieland, because, of course, in Auntie Annieland, above all else, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

Annie's joy is limitless. Annie's compassion is limitless. Annie's love of others is limitless.

Unlike our friend, Roy G. Biv, who has served me little more than helping me to desire and acquire new shades of nail polish, Annie's spectrum of love encompasses way more than a 7 letter acronym. Her various shades of love have served me during my highs and lows. I have never doubted that I was loved, and my love for her is equally as limitless.

That's the best thing about Auntie Annieland. Words are joyful, love is endless, and her spectrum, herself, is bigger than a list of colors could EVER encompass.

Friday, May 28, 2010

You can pick your friends, you can't pick your family...

...but when your choose to make your friends your family, you have a good thing.

Winnie and Annie "grew up" together through parenthood...the Jamie/Amy years, and (god help us...) the Jenny/J.J. years. Both sets of "sibs" were on the same wave length...the older sisters pretty much thought they were in charge. And the "Casual Kids", as J.J. and Jenny named themselves at an early age, spent their formative years bonded to the proposition that "all children are not created equal."

The site of the Casual Kids running sprinting across the lawn away from Annie's house, the shouts of the older ones..."They're getting away, they're getting away..."

I remember the very first time I played an outdoor concert with the band...Elburn, Illinois. Through the lights, I can still see "Mr. Rhythm"...J.J.....unable to contain himself at about age 3, just breaking down his dance moves on the grass. He looked like the gopher from Caddieshack.

And Amy...when the kids were videotaping themselves at my house...dancing to "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns and Roses, twirling a doll over her head by the hair...until the body popped off and she was left holding the head...much to her on-camera horror....

But most of all, the way both Annie and Winnie lit up when it each other's company....PRICELESS.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hide And Seek

I obviously have a lot of great stories about my mom. She has been an amazing mom. But her true calling is being a grandmother. I think she's aware of this fact as well because, regardless of how much fun she has with my boys, there is no mistaking the relief etched on her face when it is time to return them to their primary caregivers.

Aidan and Connor's favorite game to play with her is Hide and Seek. Now, I'm not really sure when the allure of Hide and Seek wears off for most kids, but when they are with their grandma, any sign of my boys discontinuing their Hide and Seek pursuits are not to be found.

To the untrained eye, the manner in which my mom plays Hide and Seek with my boys may be viewed as mindless placating of youngsters. The untrained eye misses so many beautiful, wonderful items.

You see, when my mom is "Seeking," my boys whip themselves into a frenzy and resemble Shaggy and Scooby from the old cartoons. You know the scene. Shag and Scoob have been terrified by this week's crotchety-old-man-dressed-as-monster, and as they attempt to flee, their legs move furiously, but they don't really go anywhere. Throw in a little Three Stooges-esque running into each other and falling down, and you've got a great idea how these games take shape. Needless to say, the boys usually are left scrambling for a hiding spot and must settle for a less than stealthy concealment. Regardless of the flaws in the boys hiding places, it always takes my mom ages to find them. One would think that the uncontrollable giggling would disclose their location. Not a chance. Not with grandma.

And when it is my mom's turn to "Hide," it is truly a a lesson in clandestineness. She has created absolute gems of stealth such as, "A Portion Of Face Behind 1 Foot Square Pillow," and "A Little Bit Of Body Beneath Afghan." True marvels of camouflage. But the boys absolute favorite is, "Head Behind Newspaper While Standing In Open Closet." This cunning maneuver consists of standing in an open closet while concealing her head with an open newspaper held in front of her. At this point I can neither confirm nor deny that she has been been contacted by the CIA regarding the execution of this tactic. I have actually feared that the boys would hyperventilate from laughing so hard when she employs this move.

It's amazing how much can be communicated without words through a simple game. I have studied this process on several occasions, and I have trained my ear to hear the subtle communication. I have found that, when my mom is "Seeking" and is unable to find my rascals right beneath her nose, while she says, "I don't know J. I think they must have run away," she is really speaking to my boys and is saying, "I value your effort. You have done your very best with the resources you have been given and I will honor you for that. I value your creativity and initiative. I am proud of you."

When my mom is "Hiding," and the boys find her with ease and the three of them tumble over each other with laughter, what she is saying to them then is, "Most times the things that bring us the most joy, the most fulfillment aren't 'somewhere out there,' but rather right here in from of you. Being found doesn't mean that I lost, but rather that we all won because we are together. I love you."

As I watch my boys grow, it is evident to me in the people that they are becoming that they have been "listening" to her as intently as I have been.

There are not adequate words to describe the gratitude I have for these lessons learned during Hide and Seek. Thanks Mom.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!!!

There we were, up in the northwoods somewhere...the Holeshas, the Chapins and the D-Hues. They put the "newlywed" Holeshas up in the loft in two single beds so we could be alone.

So, I fixed them first thing in the morning.... by belting out Oh What A Beautiful Morning from the show Oklahoma....

Annie, you and I still laugh about that moment. Remember the every morning should be a beautiful morning, especially in the Keys, or in Florida, or just at your home with Ken.

Love ya

Saturday, May 22, 2010


For those of you who know Ann, my mom, you know that she has found her deepest appreciation of joy surrounded nature. Whether planting in her diminutive patch of soil, or cherishing time spent at the local arboretum, she was never more fulfilled than in these moments.

As you may or may not know, she has been battling cancer in various forms throughout the past several years. Very recently we learned that the cancer has spread and is present in many areas of her body including her brain. The prognosis is painfully short.

I have created this page for two reasons.

The first is to invite all of you to contribute to this page. To saturate it with your memories, your stories of how Ann has impacted your lives. I want for this to become a place where she can go in the time that remains to realize how many people she has touched, how many people love her. In order to create an original post, I will have to add you as a contributor. Please e-mail me at and I will be happy to add you as an author. This type of contribution will certainly be the most substantial to my mom.

The second reason I created this page is to create a memorial. As you know, my mom's two favorite places on earth are the Morton Arboretum and Herrick Lake (where she and Ken were married. "The scene of the crime," as they both affectionately call it.) We would like to honor my mom with the planting of a tree in her memory at either of these sights. The total cost for this is $2,500. In the coming days, I will be setting up a memorial fund at a local bank and adding a donate button to this page. Please consider donating as she would be overjoyed to realize this is happening.

Any funds raised above and beyond the $2,500 will be used to help ease the burden of costs associated with final preparations.