One Boot Closer to Santiago

March 27, 2015

We made it through your 30th birthday Justin and today we are 4 1/2 in grief years. I can look back and see how much we have grown in six months, now we start the climb to the fifth anniversary of your death. We had a plan in place for your birthday yesterday and it actually worked. The nausea was intense in the morning, reminds me of the first two years of grief where I didn’t go anywhere without pretzels, they could quell the nausea. We have learned high protein knocks it back also, an invaluable lesson.

Actually four boots closer to Santiago

Actually four boots closer to Santiago

We escaped the house and its memories and found ourselves at REI in the shoe department. Our quest, hiking boots so that we can start to challenge ourselves with day and weekend hikes in preparation for our Camino in 2016. Our first experience last September in REI was overwhelming, we were six months older this trip, much better prepared. The young man in the footwear department graciously pulled out pair after pair of shoes and boots for us to try on and easily answered all our questions. We both loved the Keens we tried on, and I thought of you, Justin, your feet so scarred from multiple surgeries, we will walk this for you. We grabbed some Darn Tough wool hiking socks, no excuses now, we have all we need to walk any terrain. I have my boots beside me as I write, I was unprepared for how attached I would become to them in a day, but they are a symbol of hope and a dream.

Love that they are crafted in Vermont

Love that they are crafted in Vermont

The very best sort of dream, a dream where there is not much money to make it real and the odds are stacked pretty high, impossible dreams force us to be impossibly creative. Impossible dreams sharpen our focus, they bring clarity.

We contentedly stacked our boots and socks in a cart and meandered over to backpacks. And this experience truly revealed the growth we have made, I have made. The gentleman in backpacks rudely snorted when we shared with him that the end game for our backpacks was the Camino, but we wanted something that would suit us well for shorter journeys. He said something about everyone doing the Camino since the movie came out and was snarky and deprecating in his tone. Then he asked if we saw the movie, Doug replied “which one?” A bit of spluttering, “well, you know, the one called “The Way” I think.” We replied in the affirmative that we had seen that particular film. He waited for us to offer more information, other than a simple “yes” to his question. I realized that he was bordering on being a jackass, and that jacksasses have no right to our story. I would not tell him that it was our eldest son’s 30th birthday, I would not tell him of a boy’s scarred feet and body that would never walk the Camino, I did not tell him about sandals that sit by my desk waiting for their ticket to Spain. Those are soul stories, reserved for those who are kindred spirits. I fixed him with a quiet stare and replied that our Camino started long before the movie and that we would like to see some backpacks. Justin had sent us an email July of 2010, the year he was killed, it included a link to this article, Prayer Filled Run Along the Camino. You see, he had the Camino on his mind long before we did, he was dead two months later. Yes, the movie “The Way” might have been a catalyst for our journey, but I believe it was started as a collaboration between our boy and St. James. A journey that has been nurtured by a beautiful soul who has taken time to write back and forth and answer my questions as I reached out for guidance from the American Pilgrims on the Camino.

We listened as he prattled on about how we needed to bring everything to the store that we would be taking on our trip and see what size backpack we would need, yeah – no. He was busy showing us 65 liter packs that were as big as I am, we humored him and I tried on a couple, oh to have had a picture. I dared not catch Mr. Jackson’s eye, we have warped senses of humor and it is not always appreciated. We thanked him for his time and made our way to the checkout sans enormous backpack, very satisfied with our boots and socks. I actually am dreaming of an Osprey Kyte 36, the “go anywhere, do anything” day pack. But there is no rush to have everything, there is no need to have everything. I believe that we will have all we need when the need arises, not before.

We had mugs of hot cocoa and flourless chocolate cake for your birthday dinner, Justin, both were exceptional. We didn’t talk much, I still can’t say your name to your dad, all that rests bottled up bubbles to the surface and I can’t see or speak for the tears. But I feel we did a good job honoring your birthday yesterday, we got out of bed – anything beyond that was extra credit. You and Ryan are in our every heartbeat, our every thought, we never walk alone.

Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots



Categories: Doug, Hope, The Camino, Traveling.

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Oh, you’re back. A birthday letter to Justin.

March 19, 2015

“Oh, you’re back.” Me speaking to grief as I find myself in a trifecta of events. Your 30th birthday is next week, Easter hard on its heels. And then Mother’s Day with all its weirdness will confront me. Your birthday has crept up on me, settled itself on my shoulders, my legs feel like they are moving through molasses. If only I could see you for a minute, one last smile, one last time to catch your eye.

Grief doesn’t ever leave, but it can pull back like a wave on the sand, and you have some breathing space as smaller, gentler waves ebb and flow. And then the storm starts to form, it starts small, like a small pool of black ink, and then it spreads, little inky tendrils spin out and touch your heart. Your birthday, still have not figured out what to do with that day. I try so hard Justin, I re-invest my energy into positive outlets, I challenge myself to make new memories, I try to focus on having a purpose in life – but then a picture of you catches my eye, and I am undone. I have to be honest with you Justin, I am tired of waking up to this everyday, everyday it is new, every morning my brain has to process that you are dead. I do a good job most mornings, but this week before your birthday, too many memories.

I am frustrated and confused. There are good things happening, exciting avenues opening up for me, a new found confidence, your dad and I even laugh now. I didn’t expect to feel like the early days of losing you. And yet, here I am, no colors, just grey and brown. Your dad and I are working on your legacy website, could have a lot to do with getting thrown back into this sharp edged grief. Going through pictures, story boarding your life, trying to form words and ideas without crying, wanting to give up on the project, but that does not feel any better – so you just keep working, right? Do the next thing, whatever the next thing is. But it is hard, hard to see pictures of you and Ryan together, it just makes it all so real and in your face.

I know you didn’t mean to die that night, you would have never wanted us to be in such pain, I wonder if it grieves you, do you suffer because your heart hurts for us? If love never dies, then the capacity for suffering with and for the ones we love does not die either. Love and suffering intertwine together so it is impossible to say where one begins and ones ends. You are heart of my heart, we are forever bound.

Frustrated and Confused. Bewildered by grief. I will try and visit your grave before or on your birthday, what a strange thing to say. I wish I had Frodo’s cloak of invisibility, I could place it around me and visit you unseen. Thanks for listening this morning, I can breathe again. I will never understand all there is to know about grief. Grief is neither friend nor foe, more like an uneasy alliance, not exactly traitorous, but it arcs and twists like a serpent.

I think of what C. S. Lewis said, so true:

“First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

Miss you Justin, love you forever.




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Categories: Dark Night, Grieving, Justin, Ryan.

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A Letter to My Younger Self

March 17, 2015

I came across a list of suggested writing prompts for March and one grabbed me and sent me on a journey back in time. I had not intended to take down carefully taped boxes off the back shelves of my memory and dump them out, it just sort of happened. A wise Franciscan had once said that sometimes it is good to have someone around if you are going to empty boxes, now I understand what he meant. I was unprepared to feel those same emotions that I had felt at the time of the memory, it has softened my heart for my younger self, made me far more empathetic to her failings and mistakes.

I am standing in the yard looking for the ambulance that had been called the morning my father suffered a major coronary, we could hear on my brother’s scanner that it was looking for the development which was new and had become lost in unfamiliar roads. I remember begging God to not let my father die, but I knew he was dead already. He was not quite 55, I was just 13. There was no acknowledgement at that time of the trauma that grief has on a family. The next four years were chaotic, confusing, I was in three different high schools, but I graduated with a Senatorial Scholarship to Towson State majoring in Biology. I had the standard English class, met once a week as a group and then individually with the prof to go over our writing assignment. I will never forget that first individual meeting, he excoriated my writing sample, and my younger self, the tough as nails younger self, melted and fled. He called after me, I never stopped. I dropped the class. I was only seventeen. I lived off campus, took the bus to college. During that first month at school I was stalked by a man who had stopped me asking for directions. I have never been able to verbalize the actions he was doing, or his threats. I can still see his face and his vehicle 36 years later. I left school and came home. I forfeited the scholarship, years down the road I had to pay it back.

So to my younger self, my young, young self, I love you. I see now that we didn’t “drop” out of college, we used what coping skills we had, survival skills that evolution deposits in our brain, and we chose to go home, out of the reach of both abusers. The stalker who rang the phone, the stalker who would appear in a parking lot, you didn’t fail, you kept yourself safe. You didn’t allow yourself to feel the terror of being watched, you took action. Now you and I can feel that terror together and the anger, and we can let it go, he is weak and powerless. We rocked those martial arts classes and learned much, perhaps no one understood why self defense was so important to you, but we knew. My favorite memory younger self of martial arts? Taking a good hit, blood dripping where the stick had cut us, blood on our snow white uniform, and bowing to receive our red belt, strength and courage sang in our veins, it was good.

And that jackass of an English professor, the worst kind of bully, the intellectual bully, the verbal bully, the lofty ego bully who feeds on demoralization and criticism, I believe he suffered the worst punishment, he had to live with himself. He too is weak and powerless. We came to that realization looking out the kitchen window last week, it is where we do our best thinking. We didn’t write again for over thirty years, it took burying that boy of ours to realize that nothing could ever hurt us as much as we had been hurt. It some ways it was fitting that we were home alone when we opened the magazine and realized that we had been published, no one can take that memory from us.

Dear younger self, you did good, yeah, there are plenty of mistakes, but let us embrace, you are a part of me, and together we can gather all the past and allow it to ascend to Father God, His name is mercy and love. We begin anew today, at peace and integrated, unafraid of the future. You and I, we write for us now. We write because when we don’t our skin gets two sizes too tight and we crack, so we write and balance and peace come stealing into our heart. We breathe through unblocked channels of thought and memory. Unfettered, unchained, unbound, standing with our face to the north wind, we are cleansed. Life and people run through our lives like water, we neither grasp or clench, but keep our hands open to allow freedom and movement. You and I are part of every wave that crashes on the sand, we know the heart of every horse that when loosed from its bonds, tosses its head and gallops, suspended in air for moments of absolute freedom.

Peace to you my younger self, peace and all good.

Ascending to Father God Angel in the Sand OBX 2014

Ascending to Father God
Angel in the Sand


Categories: Faith, Grieving, Hope, Self Care.

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“You grab my waist, I’ll grab the fish.”

March 15, 2015

IMG_8327-002Today would have been our mom’s 92nd birthday. We celebrated her last birthday with us 19 years ago, I remember it so clearly. Brilliant sunshine, many faces around the table, mom at the head of the table, smiling. Six weeks into radiation and chemo for palliative treatment of pancreatic cancer, but she was smiling. Her birthday and St. Patrick’s Day were always linked together, and celebrations could last a week. I would watch for when the daffodils came in from Ireland, they were always extra special somehow, and we would fill vases with them. Mom loved daffodils, she would call them her Daffy-down-dillies, so bright and cheerful, yellow heralds of spring.

The treatments left mom weak and tired, but she never lost her sense of adventure or fun. She lived with us and hers’ was a gentle spirit to have around. We always had at least one fish in a bowl and her last summer we had goldfish from the local carnival who were remarkably healthy. We also had a collection of cats, cats have of a way of Krinklebein_009-001finding you when you need them the most. Penny was a buff colored stray that came to live with us and he was an avid fisherman. He would spend endless hours watching the fish and attempt to scoop them out of their bowl. We had just as much fun watching his antics, and he was never successful, except for the afternoon when it was just mom and I home.

I came around the corner to the kitchen to find one of the small goldfish flipping and flapping on the kitchen floor and I tried to pick it up, at the same time yelling for mom. Dear soul, she comes out, she had been resting, nightgown and robe, socks on her feet, and tells me the obvious, “Theresa, pick up the poor fish!”

Krinklebein_005-002I can do many things, I was the one they called when a dead mouse was found at work, he was in a bag of chocolate, I believe he left this world happy. But without too much thought I removed and respectfully disposed of him. I have three older brothers and two sons, lived for seven wondrous years on a farm, crabbed off piers for hours, mucked stalls in exchange for riding lessons, but my Waterloo be live, wriggling fish. I love watching them, but I do not like holding them all wiggling and cold, gives me the shivers.

Mom loved all creatures and truly nothing phased her, “grab my waist” she says, “I’ll grab the fish.” I remember grasping her around her waist as tight as I could and holding on for dear life, while Doris the Brave scooped up the frantic fish in her hands and dropped him back in his bowl. We were laughing so hard by now, her little socks wet, I was afraid we would both slip on the wet floor, Krinklebein_007-001and it just got funnier and funnier, we must have sounded like loons. Moments frozen in time, we were mother and daughter, but also good friends. I remember getting her tucked back into bed, still laughing, both of us better for the laughter and the fishing expedition.

She was fearless, would drive anywhere in a heartbeat, rode her first horse when she was sixty, and withstood a regime of radiation and chemo treatments like a warrior, a warrior with matching socks and outfits. Always a lady, but not above telling someone to go scratch their ass with a pineapple if they had crossed a line with her. I miss her.

Happy birthday Doris Claire, may there be countless daffodils and merriment this day for you. I hope my boy is with you.

Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer

Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer


Categories: Family, Stories.

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Grab your own oxygen mask first.

March 12, 2015

That is what they tell you on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others. So simple, so singularly profound, yet treated dismissively when one is not on a plane. Reaching for your own oxygen mask in life is interpreted as weak, selfish, egocentric, needy, I don’t need to go on  – you get the picture. Somewhere, somehow it has been communicated to us that to be “good” people, we must neglect our own person, be strangers to our own heart and soul.

For the first two years after Justin’s death, our oxygen masks dangled beside us, every once in a while we grabbed it and sucked in air, but never for long, never deep enough to touch the bottom of our lungs. I place no blame or responsibility on anyone other than myself. It took a very wise and courageous father, himself a bereaved dad, and now an incredible advocate for bereaved parents, to tell us that we had suffered a trauma. Tears started to run down my face, he went on to say that as bereaved parents we had and will have needs, needs that need to be acknowledged and nurtured by us. Now I understand what he was saying, at first you have no idea what you need, except for the suffocating pain to go away. Oxygen, we needed oxygen. And to grab our own masks, that meant we needed to let go of what was already in our hands so that we could put on our oxygen masks and breathe. It was a hard lesson and went against my understanding of how we were supposed to live without any thought for self, or our own needs, much less desires. We have been inculcated to believe that “being” is  wrong, we must be “doing.”  We have been taught that we will be measured by our productivity and output.

I learned how to put the oxygen mask on and just breathe, but it has been a struggle. My wise brother had shared with me the importance of doing what is good for me, and by being good to me, I was being good to everyone around me. I was a terribly slow learner. I had to stop and examine moments and ask myself “is this good for me?” Tending the tomatoes in the garden is very good for me. The smell of mulch is good for me. Allowing the calendar to fill up every day, very bad for me. I learned to say no to even good things, fun things, because they ceased to be good if I became overspent, overtired, if my buckets got empty. It is a balance, what things restore my oxygen, what fills my lungs to their very bottom so that there can be a life giving exchange of air?

Hard questions. Hard questions demand honesty. I find that when I am good to me, I am able to love generously. We are to love our neighbor as our self, Jesus said that – I didn’t. I continue to ask what is loving myself? How can I nurture someone else if I haven’t a clue what restores peace and harmony in my own soul? I can’t, I simply become empty.

I am learning what my oxygen mask looks like, what is restorative, what brings that clean life saving air down to the bottom of my lungs. What are those moments that expand my lungs so much so, that there is more than enough oxygen to share, that life spills over the reservoir walls and gives of itself to those around me joyfully and authentically.

We are about 4 and a half in grief years, four year old’s still need much rest. I am frequently reminded and just as frequently frustrated with how much oxygen I need. When the brain is starved for oxygen, we become anxious. I have to stop and recollect, did I breathe today? How quick the supply becomes depleted. As Justin’s 30th birthday looms closer, I catch myself shallow breathing, trying to dodge the fist that clenches my heart and lungs. I find myself writing in my affirmation journal to “grab your own oxygen mask first.” I write it three times on a fresh page, once was not enough, twice was good, three felt better. And breathe, all I have to do is breathe.


Be good to you today.

Love, Terri

Categories: Grieving, Justin, Self Care.

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2015 Personal Challenge Accepted. Hives and nausea following.

March 6, 2015

March. The month that I designate as “find a personal challenge and do it month.” Last year I attended a Discovering Christ conference, you can read about that here, it is okay if you laugh at parts, I laugh at them too. This year I am attending a conference for women bloggers, a three day conference, a conference where I won’t know a single soul. I chose March as my challenge month because it is Justin’s birth month. My eldest would have been turning thirty, it rends my heart. But I know that I have to continue to give birth to the new Terri, in doing so I honor Justin’s birth. I still catch myself rocking and crying, cradling the child gone. I try to honor my surviving son, Ryan, and my husband, Doug, my Norsemen. If they can get up every morning and take on the world, then I have to try and take a shot at it as well.

I really hate going to new places alone. I discovered after Justin’s death that I began to hate going alone to places that I knew well. Most days I just hated everything. But going to a strange place, with strangers, staying overnight with out my security blanket – read Doug, not happening. I need familiar, I need predictable. Doug and I pair so well, like wine and chocolate, bacon and everything, he knows me. He knows when my blood sugar is crashing and Pookzilla is getting ready to make an

My security blanket.

My security blanket.

entrance, I get so ugly when I crash. He knows when my eyes glaze over that I can no longer hear anything, or see anything, too many circuits have fired and we are in shut-down mode. He knows when I need coffee – like always. He knows when I can’t say Justin’s name, he hears silently the entire thought. And hives, he knows when I break out in hives that it is normal and left alone, they go away. It is hard to leave that blanket at home.

What I have experienced though, is that those same hateful things make me grow the most. I have to throw myself out of my comfort zone and free fall. What is the worst that can happen? Ryan taught me not to fear what can happen, he taught me the power of a positive affirmation. Affirmations can slow the fall, they give me a chance to get my feet under me, they stop the slide. What if I can’t figure out which cord goes to which electronic device when I am traveling? Instead of feeling stupid, inadequate, intimidated, I will remind myself that I have people in my life who will answer my same question seventeen times without impatience.

What will I pack for the Blog U Conference? What will I wear? I will wear my “whispers of love” bracelet from Justin, and a leather bracelet that the three of us wear to commemorate our family. From Ryan, I will wear his courage, affirmation, and quite possibly my first tattoo. And the night before the conference when I am telling Doug that this was a huge mistake and that I can’t do this, and what was I thinking, I will re-read my own words and remember what I was thinking, and that chances are good I can do this.

"Non apibus dubitandem est." Winnie ille Pu

“Non apibus dubitandem est.” Winnie ille Pu


Categories: Doug, Hope, Justin, Ryan, Self Care.

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