Farewell, sweet boy.

JJ_2015I have been preparing myself for this moment for just about a year, when the tiny lump on JJ’s hip was diagnosed as cancer. The vet told me he might only have a few weeks, and he went on to spend another 53 weeks with me.  I have never been so acutely aware of my gratitude for the gift of time.

Our “meet cute”

In February of 2005, I was living outside of Minneapolis.  Eight months earlier, I had moved 1000 miles across the country to take a job that was now finally starting to let up in intensity.  I decided it was time to look at adopting a cat.  I drove up to Maple Grove – about 30 minutes north of where I lived – because I liked the Super Target up there and I knew there was a Pet Smart nearby.  I would just look.  I would take my time making a decision.  After all, this cat that I adopted at the age of 27 would be with me through much of my formative adulthood.

I walked into the cat adoption enclosure at PetSmart and I immediately heard a very loud, “MMMRRROOOWWW”.  (This was not a simple “Meow”.)  The big brown & grey tabby cat from which the sound emerged was just standing up in his cage looking me straight in the eyes.  His green eyes were amazing – and he didn’t seem angry or sad or excited.  He just demanded attention.  The name tag on the cage told me that the cat was named Jason.  (My closest friend at the time was also named Jason, and it felt like a little bit of fate intervening.)

The employee asked if I wanted to meet any of the cats, and I asked about Jason.  She told me that he was the last of four identical brothers, 10 months old, and ready for immediate adoption.  She opened the cage and before I could even reach in to pet him, he crawled up on my shoulder and made himself at home.  It was, I thought, definitely fate.  I renamed him JJ, because a cat named Jason was weird.  A few weeks later, my friend Joe stopped by my apartment to pick something up, and upon entering the apartment, JJ immediately crawled from the countertop to Joe’s shoulder.  Turns out that is just a thing he did.  I wasn’t exactly as special as I thought.

Two weeks after adopting JJ, I adopted a tiny 6 month old kitten named Dulcie, who became Ava.  Ava was – from the very first day – JJ’s cat.  She tolerated me – and sometimes even liked me – but she loved JJ.

A lot of miles, moves, and milestones

jj2016_2.jpgJJ and Ava have been with me through five moves, including the 1000 miles back home to PA less than a year after I adopted them.  They were with me when I bought my first house.  They adapted to a full house when my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and two dogs moved in with us for a few months.  Ava spent most of her life hiding, but JJ just held his ground with toddlers and dogs alike.

JJme2017For the past 14 years, JJ slept beside me virtually every night – most recently sleeping on my shoulder and up against my face until he thought I was asleep, and then getting down to sleep in his own bed in the corner of the room.  He was a terrible nursemaid when I was sick, because he thought that sleeping on my chest or face could fix whatever ailed me; but I almost always let him do it anyway.  In the 14 years that we had together, we both changed a lot.  We both settled down.  We both slowed down.  We both got a bit bigger.

He was my Instragram inspiration, my beloved pet, and my very best friend.

I have been preparing for this moment for a year, but I am not prepared.

jjme2019.pngAnd so I have been preparing to let him go for the past year.  Every time he started to get on my nerves by being too clingy, for meowing too loudly, or for waking me up in the middle of the night, I reminded myself that I didn’t have forever with him.  I genuinely cherished each moment in a way that I wished I had been able to do with people in my life over the years.

And so today I said goodbye to my sweet boy.  JJ.  Jay-gers.  Jayge.  I’ve had so many pets before him, and I will have many more come.  But no one will take his place.

Celebrating the love she leaves behind.

(Eulogy for my grandmother – delivered December 12, 2018.)

IMG_0573When we were kids, there was almost nothing that Mommom wouldn’t let us do.  Jump on the bed?  She’d lead us in a rousing game of “Chop Chop Timber”.  Play in the mud?  She’d draw a bath and make sure our clothes were clean before we went home.  Drink Pepsi for breakfast?  “Just don’t tell your mother.”  If we broke something, she’d just shrug and say, “No one got hurt.”  And if we did get hurt, she pull out the band-aids and assure us that we’d be better before we were married.  I didn’t even know that she knew how to be angry until that one time I used her sewing scissors to cut paper.  (One time.)

Her patience with us as children was indicative of her patience with everyone.  She accepted that people made mistakes, and she forgave easily.  Where others held grudges or distanced themselves from people in their lives, my grandmother would forgive and find the good.  She didn’t always understand the decisions other people made, but she didn’t have to understand someone to love them.  She accepted that everyone was flawed, and she loved them anyway.

She opened her home to anyone who needed a place to stay – for a night or for a year.  There was nothing that she had that couldn’t be borrowed, and nothing that she owned that was more important than the people in her life.  Mommom was embarrassed by nothing and allowed herself to enjoy life without worrying about what others might think.  She literally danced as if no one was watching and sang as if no one was listening.

If you didn’t know her well, you might begin to see the picture of a woman without flaws – but most of us know better.  And the things that I loved about her the most were those perfect imperfections that made her who she was.

She was stubborn.  She didn’t think that she was always right, but right or wrong, she was going to do things her way.  She was a selective hoarder – of buttons, scraps of fabric, jars of jelly far past their expiration date, and 10 year old poinsettias that looked like barren collections of twigs but still produced a flower every once in awhile.

While it was my Mommom Amond who had the vocabulary of a sailor, it was Mommom Burd who taught me to curse creatively – taking every day words and infusing them with the spirit of profanity.

IMG_0560 2She believed – above everything else – in living her life, rather than striving for perfection.  She appreciated what she had, and she never wanted anything more.

Her legacy will continue to impact the world for many generations to come.  She shaped and helped to raise four strong-willed and independent granddaughters, and two great-granddaughters coming up behind. My dad has her goofy sense of humor and her inability to be embarrassed by much of anything – and her ability to accept the imperfections of others.  And it is my aunt who has inherited her endless generosity and caring, her compassion, and her heart.

As you leave here today, we ask you to reflect on and celebrate the impact that she had on you.  Maybe it is as simple as a favorite recipe that she shared. Maybe she helped to care for your family when someone was sick.  Maybe she gave you a place to stay, a loan, or just the gift of her time.  Or maybe she taught you to forgive easily, forget quickly, laugh often, play without embarrassment, and love without conditions.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*


(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.


* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

I am my grandparents’ legacy.

My grandmother used to talk to herself all the time.  Sitting in the living room listening to her wash dishes was like being treated to a one woman play.  Mommom would talk about the birds outside the window.  The condition of the tomatoes in the garden out back.  The effectiveness of the dish soap she was using.  Sometimes she addressed the dog, but Czar’s presence wasn’t required for Mommom to let her inner monologue out.

Pappap cracked jokes when the conversation got tense.  He was the family peacemaker; if someone started to feel like they were being picked on, he’d make himself the butt of jokes to take the pressure off.

xmas96_mommompappapMommom had a mouth like a sailor.  She used curse words to show love.  And anger.  Annoyance. Surprise.  The point is that she cursed.  A lot.

No matter what the reason for a visit, Pap felt like every visit required food.  Pizza, cake, ice cream, hamburgers… When family came over, comfort food was pulled out.

Mommom was jealous when my sister and I got tattoos.  She was in her 70s and, in her words, “too old” to get a tattoo – but she had always wanted one.

Pappap bought me my first pair of high heels.  They were lace up, black, high heeled boots – and I was probably about 8.

Why the trip down memory lane?

xmascouch91This Saturday would have been my grandparent’s 66th wedding anniversary, were they still alive today.  Tuesday would have been Pappap’s 90th birthday.  I miss them, but I’m grateful for their legacy.  I’m grateful for my uncles and aunts, my cousins, and newest generation that they never got a chance to meet.  A friend reminded me today that I’m blessed to have this great family.  I am.  And that’s because of my grandparents.

It’s in what we leave behind

I want to believe in an afterlife.  I want to believe – and often fantasize – that I’ll have a chance to talk to my grandparents again some day.  I want to know that they are somewhere.  I want to believe they are proud of who I am right now.  I don’t, in my analytical mind, believe that is true.  And for the most part, I don’t feel like it matters.  When we die, it’s not about where we go – it’s about what we leave behind.

I believe that I carry my grandparents with me every single day.  I talk to myself all the time.  When conversations get tense, I make jokes or turn it around on myself to divert the negativity.  I swear all the time.  To show love. Anger.  Annoyance.  Surprise.  The point is, I swear a lot.  I use food for comfort and associate it with family.  I never want to be “too old” to do something I love, and I bought my niece her first pair of high heels.  The good and the bad – who I am is, in large part, due to who they were.

For me, that’s enough.