hearts breaking

My second year of teaching, a senior died in a jet-ski accident.

There were suicides.

There was a swimming accident.

There was a drunk driving accident–that one claimed two lives.

I’ve been in those horrible before school emergency staff meetings. The ones where it is horribly quiet and no one is making eye contact with each other.

Grief counselors on site for those who need someone to talk with or to cry with.

I am not down-playing those tragedies. They were awful and they rocked our schools.

But today was a category all it’s own.

This morning I stood in front of my first hour and had to deliver the news that one of the teachers had died suddenly the night before.

Because it is only my second year teaching in the school, and she and I teach different grades, I’ve only chatted with her a couple times, but I knew she was a student-favorite. I knew she was extremely close with much of the staff.

I stood in front of the class thinking I could read the script clearly, but I started to tremble. I knew the words after I said, “I am so sorry to have to inform you…” were going to absolute wreck my students.

And they did.

It was a short paragraph, but the sobs and sniffling started immediately.

They are just children, and someone they loved has been taken from them. Stolen.

Immediately I wanted to shelter my students. I wanted to not read the words. I wanted them to be protected from the pain for just a bit longer.

But I couldn’t. I had to break their hearts.

Those hearts were not alone, though. Immediately we brought kids to the ears and shoulders and arms they needed. Teachers postponed plans. We listened. We shared, but mostly we listened.

Between classes, the halls were quiet for the first few hours. Students found friends and fell into each other’s arms.

Administrators from all the other buildings stopped in.

Past staff were in the halls for faculty and students.

Teachers experienced grief hand-in-hand and side-by-side with their students.

At the end of the day, we were “debriefed”.

Exhausted, tear-stained faces gathered. Those who knew her best shared –and I was once again overcome with the wonderful person she was and how I wished I had gotten to know her better.

We were encouraged to take care of ourselves this weekend because today, we took care of our students first.

It’s what Abbey would have done.


Please pray for the students and staff of Wyoming Public Schools and for the family and friends of Abbey Czarniecki.

will you keep me safe?

Will you keep me safe?

Eddie asks this often of his dad and me. If he hears thunder or sees something “spooky” like the green pants with nobody in them, the Grinch, or the creepy Hunch.

He says it often at bed time since stories that have pictures of eyes with no body attached are often read in the dim light of his room. His little face will turn towards me, his worried eyes will find mine, and as he asks, his hand will slip into mine.

It’s a simple question, but he has asked it since he has had the ability to ask it.

In the dark of his new Big Boy room when I was hugely pregnant with his baby brother, “mom? Will you lay by me?  Will you keep me safe?”

Or in the middle of the night after a bad dream he will cry for his daddy and ask him, “Daddy? Will you keep me safe?”

His third Halloween he saw people dressed up in scary masks and costumes. He cried and clung to us, “Will you keep me safe from monsters?”

Our answer us always the same: of course.

With those words, he settles down. Sometimes we have to hold his hand or lay by him in bed or both, but he settles down because he believes that we can and will always keep him safe.

I want to keep that promise.  I want to keep him and his heart safe.

But this world is broken, and I know sometimes it will get by my best efforts to protect him.


Today (Sunday) Eddie and I drove together to meet Cortney and Charlie and the rest of our family at a church.  We had a service to attend.

A memorial service for my niece, Arabella.

Eddie knew the baby in Aunt Liz’s tummy was sick.  We prayed for her every day.

This past Tuesday as I put Eddie to bed, I whispered to him, “buddy, remember how baby Bella in Aunt Liz’s tummy was sick?”

“Mom. I know. I colored her a picture and we tell God about her.”

“That’s right. Well she died today, honey.”

“In Aunt Liz’s tummy? Or did the doctor’s take her out?”

“In Aunt Liz’s tummy.  Aunt Liz and Uncle Cody are at the hospital right now to get Bella out.”

“And she is died?”

“Yup.  Do you want to read a book about heaven tonight?”

“Sure mom. Sure I do. My Papa is there too.”

Thanks to a wonderful friend, we had a nice book about heaven to read. Eddie didn’t have much to say, but he asked later in the week if we could read a heaven book again.

Today, on our drive to the church, he and I talked about how people would be very sad today.

“Why mom? Because Bella is died?”

“Yup. It’s sad to lose someone you love.”

“But she isn’t lost. She is in heaven. Why are we sad? Papa is there too.”

“You are right bud. You are totally right. But even though we know Bella isn’t sick anymore and she is with Papa, we still get sad sometimes because we miss them. We wish they could be with us. The best thing to do when you are sad and miss someone is find your family and get lots of hugs and cry as much as you need to and tell God that you are sad.  So that is why Cody and Liz wanted us to come to their church today.  We are their family and they need our hugs.”

“Sometimes I want you to hug me when I am sad, right mom? Like when I am scared.”

“That’s right, buddy.”

“So everyone is going to be sad and crying?”

“Maybe not the whole time, but yes. You will see lots of tears. And people will want lots of hugs.”

He was quiet the rest of the way.

Later, when I cried during the ceremony, he climbed on my lap and whispered, “I love you, mom.”

He is still too young to feel the loss of someone he never met.

Yet his innocence makes heaven so simple.  They are happy there; why should we be sad?

I know I can’t protect him forever about the brokenness of this world, but I can try to plant hope in his heart that will sustain him when his mommy and daddy just cannot keep him safe from the darkness.

But if you’ll excuse me, I will go ahead and live in denial about that day because my heart just can’t take it this week.

2013-06-12 19.26.00


There is so much noise lately.

It comes from every direction.

No one told me being an adult is so hard on the senses.

I’ve found myself complaining of headaches and backaches and neck aches a lot lately.

I think it’s from the noise.

Even when I turn everything off, it’s still in my head. So loud.

The noise is loudest when it’s quiet, I find.

During the school day when teenagers are being teenagery and in the evening when a preschooler is being preschoolery and a toddler is being toddlery, the noise isn’t so loud. It’s drowned out by immediacy of life.

But in the quiet of my planner period, my commute, my quiet time lying with Eddie while he falls asleep, my head fills with it.



Yelling and shouting and vying for attention.

Anger and frustration and joy and excitement and overwhelm and worry and pride and anticipation and grief.

Oh the grief.

Memories are loud.

They scream in your heart and make you feel all over again the things you thought were past and gone and not coming back.

The pain, the writhing, the labor for…empty arms, empty heart.

Grief is the loudest of the noise.

Scratching and tearing demanding to be the center and then just sitting there in the middle of it all like dead weight.

Resurfacing to drown me.

The noise is so so loud when you’re an adult.

I want to go back to that warm place of being a child where the noise of the adult world is so far above me, it doesn’t make it to my ears or heart.

That place with dinner waiting on the table, two parents tucking me in, and no note of death or pain or worry in my ear.

I want the safety and silence of childhood back.

Because being an adult is too loud.

It hurts too much.

In honor of Infant Loss and Remembrance Day, I lit my candle for the two I have in heaven (snuggled there next to a picture of their little brother, Eddie) and for my niece, Bella. Who went home too this past week.

In honor of Infant Loss and Remembrance Day, I lit my candle for the two I have in heaven (snuggled there next to a picture of their little brother, Eddie) and for my niece, Bella. Who went home too this past week to be held in the arms of her Papa Steve in Heaven.

***Updated (9:21am 10/16/13)*** I just got word that Arabella Elizabeth Sluiter was delivered at 2:20am this morning weighing 1 lb, 3oz. She will always be loved and remembered.

Beautiful Promise of God

Saturday Eddie and I went to the library alone, just the two of us.  This was special because all summer his baby brother was along and we couldn’t walk leisurely through the stacks. Whether I had Charlie confined to a stroller/Ergo or if I let him walk, Eddie and I knew we had a matter of time to find ten books and get out before Charlie blew our cool and all three of us went into “TOO LOUD FOR THE LIBRARY” mode.

Now that school has started up, we only get to the library on Saturdays and we are able to go just the two of us.

Because of that we were much more thoughtful about the books we pulled from the shelves. Eddie pulled them out, flipped through them, and either slid them back or handed them to me.  We took our time, choosing carefully.

Ed’s favorite spot to start is the big display of “New Books”. This week he chose “The Dark” by Lemony Snicket first and then spotted a book with a grandpa on it. “What’s this one called, mom?”

I took the picture book from his hand and read, “Papa’s New Home.”

“Hey! I have a Papa in Heaven! Let’s get this one!”

Before I had a chance to flip through to see if this book was going to handle the subject well, he was calling me over to help him find the stash of Curious George books.

He had no idea how appropriate it was that he chose that book.


Thursday morning I got a text from my sister-in-law, Liz: “Today is the day we find out if Lilly will be getting a sister or brother. Stay tuned!”

Later Thursday morning I got a text from Cortney. Something was wrong with the baby. There was fluid everywhere in the organs and a cyst on the brain stem.

Our world stopped.

Over the course of the next four days, the information and test results slowly trickled in. The baby, another girl, has Turner Syndrome. This means she has only one X chromosome instead of two. About 1 in 2,500 females born have Turner, but Liz and Cody’s baby girl has more complications.  Because of the amount of fluid in her heart, it is probably impossible that she will make it to term. And if by miracle she does, she probably won’t be able to live outside Liz’s body.

The doctor’s gave them the option to terminate pregnancy or let it continue its course.

Cody and Liz chose not to terminate.

The doctors feel that the baby will not make it more than a month longer, and will be monitoring the fetal heart rate. When the heart stops, Liz will be induced.


When Cody and Liz had their first baby girl almost a year ago, Eddie sheepishly smiled at the thought of his uncle Cody being a daddy.

When Eddie met Lilly for the first he melted. He couldn’t give her enough kisses or hugs. He wanted to hold her and love her.  He loves to make her laugh, and he’s so gentle with her.

He loves babies.

And he was quite aware that Cody and Liz would be having another baby, which he guessed (correctly) would be another little girl.

After the weight of tragedy settled in my heart, I wondered: what would we tell Eddie?


Leaving the library on Saturday, I told Eddie we needed to quick stop at the store for a few things if we were going to bake for Aunt Liz and Uncle Cody.

“Why are we making food for Cody and Liz?” he asked.

{sidenote: why is it we always have our heaviest conversations in the car?}

As I drove, I turned the music down and told him, “Remember how Aunt Liz has that baby in her tummy? Well that baby is very sick and Cody and Liz are very worried and sad. When you are worried and sad, don’t you like a treat?”

“Yeah, I like a snack when I feel awful.”

“Yes, well, I thought it would be nice if we made them dinner and some snacks. What do you think?”

“That is nice, mom. I like that. I hope that baby feels better.”

“Me too, Bud. Me too.”

Sunday Cortney went to a Sluiter Family prayer gathering for Liz and Cody and their family. I stayed home with the boys since it was going to be pretty heavy and emotional. I had told Eddie about the prayer gathering, and when Cortney left Eddie asked if we could pray right there.

So I stopped what I was doing and sat down at the table with the boys, and over their grilled cheese sandwiches Eddie and I asked God to please take care of Cody and Liz and give them peace and strength. We also asked him for a miracle.  Eddie specifically asked Jesus to please make his baby cousin better.

At one point during the prayer, I peeked an eye open, and there was Eddie: eyes scrunched shut and hands clasped tightly over his dinner. My voice caught, but I continued.

After he said Amen, he asked if he could make a picture for his cousin.

“MOM! I can make the pictures and you can write the words I tell you because I know my letters, but I can’t write them in order of words, so you can do that part. Ok? And Bird can color on it too but not until I am done and I will tell him where to color. Ok, mom? Ok? Can we do that???”

I thought my heart would burst from pride for my son.

Once dinner was cleared up, Eddie went to work.

Dealing with Infant Loss

We texted a picture of the final product to Cortney who shared it with Aunt Liz.  It’s still waiting to be officially delivered. Since now we can add her name to the piece before giving it to her.

Dealing with Infant Loss

Her name is Arabella Elizabeth Sluiter.

“Arabella” is Dutch for “beautiful”.

“Elizabeth” is my sister-in-law’s name and means “gift or promise from God”.


Beautiful gift of God.

Liz told me she feels like she is naming one of God’s angels, and I believe she is right. Whether Bella goes home in the next month or outlives her parents, she is one of God’s angels.


Sunday night Eddie asked me to read “Papa’s New Home” to him at bedtime.

The story was lovely and wonderful and got Eddie talking about his own Papa who died over 8 years ago from cancer and who lives in Heaven.

It also does a good job of not beating around the bush that everyone dies at some point. I really, really recommend this book (it’s by Jessica Lynn Curtis) if you have had a death in the family to explain to a child.

It makes Eddie happy to imagine his Papa in Heaven doing what he loved (boating) with our old cat on his lap.

We still haven’t told him yet that there is a good chance that Bella will be joining their Papa in Heaven, but we are building a cushion for that fall. For that reality that it’s not just old people who die.

Oh how I wish I could protect his innocent and good heart. I wish I could do something to cover and protect Cody and Liz’s hearts.

There is a good chance Eddie will remember this all…at least in parts, and we want to do our part in helping his memory of Bella to be positive and loving. We also want him to know how compassionate and caring he was during this time. How his unconditional love and selflessness helped his dad and I with the pain we felt in our hearts.

This pain is so much. It’s too much.

Please keep Cody, Liz, Lilly, and Bella in your prayers.

And please keep Cortney and I in your prayers and we try to guide our little guys through this hard time in a loving and peaceful way.

a difficult season

When I was born, I only had two living great grandparents: my dad’s maternal grandpa and my mom’s maternal grandma.

I hardly remember either of them.

When Eddie was born he had seven living great grandparents: all except my maternal grandmother.

Cort's Grandma and Grandpa Sluiter meeting Eddie

Four Generations: My dad and me and Eddie with my paternal grandparents

Four Generations: Cort, Eddie, Cort's mom, and Cort's maternal grandpa

four generations: my mom, me, and Eddie with my maternal grandpa

I feel like that is lucky.

Our grandparents are all in their 80’s now.

A new season of life is upon us.

Last Christmas we lost Cort’s Grandpa Sluiter.

This weekend we lost Cort’s Grandpa Potter.

Cort with both grandpas in 2005 (at our wedding)

Cort found strength and wisdom in these men.

Especially over the past seven years of our marriage after his own dad died.

Now all three father figures in his shared bloodline are gone.

Our sons will not remember these men.

I think that is what hurts my heart the most.

Cortney is a strong, brave, wise, witty man.

He has a way with people that puts them at ease.

He is quick with a witty retort.

He is sensitive to his wife’s needs in a way a lot of men are not.

He got those qualities from his dad and grandpas.

This new season we find ourselves in is uncomfortable.

It is the season of adulthood where we both welcome new life and say goodbye to weary lives.

Where we take from heaven and give back to heaven.

It’s a confusing and painful season.

But it reminds us to cherish and love the ones who are here…

Our family (Cort's side) with his maternal grandparents

…because we don’t know how long they have on this earth.

We feel lucky for having them.

And comforted knowing those who have moved on are now in paradise.

You will walk with her again soon, Grandpa.

Until then, we will take good care of her for you.

And when you meet again there will be no cane, no pain, no obstacles.

May Cort and I always hold hands and giggle like we are courting…

just like you and Grandma.

We love you and miss you.

he was there

In the time since I started dating Cortney eight years ago, I have only had one Christmas with his dad.

The first year we were together, Cort and I had only been dating a few months, so we decided not to try to cram family Christmases on each other.  I didn’t go to either of his parents’ houses and he didn’t come to mine.  It’s not like we didn’t know each other’s parents.  We were 25 years old, dating for 3 months, but we had known each other for most of our lives.  We just decided not to make things crazy at Christmas that year.

The following year we were engaged.  We did the Big Christmas Run Around.  We did all the parents and all the grandparents and it was hectic, but fun.  I was glad I was about to join such a loving, awesome family.

It was the only Christmas I ever had with Cort’s dad.

And I just realized that I can’t remember it.

Well not much of it.

I have no idea what we had to eat, but I am sure Cort’s stepmom, Lynne, had crab dip and shrimp cocktail.

I do know that I brought cream puffs because they were Steve’s favorite.

I don’t remember the gifts.

I do remember all of us kids cramming onto the couch in the basement in front of the fireplace until Steve decided it was time to shoot pool.

I don’t remember all the funny things that were said or even if my sister-in-law, MacKenzie had a boyfriend at the time.

I do know she wasn’t dating her husband yet, though.

What I remember are the laughs and the joking and how my father-in-law-to-be made me feel like part of the family in a way no one had yet.

And looking back, he was less than a month from finding out he was sick.

He had no idea he wouldn’t see another Christmas.

Every Christmas since then, we have all gotten together with Lynne.

Tonight, we hosted the get together.

As I looked around I saw Steve’s three children.  All married and extremely happy.  All joking and teasing each other and laughing.

I saw three of his grandsons and felt the fourth kicking around on the inside.

I saw us embracing his wife and loving her and keeping her a part of the family.

And I felt him there.

His oldest son giving his only daughter parenting advice.  His youngest son making his oldest grandson giggle.  His daughter fitting the role of “momma” so well to his new grandsons.

There was warmth.

There was a feeling of family.

Because he was there.


the anchor and the helms wheel

I asked him on our way if he was nervous or scared.  Surprisingly–to himself–he was not.

He sees flashes of his dad in pictures of himself, in the laugh of his son, in the smiles of his aunts and uncles, in the gait of his brother.

The design he had emailed back and forth on for months–even years–with his best friend and graphic design artist rested in the space beneath the radio in the dash.

He can feel his father on the breeze off the lake, in the waves lapping against the beach, in the embrace of his grandmother.

I had joked with him earlier if he needed to shave his leg himself  and if he was ready for the fun of stubble on his calf as the hair grew back.

There is an emptiness in the dark of night when he wonders what it would be like to have his dad around to help with basement remodels and yard projects and son-rearing.

He is remarkably calm and even jovial as he cracks jokes with the artist and gets settled on the bench.

He has no idea how much he is his dad right now.  Facing pain with a smile and a joke.  Making those around him comfortable in the presence of what will be HIS pain.

He is deep in thought as his wife and the artist chat and joke and discuss the process. It’s good that she came.  It’s good that she is there with him for this.

Even in the pain he can feel his dad.  Each week, in the same arm, a needle was stuck.  But it was not infusing ink under his dad’s skin.  It was poison that was being injected.

Sooner than later–after winces, but no sound–it was over.

His dad is his guide.  Even in spirit.

His anchor and his helms wheel.

His Pops.

This week’s prompt was to tell a story–fiction or non–about a tattoo in 300 words or less.  This is a true story from my imaginationFor a picture, go here.