Broken, Blooming

March 22, 2024

Recently we had some small dead trees cut down, leaving open space we’ve never had before in our naturally-landscaped backyard. The fall of those trees crushed the ferns growing beneath them, and that whole area of the yard wears a shocked look, like it doesn’t know what happened to it. Nearby, a tall pine, uprooted and left leaning by Hurricane Irma, continues its slow decay, occasionally dropping branches onto the ground. Even though we have mild winters in Florida, there’s a lot of dead stuff. While it’s never pristine, our yard currently looks, shall we say, disheveled.

Yet at the same time, new growth is everywhere. Pale green oak leaves burst out beneath their canopies of Spanish moss and some of my favorite flowers are blooming. Simultaneously beautiful and a mess.

That’s kind of how I feel.

As time does its healing work, the internal walls I put in place to keep going when I had to, even though it was unbearably hard, are collapsing and the emotions and questions I have about that surreal period when both my mother-in-law and mom were dying (it’s a blur) are bubbling to the surface.

I find myself with questions and regrets about how my adult relationship with my mom played out. In particular, how far away we lived from each other. I missed out on frequent, “ordinary” things, like going shopping together, and I worry that I neglected her in ways I didn’t understand because I wasn’t there to see her struggles. My mom was my bedrock person, the one who loved me best. Though we had differences of opinion and viewpoint, I never doubted her love, and I did not have to do anything to earn it. I’m coming to terms with what it means to lose that.

At the same time, I’m deeply enjoying creative projects; delighting in beautiful spring weather; feeling love for my family, friends, and animals; savoring simple pleasures and everyday adventures whenever I experience them.

Even while I was going through my mom’s decline and death, sitting by her bedside daily, watching her slip away, even as I felt such great sorrow and grief, I noticed that I could still find comfort and even joy in certain things…many of them small. It was like the dial of my emotional sensitivity was turned up high—even though I was excruciatingly sad, I could take deep pleasure in a walk in nature, eating a favorite meal, or using an app to identify bird songs. I could be both sad and happy—broken and blooming. 

As I wrote in the October 2023 edition of the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, “This year has brought home to me the truth that even though we often perceive the world in extremes of either/or, life is really more a case of both/and. 

“We can feel multiple emotions at the same time: sorrow over losing a loved one and relief that they’re no longer suffering.

“I’m working on making my thinking more flexible. Allowing myself to feel joy and grief, without judging either one. Allowing life to unfold as both wonderful and challenging...because, frankly, that's what it is, and what it's always been.”

Even though I’ve outwardly held it together and “been strong” for what feels like forever, inside I have broken and tender places. But there are also blooms pushing their way upward, little tendrils of joy reaching for the light.

There is no question that this world holds unfathomable heartache. We see it on our screens, and in the eyes of those we love, and sometimes in our own faces in the mirror. But don’t forget that this world also holds joy, love, pleasure, and beauty, too.

I came across these perfect quotes from @motherwortandrose on Instagram this week:

“You get to experience enchantment even if you are deeply heartbroken by the world.”

“You are allowed to experience beauty and pleasure even when you are heartbroken.”

My mission on Catching Happiness has always been to focus on the simple pleasures and adventures of a happy life, rather than the heartbreak. Over the past year, I’ve found that increasingly more difficult, but I’m still committed to that goal. I hope today holds more enchantment, beauty, and pleasure than heartbreak for all of us. If you’d like to share something that lifted your spirits recently, we’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments below. 


The Blessing of Memory

February 16, 2024

Tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death. This week I’ve been mulling over what I might write about her to mark this milestone. I had no time to process her passing and write about it because I was immediately thrust into the trauma and chaos of my own mom’s last illness and death, but Carol was an important person to me. She was always loving and welcoming, and I can count only a few times when we disagreed or were at odds.

I’ve thought a lot about grief this year, trying to feel it without being undone by it. Trying to understand the process and work with it to heal. I like this passage about mourning, from George E. Vaillant’s book Aging Well: “Counselors sometimes forget that the psychodynamic work of mourning is often more to remember lost loves than to say good-bye. The primate brain is constructed to retain, not relinquish, love…. No one whom we have ever loved is totally lost. That is the blessing, as well as the curse, of memory. Grief hurts, but does not—in the absence of conflict—make us ill. What is more, just as rivers expose buried geologic strata, so may the erosion of living uncover life-saving memories of love, formerly obscured by pain, resentment, or immaturity.”   

In my experience, once I’m past the initial searing pain of loss, remembering loved ones does bring comfort and joy.

Our family all has favorite memories and stories about Carol. She loved to share “life lessons,” and every one of us has been on the receiving end of these. I especially enjoyed her quirky humor, her eagerness to help others, as well as her spirit of curiosity and adventure. She loved to travel, and it was at her suggestion that she, my husband, son, and I rented an apartment in Manhattan in 2007 for a quick Christmastime getaway, one of our happiest family memories. My husband traveled to China with her in 2006, and she and I took a two-week trip to Greece, also in 2007.

Carol in Greece

She also taught me to value and respect things of the home, to remain a lifelong learner (one of the last gifts I gave her was a book about physics for the layperson—she was fascinated by the subject), and being around her so much for the last years of her life made me realize how little we understand and respect our elders here in the U.S. She made me kinder.

Last night I came across the following on Instagram. It made me think of her—she absolutely would talk to anyone and she had a spirit that embraced life fully, the good and the bad. I think she would fully agree with these sentiments:

        Darling, go ahead and just love your life.

        Take pictures of everything. Capture the

        moments, big and small, that make you feel

        alive. Tell people you love them. And mean

        it- truly mean it. Talk to random strangers.

        Learn their stories. Do all the things that

        you're afraid of and stop playing small.


        Stop being worried about all that

        can go wrong when the only thing that

        matters is all the magic that could go right.

        There is so much life to be lived. So much

        love to receive. Open yourself up. Bloom.

        ~ Alysha Waghorn

This post is for Larry, Mary Lynn, James, Sarah, Richard, and Sam. I love you all, and I wish you comfort and healing today and every day. We miss you, Carol.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Cry

December 08, 2023

Image by Simon from Pixabay

I’m currently working my way through Susannah Conway’s free Unravel Your Year workbook (no affiliation), looking back over the events and experiences of 2023, and man, that post headline about sums up 2023 for me. Those of you who have been with me for the entire year already know that in 2023 my husband and I both lost our mothers rather suddenly. I was my mother-in-law’s caregiver, and while she was under Hospice care, her decline and death were unexpected and extremely quick. 

My own mom’s decline was even faster and more unexpected, and I spent good parts of the months of February through May flying back and forth to California, staying by her bedside as she transitioned, arranging for her funeral, and then closing up her home and preparing it for sale. I also contracted Covid while I was there in February and spent many of what would be our last precious days sick and in isolation (because the last place you want to go when you have Covid is a nursing home…).

How’s that for Bad?

And believe me, there was some ugly crying.

On the surface, the Good doesn’t leap out at me, yet I know there was good, and a lot of it. The support of my friends through this year has been more than “good”—it’s been priceless! My son and husband here at home kept everything going while I was otherwise occupied, including taking care of our pets and each other.

I read a lot of really great books (post to come) and saw several fantastic theater productions. I reconnected with a couple of friends from high school. Just as it’s impossible to keep bad things from happening, it’s also impossible to keep good things from happening!

This morning, I came across a phrase that describes something I believe to be happening to me: post traumatic growth. This year has been traumatic, and I don’t intend to waste the pain I’ve experienced. I feel different from the person who started 2023. While I’m a little shaky and unsure about how to move forward in my life after this transition, I also know that I found depths within myself and a safety net surrounding me that I did not realize existed. For that I’m profoundly grateful.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your experiences in 2023. What joys and what sorrows did you experience? What lessons will you take with you into the new year? (If you want some gentle prompts to help you reflect, I recommend the above-mentioned Unravel Your Year workbook.) 

I’m nearly ready to shut the door on the year and move into 2024. May we all find peace and closure with 2023. 

Barbara Crooker

Grief Is a River

October 05, 2016

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, has become one of this column's favorite poets. We try to publish work that a broad audience of readers can understand and, we hope, may be moved by, and this particular writer is very good at that. Here's an example from her collection, Gold, from Cascade Books.


is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
around my ankles, moving downstream
over the flat rocks. I'm not able to lift a foot,
move on. Instead, I'm going to stay here
in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it
like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.
I don't want it to grow up, go to school, get married.
It's mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me
in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet
as a golden Tokay. On the other side,
there are apples, grapes, walnuts,
and the rocks are warm from the sun.
But I'm going to stand here,
growing colder, until every inch
of my skin is numb. I can't cross over.
Then you really will be gone.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Barbara Crooker, “Grief” (Gold, Cascade Books, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Grief Is the Price We Pay For Love*

October 30, 2015

 “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
—Anatole France

I have sad news to share today.  We lost our little dog, Scout, last Saturday, and we are deep in sorrow. She was 16 ½ years old. I apologize to those of you I know personally if I haven’t shared this news with you directly. It’s because I haven’t been able to face talking about it with you—I cry every time I have to share the news. 

The past six months have been difficult. Scout was deaf; almost blind from cataracts; suffered from terrible nasal allergies that made her sneeze, wheeze and cough; and she had “doggy dementia.” She rarely made it through a night without getting up to relieve herself, and afterward she often wandered through the house, getting stuck behind toilets, doors, and pieces of furniture. She occasionally got lost in the backyard she patrolled for so many years and had to be rescued. She required medicating several times a day and became agitated if her routine was disturbed. At the same time, she ate well, bounced around the house a little every day, and there was life in her eyes. We knew her days were numbered and tried hard to make them comfortable and happy. She deserved it.

Scout's the one licking his face
Scout came home with us as an eight-week-old puppy after “choosing” Nick (we’d intended to bring home a different puppy from the litter, but she followed him around and he fell in love with her). The two of them were best buddies from day one. Once she was house trained, she slept in his bed with him at night. They dug holes together and swam in the pool, and she joined in any game in which he was participating. She knew several tricks, including sit, shake hands, roll over and play dead—dropping onto her side if you pointed your index finger at her and said, “Bang!”—though sometimes you had to “shoot” her several times. She caught and killed plenty of squirrels and snakes, including more than one coral snake. (In a way, we were surprised she didn’t meet an untimely end since she was a typical Jack Russell Terrier—a tough little dog with a big dog’s attitude.) She received Christmas presents and birthday parties, just like the member of the family she was. The last few years of her life, she finally slowed down and preferred snoozing in her own dog bed to sleeping with a human, and spent more of her daylight hours sleeping than playing.

We are each coping in our own ways. The guys are able to leave the house to go to work every day, while I struggle with looking for her and not seeing her, with cleaning up her nose prints on the window, washing her dog bed, and disposing of all her supplements and medications. Yesterday I thought I heard her sneeze in the next room and realized it was just my imagination. I know that life will eventually feel beautiful again and that Scout’s memory won’t hurt anymore. Right now, though, thinking of her is equal parts love and pain.

Scout was a happy dog through her whole life, and she brought countless hours of happiness to our family. We were lucky to have each other, and we’ll never, ever forget her.

*Queen Elizabeth II


The Garden of Compassion

October 28, 2015

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

David Mason

Grief Abated

June 03, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Of taking long walks it has been said that a person can walk off anything. Here David Mason hikes a mountain in his home state, Colorado, and steps away from an undisclosed personal loss into another state, one of healing.

In the Mushroom Summer

Colorado turns Kyoto in a shower,
mist in the pines so thick the crows delight
(or seem to), winging in obscurity.
The ineffectual panic of a squirrel
who chattered at my passing gave me pause
to watch his Ponderosa come and go—
long needles scratching cloud. I’d summated
but knew it only by the wildflower meadow,
the muted harebells, paintbrush, gentian,
scattered among the locoweed and sage.
Today my grief abated like water soaking
underground, its scar a little path
of twigs and needles winding ahead of me
downhill to the next bend. Today I let
the rain soak through my shirt and was unharmed.

Reprinted by permission from “The Hudson Review,” Vol. LIX, No. 2 (Summer 2006). Copyright © 2006 by David Mason. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.