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Seems like everyone is talking politics right now, myself included.

I can’t sleep tonight because my thoughts return again and again to what I’ve read today, to the conversations I’ve had with my husband about politics.

We are concerned about certain issues not because we want to be contrary to those who feel or believe or think differently, but because we are just genuinely worried.

So we talk, I get all worked up, and then I can’t sleep.

Tonight, to comfort myself, I thought of my mom. I thought specifically of her softness and her smell, and it transported me to a more peaceful place.

I remembered a time when my dad found a litter of newborn kittens abandoned, and he and my mom tried to take care of them.

My mom was quite allergic to cats, but she worried about the kittens’ welfare so much that she had my dad bring them inside so she could look after them. I can see her even now, cupping a tiny kitten between her hands and holding it gently against her cheek. She risked aggravating her allergies, and thus aggravating her sick lungs, in order to comfort that tiny creature.

Naturally, I thought next of my dad, someone with whom I banter about politics.

I thought of him leaning over my mom and watching her face as she slept — in a medically induced coma in the hospital. Occasionally, a frown would arise on her brow. Dad, pensively watching her, a small smile on his face, would murmur something like, “I wonder what’s making her frown.”

I saw him kiss that little frown and smoothe it away.

What compassion I have seen, what tenderness.

Your concerns, and mine, are very real. We want to do our best for each other. Sometimes, we disagree.

But I am thankful to be reminded of compassion and tenderness. Those things are who we are. I will carry them with me into the ever after.


I think about my mom a lot.

I don’t just mean staring off into space and remembering how much we laughed together or the comfort she always provided when I needed it.

I think about those memories, but I mean, like, picturing her here with us, watching my daughter with me — watching her bang my flip-flop on the patio door at the cat, or using her Frozen chair to crawl onto the couch with me. I think about my mom from nearly the moment I awake until I close my eyes at night.

See how funny Della is, mama? Isn’t it so cute when she grins so big that you can see all of her five teeth? When I say, “Check your mailbox,” and she walks over to her playset and opens the mailbox and pulls out the things I’ve tucked inside it to surprise her and says, “Oooooh!” — isn’t that amazing? We didn’t even teach her to make those surprised sounds.

Look at these cute pajamas I found for her, mom! How irresistable is that giggle when I smooch her neck, just like you always did to me, even when I was 29? I love her so much that my heart could burst like a fat, swollen slug (someone please cross-stitch that onto a pillow for me).

For the last five years, I’ve wanted to tell her a lot, to show her a lot.

The first two years or so, I was kind of a mess. I have adapted much more now, but back then, I had trouble getting out of bed every day. I was angry a lot, I mean shaking with rage anger, screaming and crying until my voice was hoarse. (My husband deserves an award, not because I screamed at him, which I didn’t, but because he never told me to stop, or to be a different way.)

Of course, now I have a lot to get up for every morning.

My sweet, lovable baby Della is unquestionably one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. But raising her without her namesake around is tinged with melancholy.

I have this quirk. The most annoying song will be stuck in my head for days at a time. Or a line from an episode of “The Office” that aired nine or 10 years ago.

The other day, the title of a poem I wrote in fifth or sixth grade passed through my thoughts — “The Soft, Silent Night.”

I wrote really bad poetry in high school and college, stuff that I cringe even thinking about, but it couldn’t touch what I wrote in fifth or sixth grade.

I wrote “The Soft, Silent Night,” about a young woman who was basically Cinderella/Snow White, who would sing to and was beloved by the animals of the forest. She slept every night with a rose on her chest. (I think the most difficult thing to believe about this poem is that anyone could sleep the entire night on their back.)

My mom, who knew me better than I knew myself, submitted this poem to one of those companies that publishes your drivel in a book and then gets you to buy the book for a ridiculous sum.

Why did my mom do this? Because I was in fifth or sixth grade, and loved to write, which she recognized and encouraged. Just before I came to the realization that my dream was to someday be a published author, she did what she could to encourage me, even though I was no young Sylvia Plath.

And somehow, I did one day find a job where I was paid to write. I got to do what I had always dreamed about — particularly once I began writing columns — and it began long ago with some really terrible poetry. I’m not even going to tell you about my poem on the Boston Massacre and Crispus Attucks. (I do, however, still remember Crispus Attucks because of this poetry assignment, so well done, Mrs. Thompson.)

I am thankful my mom lived to see me become a reporter and columnist. During her last few weeks, I found out I was one of three named the Young Journalist of the Year by the Missouri Press Association (I suspect there were only three nominated that year, but whatever). I’m not sure if she was aware of any of that, but I like to think she knew.

She also lived to see me engaged to Matt, another incredible gift from God. That was the day before she died. She was on a ventilator, couldn’t speak, but I showed her the ring, and she mouthed one question. “How?” I told her the story, and she nodded and closed her eyes. She had certainly been looking forward to that moment for a long time. I can’t say she held out for it — nobody’s world revolves around me — but she did seem to be at peace once she knew.

Oh, how I wish she had lived to meet her granddaughter. I still feel angry sometimes — what took her, why did she go, can I blame someone for this? I want to blame something. I want to throw rotten eggs at a barn door. Get me a golf club and an old watermelon so I can take it out on something.

I have missed her for five years, and I probably have a lifetime until I see her again.

Getting out of bed is no problem, these days. It’s usually several hours earlier than I would like to get out of bed, but I get to hold my girl, and rock her, and sing to her, and say, “Rise and shine, little rosebud!” just like my mom said to me. My dream now is to encourage Della, just as my mom encouraged me.

She still does, you know.

Earlier this summer, I turned on the “On this day” feature on Facebook. If you’re not familiar with it, it shows you your posts and interactions from the same date every year that you’ve been on Facebook.
Around Father’s Day, I seriously considered turning off the feature, because that’s when the bad news started appearing from four years ago.
My mom went into the hospital. She couldn’t breathe. She had to go on a ventilator. She was moved in and out of the critical care unit. She was offically diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. She was down to one working lobe of one lung.
The news got sadder and sadder, and though me four years ago didn’t know what was coming, me today knows.
So I thought about turning away, because it’s so painful, but I decided not to.
The pain of her loss will always be with me. I will always grieve. And because I love her so much, I won’t turn away or run away from that.

I named my baby daughter Della after my mom. It will take me a while to get used to hearing people say “Della,” and not be referring to my mom. I knew another as Della for 29 years — well, 33, actually — before baby Della came along.
What would she think of that, of me naming my baby after her? Can she see us? Does she know how much I still grieve?
I picture her in my home. Holding my baby.
Some stories died with her. I don’t know how much I weighed at birth (so please stop asking), and no one can find her chicken pot pie recipe, perhaps because she just made it from memory.

Things I want to tell her:
• Mom, I had a C-section! Can you believe that?!? I projectile-vomited Jell-O on the anesthesiologist and in my hair and then promptly forgot about it because I was in so much pain and later I thought my blood was splashed all over the draping before remembering the Jell-O.
• I named my baby after you because I love you and miss you and hope we have a relationship like you and I had, except for my adolescent years — sorry about that.
• You didn’t get to see how “The Strain” trilogy ended, but that’s OK because the third book wasn’t that great. And now there’s a TV show.
• You would have loved “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.” You, along with me, Matt and Nathan, would have laughed hysterically while Gerry kept replaying the scene of the witch jumping off the wardrobe in “The Conjuring” while Michelle screamed and threw things at Gerry.
• Kale is amazing. He was only 1 when you died. Now, he’s 5 and I’m pretty sure his vocabulary is bigger than mine. Emma is taller than me and Lane is umpiring little league games. You would recognize them if you saw them, but you would be astounded!
• Jazbo got ran over again last summer, the day before Independence Day. She died. Maybe you know that already. Maybe your little “junkyard dog” is with you again.

I recently came across the writing below on Facebook and I was curious about its context, so I looked it up on good old Google. Henry Scott Holland, the poem’s author, lived from Jan. 27, 1847, until March 17, 1918. He was a Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, according to Wikipedia, and who can’t trust Wikipedia? He wrote this as a sermon, actually, after the death of King Edward VII.
“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

All is well. Della Marie West entered another room on Aug. 9, 2011. Someday, I shall enter it, too, and I will see her there, and there will be no more tears.


Four years ago, I wrote with gusto.

My ideas filled my journals and my blog and my topics for my columns were numerous. My thoughts were wacky and silly and, though it’s a little embarrassing to admit and sounds kind of braggy, I would read them afterward and laugh heartily.

But then my mom died, and the fertile landscape of my creativity turned brown and dried up.

I seriously considered giving up my column for a while, because I had nothing entertaining to say, no witty observations. It seemed all I had to write about was death and grief and the never-ending suffering of a loss too profoundly painful for me to ever do it justice in writing.

I slogged through, and often found myself pulling material I’d already published to my blog to be printed as my column. I had no energy or inspiration to do more writing than I absolutely had to.

I’ve said before that part of me died with my mom, and I know that thought really bothered some of my loved ones. And while I’m not typically the type to say, “Do whatever you feel like,” or “You can’t help how you feel” — because I believe in something, or Someone, much greater — that empty part of me is something I have tried to revive without much success. (A well-meant “Buck up!” comment from someone isn’t going to change that, unfortunately.)

I think my creativity lives in that shadowy place now, too. Though it does make an appearance from time to time, things are not the same.

I don’t know why I wanted to put these thoughts to paper (or blog) today, but I did want to. And now I have.

An opportunity to help someone else recently broke my heart.
That may sound dramatic, but I’m not sure how else to describe the sadness and heaviness I carried with me afterwards.
On the evening of New Year’s Day, my husband and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things. We wanted to get our groceries as quickly as possible, because during our big grocery trips, it can sometimes take an hour or more. This was not a big trip, so we really didn’t want to be in the grocery store any longer than necessary.
We zipped through the aisles — me, impatiently — and in very little time, we were at the only checkout stand that was open.
Someone else was ahead of us in line, but nearly all of her items were already scanned by the time we got there. Nonetheless, we waited. And waited. And waited.
We began to get frustrated. I gave my husband that deadpan look to let him know I was annoyed. With my eyes, I tried to say, “Here we were so quick about our shopping, and now we’re going to stand in line for longer than it took us to pick out our groceries.” (I don’t actually believe he read all that just from my eyes, but he definitely understood my annoyed-deadpan look.)
I began to pay more attention to the situation. The woman was older, in her 60s. Her hair was matted. She squinted at everything, and I took that to mean she couldn’t see well. I heard the clerk tell her she needed about $30 more.
I can say the rest seemed to happen very quickly, but that would be an excuse. So I will just say that it happened, and I did nothing.
The woman had swiped what I presume was a government assistance debit card. It covered the majority of what was in her cart, except about $30 worth.
While the woman stood silently, probably wondering what to do, the cashier suggested she return some items. The woman offered up some large jugs of vegetable oil. The clerk took them off her bill.
I watched.
Returning the oil helped, but not enough. Then, the woman gave back two bags of sour cream and onion potato chips.
I watched.
Still, the woman owed maybe $3 or $4, and she didn’t even have that.
Somewhere during the time the potato chips were chosen for return, I faintly heard God knocking on my head.
I scrambled in my wallet for cash. I had $1 bills, but not enough to cover the remaining tab. I asked Matt, as quietly as I could, if he had any cash.
By the time we intervened, the tab was just down to that $3 or $4, and we paid it for the woman. She thanked us and left.
I made it to the car, after loading our groceries in the trunk, and to the first stoplight before I began to cry. It still bothers me so much that I have tears in my eyes as I write this.
Matt understood it, of course, and held my hand as we drove home.
We discussed the situation. Why hadn’t we seen it sooner, that we could help in this small way? I had stood there impatient and annoyed when I could have leaned forward and said, “We’ll pay the rest.”
I could have told them to add the vegetable oil and potato chips back and we would pay for those, too. Because seeing them take those potato chips really got me, and maybe part of that is because I’m a fat girl. I just pictured this poor woman at home with her small comfort of sour cream and onion potato chips and how she wouldn’t have those now.
I even could have picked up the oil and potato chips after she left and taken them to her in the parking lot.
Something else that really bothered me is that I’d seen this happen before in the grocery store and had done absolutely nothing then.
We prayed for that woman that night, and I still think about her and ask God to watch over her. I didn’t do the right thing that night, but regardless of whether I had or not, I must trust that God will take care of her.

In our Thursday night group, we’ve been discussing our word for the year. We each picked a word to describe how we want to improve ourselves and our spiritual lives this year. Matt and I, with a house and other big changes in mind, picked the word opportunity. I realize now that it’s not just opportunity for ourselves that I should be focused on, but also opportunities to help others. Because God calls us to be ready to share his love, and I just shared a tiny, grudging part that night.
But I’m ready, now — ready for the opportunity to help someone who can’t afford all of her groceries in the checkout line, and I hope I recognize other opportunities when they come in other forms.

I know, it’s been since, like, Halloween that I posted.
I went to New Zealand.
Allow me to make it up to you (Patty) by live-blogging my reactions to the film “Terror Toons,” which I added to my queue to watch around Halloween but, having never gotten around to watching “Hesher,” it stayed put at the magical Netflix distribution center.
“Terror Toons” is to be delivered in the mail today, and I’m so excited to see it that I plan on popping it into the DVD player as soon as it arrives. (Matt has already checked the mail once.)
I would provide a synopsis here, but Internet Movie Database is not cooperating.

3:02 p.m.
“Terror Toons” is here.
First impression of the intro by the makers: I could have filmed this myself at home.
I can already tell “Pumpkinhead” was better.
Danny Elfman music meets “The Ice Cream Man.”


She seems a bit old to have so many rubber duckies at bathtime.


On the left there is “Mom.”

Older sister, who also is a “teenager,” looks to be about 40.


It’s a movie inside a movie!

The narrator of the “Terror Toons” inside the “Terror Toons” has also narrated some Christmas classics, I think.


Is that the guy from Sugar Ray?

3:20 p.m.
I’m really starting to regret this. You’ll forgive me if I don’t actually finish this movie, won’t you?

Wishin’ and hopin’

After finding that email yesterday, I couldn’t resist reading a few more. This one really made me laugh:

“Could you please send me your wish lists? Unless of course you want me to randomly pick things out for you? Send it quickly, ok?

“Yes, somehow I deleted it. I don’t deny it. I don’t know how I did it. And no it wasn’t on purpose. So before you start hassling me how I don’t love you and all just send the list, ok? Thank you.”

She sent that one on Nov. 27, 2010, so she must have been wanting my Christmas wish list.

‘Last Christmas’ (…well, four Christmases ago)

I hate nearly everything right now.
It’s called the holiday blues, and even on my third Christmas without my mom, it’s still kicking my butt.
Sometimes it takes someone else putting it into words for you. My sister Cynda did that the other day. She wasn’t even talking about me, but when I heard those words, “the holiday blues,” it finally clicked. Christmas-time is kind of sucky for people who have lost loved ones. I’m one of those people.

Whether it’s Christmas or some other time of the year and I’m feeling just — I don’t know, sad — for several days in a row, and suddenly I realize it’s because my mom is haunting the back of my mind, I feel a weight pulling on me. That weight is the realization that I will carry this deep ache within me for a very long time, for the rest of my days.

Not this chick?
For a while now, I’ve been feeling like the tough part of me, the part of me most like my mom, has been in hibernation or is gone completely. Just the other day, someone was saying something about expecting me to tell off someone — I can’t remember the exact situation — and described the tough Sarah and how fearsome she was.
“She’s dead,” I said of tough Sarah.
Then, I realized I was also talking about the part of my mom that had been in me. I guess it left when she did.
I found this column I wrote about her a couple years ago, back when she was still alive:
“She stood up to any person who wronged me when I was a child and, as a result, I learned to stand up for myself and for those I love. She shrugged off adversaries whose character flaws made them act maliciously to others and taught me not to bother matching wits with those who have none.”

I can’t stand up for myself very well anymore. I wish I could, but that part of me feels broken. I’m sorry, Mom.

I went looking in my email for an address today, and this old email from my mom turned up in the search results. She sent it to me on May 30, 2007, when I was living in China.

Hi sweetie,
How are you doing? Sorry I haven’t gotten to talk to you much lately. I’ll sure be glad when you get home. I really do miss you lots and lots.

I loved those pictures of you swimming in the waterfalls. Very good.

Well, all the gang will start arriving tomorrow — Wilma and Leonard, Edward and Peggy, Lois and Lee, Rowan and Grace. Then on Friday, Nathan and Michelle, Gerry and Cynda and the babies. We’re having the family reunion Saturday at the park. Too bad you’ll miss it. You would have gotten to see a lot of family on my side. It could be really interesting, to say the least.

Glad you got your new toilet. Notice how I just threw that in there? Things just sort of pop in my head and I’ve got to say them before I forget them.

I guess Winkie wants me to move to Texas so she can take care of me. Boy, everybody must think I’m pretty helpless. Not this chick.

Well, better get back to the cookies I’m baking for the gang. Love you bunches, sweetie. Take care.


Mommie Dearest

It feels like maybe she could have just sent it last week. I love when she says everyone must think she’s helpless, and then she declares, “Not this chick.” She was one tough cookie super-mama.

She also refers to herself as “Mommie Dearest,” an old joke between us, and her comment in the middle about my new toilet made me laugh. She was just so funny.

My nephew and niece, Lane and Emma, stayed the night with us a few weekends ago.
The next morning, the three of us were out to visit the Halloween store and to go to some friends’ house to decorate pumpkins.
They ask me such adorably precocious questions sometimes when it’s just us. I never know what they might think of, ask or say.
For instance, when we pulled up to my friends’ house, Emma said, “Well, this is a pretty good-looking house.”
She’s 9, going on 10.
While we were in the car that Saturday morning, one of them — I don’t actually remember which one — asked me one of those surprising questions.
“What was the best day of your life?”
Who is the interviewer here? I thought to myself with amusement.
“Oh, well, the day I married your Uncle Matt,” I said.
“What was the second-best day of your life?”
It was starting to sound a lot like one of those precocious conversations I had with my parents growing up.
“Probably the days you guys were born,” I said.
Third-best day?
“The day I was born,” I said, which they thought was funny.
After a little silence — I could practically hear the gears turning — Emma asked: “What was your worst day?”
I had to take a moment. I knew this question was coming, and I knew the answer, too. I felt they probably already knew the answer as well, but they wanted to hear it.
I steadied my voice as much as I could. I was driving, after all, and I didn’t want to upset them.
“The day Gee died,” I finally said.
The next silence may have been the most expressive silence I’ve ever experienced, or maybe I’m just projecting onto them. After a little while, a small, sweet voice said, “Mine, too.” That’s my Little Ems.
They couldn’t remember how Gee, my mom, and how Gammaw, Cynda’s mom, died.
“Gee’s lungs weren’t strong,” I said. “It wasn’t her fault — there was nothing that could be done. It was a disease.”
This helped them remember how Gammaw had died, that she had passed peacefully in her sleep, with her sweet dog beside her. Then they discussed how that dog recently died, too.
The topic was certainly sad, but being resilient little kids, they looked on the brighter side.
“I don’t think I’ve had my happiest day yet,” Emma said.
“You will,” I told her, “on your wedding day.”
“My happiest day was when I hit that grand slam,” Lane said.
Those two. They keep us going.

My parents celebrated 40 years of marriage on Aug. 1, 2009.

Though I thought they should go on a romantic date – just the two of them – they insisted they would be delighted if I went with them to dinner.

The day before, as a small gift, I gave Mom a manicure and pedicure. I made it as elaborate as I possibly could so it would be as much like a salon experience as possible. I massaged her hands, feet, arms and legs, exfoliated her skin, pushed back her cuticles and even put a special foot and leg mask on her after soaking her feet for a while (I did the same for her hands with another mask). Finally, I buffed and polished her nails. I had purchased a pink polish specially for the occasion that I knew she would like.

Mom was terribly ticklish on her feet and did a lot of yelping when I exfoliated them. She would howl when I pushed back her cuticles.

This gave me the giggles, of course, which made her amusingly indignant. It took us probably twice as long to get through this process than it would have because we were having so much fun.

She said her hands and feet felt so soft and looked so nice.

That wasn’t the first time I polished her nails for her, and it probably wasn’t the last. But I remember it so well that I think of it every time I polish my own nails or get a manicure or pedicure at a salon.

She was not really awake for her 42nd anniversary and she did not live to see her 60th birthday. I so wish we’d had more time, that there could have been more manicures and pedicures for special occasions, that I could have kept giggling uncontrollably with her for many more years.


The sadness of losing someone so precious is always with me, but I have mostly gotten used to it. However, there are times when something slips through, something taps into the deep place where agony lives.

I try not to think about her last day, in particular, because it opens up something truly terrible and painful that I cannot control.

But it happened last night, that her last expression popped into my consciousness. And I want you to know that while you may never witness someone die, you will lose someone precious. So love like crazy and express it openly, because you will never regret loving. You will never regret loving someone deeply and being patient with them and forgiving them and being humbly thankful that you have them.