Hold On, Poem #87

Hold on to the one you lost.
Remember their laugh.
Remember their smile.
Remember their hugs.
Remember what they taught you.
Remember everything you can.
Because if you don’t hold on to these memories,
Then you will have not held onto what you still have.
Because the person is not completely gone,
You can still feel their presence if you try.
You need to savor the memories.
So, hold on.

Poem #87


Remembering by cooking

It’s not the same without you.
It’s not the same at home…
-It’s Not the Same, poem #68

Those who knew him knew that my dad loved to cook and he loved to eat. And though I have become a pescatarian since he died on Dec. 1, 2002, cooking his favorite meals, eating his favorite foods and visiting his favorite restaurants is a way our family continues to remember him, despite that empty chair at the dinner table.

His absolute favorite recipe? Veal with Caramelized Onions & Horseradish Potatoes from the Four Seasons Hotel Restaurant Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 7.02.40 PM

Ingredients needed for 4-6 servings (according to number of chops)

    • 6-7 ounce veal loin chops
    • Olive oil
    • Salt & pepper
    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 3 medium~large onions, thinly sliced
    • 1 cup chicken stock or canned broth
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 3 medium~large russet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
    • 1-1/2 cups coarsely grated peeled, fresh horseradish (1 large or 2 small roots)
    • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
    • 1-1/2 cups whipping cream

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown (approximately 40-45 minutes). Add stock and sugar and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed (approximately 10-15 minutes). Note: onions can be prepared one day ahead if refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place potatoes in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish (grease dish first). Top with horseradish. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Pour cream over. Cover with foil and bake until potatoes are tender (approximately 45 minutes). Uncover and continue baking until golden brown (approximately 10 minutes). Set aside to cool slightly.

Prepare barbecue or preheat broiler. Brush veal chops with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil veal to desired doneness (approximately 5 minutes per side for medium).

Cut potato casserole into six rectangles. Using metal spatula, transfer potatoes to plates. Top each potato rectangle with one veal chop. Bring onion mixture to simmer. Spoon over veal and serve.

Favorite dessert? Chocolate-Praline Layer Cake chocpraline

Ingredients needed for 12 servings

    • 1 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
    • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
    • 1 package chocolate cake mix (regular size)
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 cup fat-free milk
    • 1/2 cup butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
    • 1 package (3.4 ounces) cook-and-serve chocolate pudding mix
    •  1-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
    • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter and cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour into two greased 9-in. round baking pans and sprinkle with pecans.

In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, eggs, milk, butter, sweetened condensed milk and pudding mix; beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on medium for 2 minutes. Transfer to prepared pans.

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla; beat until stiff peaks form.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate, praline side up. Spread with half of the whipped cream. Top with remaining cake layer; spread remaining whipped cream over top. Garnish with chocolate curls and candies.

Finding those who get it

On Dec. 1, 2002 – as I stared blankly at the stark walls of the ICU waiting room – my world changed with the words “daddy died.” To say I felt completely alone would be one of my life’s greatest understatements. The fifth graders who surrounded me could not relate, and typecast as a daddy’s girl, my family seemed foreign.

Six months later, my life changed again when I attended Comfort Zone Camp, the nation’s largest free bereavement camp for children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. As I shared my story for the first time – surrounded by campers and volunteers – I realized I was not alone. Suddenly, I was on the receiving end of another’s selfless empathy; I had experienced the gift of someone wholly dedicating her time to make me smile.

Now, nearly 11 years later, I have attended well over 70 of Comfort Zone’s weekend camps as both a camper and volunteer. Do something meaningful today by taking the time to learn about the supportive resource that is Comfort Zone. You never know when someone in your life will benefit.

Comments from the peanut gallery who (spoiler) didn’t “get it”

No one understands unless they’ve gone through the same thing.
They may think that they do, b
ut they don’t. 
They may admit that they don’t have a clue, and they’re right.
Because you can’t understand unless you’ve gone through the same thing.
-Gone Through the Same Thing, poem #60

The 11 years since my dad’s death have been filled with conversations with other bereaved individuals. If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on it is this: unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t “get it.” That is, no matter how well intentioned a person may be, he or she simply cannot understand the grief that accompanies the loss of someone immediately close to them – someone who was a part of their regular, everyday life. Why? There is no way to wrap your mind around what it truly means to never see a person you love again.

Yet even though most in my life couldn’t “get it” at the time of my loss, there were certain individuals who were more or less supportive than others.

Years later, I realized that, ultimately, it came down to empathy. Some in my life possessed that capacity to recognize the diversity of emotions, pain and emptiness I felt. A select few were able to braid this empathy with compassion. And even fewer were able to sustain this empathy over time – long past the expiration date that others in my life had stamped on my grief.


Then there were those who made “The Comments.” Unfortunately, these comments are the ones that will forever be vividly etched in my mind.

“Why aren’t you crying?” my classmate asked during art class just nine days after his death. “If my dad died, I’d be crying. I love my dad.”

I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.

Could she be right? Was I grieving the wrong way? Do I have tears left to cry? God, please don’t let me start crying again – if I start, I’m afraid I won’t stop.

“You only got the part [in the school play] because all the teachers feel sorry for you,” another classmate said less than one month later.

Yes, gather ’round friends. Don’t you see the neon sign hanging above my head –the one that says “GIRL WHOSE DAD DIED”?  That’s probably the only reason I was given the task of reciting Mesopotamian history at 100 words per minute. It’s definitely not because I’m naturally a fast talker. But hey, I’m glad that you are jealous of me…because I’d rather my dad be alive than get this stupid part any day.

“You can’t keep using this [being upset about my dad’s death] as an excuse forever,” said a friend several years after my dad’s death after inquiring about why I was upset.

I didn’t realize I was using it as an excuse. I also did not realize that you are an expert on when it’s no longer acceptable to love and miss the person who died. 

The list – full of get over it‘s and move on‘s – goes on and on…and on.

There are also those who, upon learning that my dad is dead, immediately ask “how long has it been?” I’ve lost track of the audible sighs that are released when I respond with “X years” (because “year” was plural).

Well-meaning adults typically follow this inquiry with some version of, “And your mom? How is she doing? Dating anyone?” It’s as if her relationship status is the barometer for how well our family is doing. If I respond with yes, their mental exhale of relief is tangible, because somewhere down society’s pipeline, validation that the surviving spouse is happy/happier became equated with “Phew. They’ve moved on.”

Grieving? Here’s a playlist for you

It takes a while to heal. We never will completely…
-Takes A While, poem #72

Music has always been a go-to when my feelings are strong. There’s the workout mix. The pump-up list that is played religiously to kick off a night out with the girls. My ever-evolving road-trip mix. Background music for studying. Random favorites. Good ole 90s throwbacks. Etc. Etc.

So, when it comes to my grief – both initially after my dad’s death and in the 11 years since – music has been my closest ally and friend. There are the songs that help me to cry. And then, there are the ones that help to lift me up.

Below are some of my favorites that have gotten me through, and you can check out my always changing Spotify playlist here. Comment below with your grief go-to’s, and I’ll add them to the list as well!

In Loving Memory, Alter Bridge
And I know, you’re a part of me,

And it’s your song that sets me free –
I sing it while I feel I can’t hold on;
I sing tonight cause it comforts me.”

Love Lives On, Mallary Hope
“And even though I cry like crazy; even though it hurts so bad,

I’m thankful for the time God gave me even though we couldn’t make it last.
I’m learning how to live without you, even though I don’t want to.
And even with you gone, love lives on.”

Never Alone, Jim Brickman & Lady Antebellum
“Never alone, never alone,

I’ll be in every beat of your heart when you face the unknown. 
Wherever you fly, this isn’t goodbye,
My love will follow you, stay with you
Baby, you’re never alone.” 

When I Look to the Sky, Train
“When I look to the sky, something tells me you’re here with me,
And you make everything all right.

And when I feel like I’m lost, something tells me you’re here with me,
And I can always find my way when you are here.” 

End of October, Pat McGee Band
“I could hear you singing, “Don’t cry”

After all these years, there’s a song you can hear in the twilight
Keep a picture of me in your mind,
You’ve got so many reasons to smile.”

Dance With My Father, Luther Vandross
“If I could get another chance, another walk, another dance with him,

I’d play a song that would never, ever end.
How I’d love, love, love to dance with my father again.”

Holes in the Floor of Heaven, Steve Wariner
“There’s holes in the floor of heaven,
And her tears are pouring down,

That’s how you know she’s watching,
Wishing she could be here now”

To Where You Are, Josh Groban
“I wish upon tonight to see you smile,

If only for awhile to know you’re there,
A breath away’s not far
To where you are.”

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton
“I must be strong and carry on,

‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.”

Without You, Original Broadway Cast of RENT
“The tears dry without you.

Life goes on, but I’m gone,
‘Cause I die without you.”

Butterfly Kisses, Bob Carlisle
“There’s two things I know for sure:

She was sent here from heaven, and she’s daddy’s little girl.”

Address in the Stars, Caitlin & Will
 “I stumbled across your old picture today,
I could barely breathe.
The moment stopped me cold,
Grabbed me like a thief.”

You’re Still You, Josh Groban
“You walk past me, I can feel your pain. 

Time changes everything – one truth always stays the same:
You’re still you, after all, you’re still you.” 

Shine, Pat McGee Band
“Guess I’ll have to see you on the other side.
Now you walk among the famous ones,
You’re the angels’ sun, but now you’re gone.
And you chose to shine, even on the line.
Sorry, but you know that we’re far from fine.”

I’m Already There, Lonestar
“I’m already there – don’t make a sound.

I’m the beat in your heart; I’m the moonlight shining down.
I’m the whisper in the wind, and I’ll be there until the end
Can you feel the love that we share? Oh I’m already there.”

I Miss You, Miley Cyrus
“I miss you. I miss your smile.

And I still shed a tear every once in a while.
And even though it’s different now, you’re still here somehow.
My heart won’t let you go, and I need you to know: I miss you.”

Colors, Amos Lee
“When you’re gone, all the colors fade.”

How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?, Patty Loveless
“It’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to cry.
Come, let me hold you, and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?”

Here You Me, Jimmy Eat World
“I never said thank you for that.

I thought I might get one more chance.
What would you think of me now, so lucky, so strong, so proud?”

Landslide, Fleetwood Mac
“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing,

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder,
Even children get older,
And I’m getting older too.”

Bring It On Home, Little Big Town
“I know your heart can get all tangled up inside,

But don’t you keep it to yourself.”

We All Need Saving, Jon McLaughlin
“When the cloud in the sky starts to pour,
And your life is just a storm you’re braving,

Well, don’t tell yourself you can’t lean on someone else,
‘Cause we all need saving, sometimes.”

Fix You, Coldplay
“And the tears come streaming down your face

When you lose something you can’t replace.”

It’s Going To Be Alright, Sara Groves
“I did not come here to offer you cliches.

I will not pretend to know of all your pain.
Just when you cannot, then I will hold out faith for you
It’s going to be alright.”

Lean on Me, Bill Withers
“Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow.

But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.”

Breathe, Ryan Star
“You’re gonna be fine, don’t hold it inside.

And if you hurt right now, then let it all come out.
Breathe, just breathe.”

Keep Your Head Up, Andy Grammer
“I know it’s hard, know it’s hard to remember sometimes,

But you gotta keep your head up.”

Hakuna Matata, The Lion King
“It means no worries for the rest of your days,

It’s our problem-free philosophy: Hakuna Matata.”

 Good Riddance, Green Day
“It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right,

I hope you had the time of your life.”

The Story (part II): The aftermath of my dad’s death

…I feel like I’m in a museum
People surrounding me and looking…
-Surrounded, poem #32

At 11 years old, I had been the textbook example of a “daddy’s girl,” and the months after my dad’s death were incredibly difficult for me. Not only did I feel isolated from my “normal” peers, but I also felt detached from my own family. In short, I felt completely alone.

Thankfully, six months later, I found a community of people who got it at Comfort Zone Camp, the nation’s largest free bereavement camp for children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. Sharing my story and simply talking in a supportive environment taught me how to positively cope with my grief. It let me find the good amidst what was otherwise an objectively bad situation. And, it helped me learn to grieve the memories I had yet to make with my dad, the memories I felt I had been robbed of.

The next seven years consisted of a series of uncmilestones and changes – all without my dad. Graduating elementary school. School plays, band concerts, piano recitals and swim meets. Watching my mom begin to date. Father-daughter dances. My little brother starting school. Moving to a new house with my mom’s boyfriend and his daughter.
Graduating middle school. Family vacations. Changing high schools. Report cards. Jobs. A myriad of accomplishments. College applications. Boyfriends. Graduating high school. And countless other moments.

Then, seven years, eight months and 20 days after my dad died, I found myself moving into my dorm at UNC-Chapel Hill, ready to begin my first year.

The Story (part I): How my dad died

Sometimes I wonder
What could have happened?
Maybe if we had gotten to the hospital faster,
Would you still have died? …
-I Wonder, poem #89

As previously mentioned, my dad – being morbidly obese – struggled with his weight. Buzzwords included “exercise,” “dieting,” “Weight Watchers,” “Atkins,” and on and on and on.

Ultimately, following his doctor’s advice, he elected to undergo gastric bypass surgery on Nov. 25, 2002. Though there are inherent risks with any surgery, those for this particular procedure were downplayed. At the time, we were told that only .05 percent of patients experienced complications from the surgery (a statistic that has not held up over the years). One in 200? Not terrible odds. He wasn’t particularly worried.

DadTwo days later – though my father protested, feeling something wasn’t quite right – he was discharged from the hospital. The following morning, my 2-year-old brother, 8-year-old sister and my 11-year-old self bounded down the stairs, ready to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Almost immediately, a frantic version of my mother ushered us back upstairs, instructing me to keep Joelle and Dane occupied until further notice; we were not to be downstairs with her and my dad.

As the day progressed, I would periodically sneak to the top of the stairs in an attempt to discover what was unfolding below. I heard my dad moaning in pain, a noise unlike anything I had ever heard before (barring a movie or two). And, I heard my mom on the phone with his doctor, insisting that something was wrong and begging for him to meet us at the hospital.

Around 1 p.m., I met my mom in the upstairs hallway to find her packing a bag for Dane, Joelle and me. She guided us to the car where my dad was waiting in the passenger seat. She began the two-minute drive to a neighbor’s house. Each of the four turns along the way caused my dad what had to have been excruciating pain, as the last words I ever heard him say – aside from a strained and nearly inaudible “love you” – were “Easy, Lisa. Easy.”

The next two days consisted of various adults telling us that the doctors had figured out what was wrong with my dad; that he’d be home soon; and that my mom was too busy to call, but everything was fine. But on Saturday, as my siblings and I sat on the couch of yet another family friend, the phone rang. In the middle of our Christmas movie, the phone was passed to me. On the other end of the line was my mother, crying. She managed to get out, “Daddy’s in surgery now. He’s probably going to die. But even if he makes it through, there’s still a really good chance that he’ll die. Donna’s going to bring you and Joelle to the hospital now.”

Cue the tears, and cue the shock.

Less than one hour later, we boarded the hospital elevator. As I watched Donna press the button for the Intensive Care Unit, I pointed to the nearby sign indicating that children under age 13 were not permitted on the floor.

“I know,” she said. “Y’all are fine.”

Walking into the waiting room, we were immediately greeted with forced smiles from nearly all of my extended family.

What? Uncles and aunts from across the nation whom I had not seen for at least a year all knew before us?

A few hours later, my dad’s doctor stood in the doorway delivering the good news that my dad was out of surgery and that it had gone as well as it could have. Our collective sigh of relief was interrupted by his wary warning: “We’re not out of the dark yet.”

Later that evening, we all begrudgingly left the hospital. I can vividly remember lying in the bed next to my sister hoping, wishing and praying harder than ever before in my life.

Please just let him live.

Still, something in me was naively confident that all would be fine.

At 6:52 a.m. the next morning, Donna shook my sister and I awake. The urgency in her voice was palpable, and strawberry Pop-Tarts were tossed to us as we climbed in the backseat of her van. We would later find out that we entered the hospital the very minute my dad died. His stomach had not been sealed correctly during his initial surgery and the discovery of this and the subsequent leakeage came too late, ultimately causing his body to go into septic shock. His kidneys failed, he experienced numerous heart attacks, and at 7:42 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2002, he died.

>>Read more