I used to call her sissy. I barely remember that, and it seems so improbable now, but I did. 

This one thought keeps circling in my head: How do you mourn a sister? 

I can’t imagine it. I can’t fathom it. But I’m doing it. 

Last Sunday, June 15, my sister’s cancer journey came to an end. She was 53. 

Charlotte was about 14 when my mom married her dad, he adopted me and he became our dad. I was just a baby. I didn’t have a childhood without her in it. 

 As a teenager she had to share a room with a toddler. I’m sure that totally sucked for her, and was maybe why she moved out when she was 19. But for 5 years she was stuck with me. 

I remember her high school girlfriends all treated me like I was their little sis too. I’m even Facebook friends with one of them to this day. 

I remember when I was 6 or 7  I thought of her with such awe. She was amazing. She was beautiful. She danced, performed, with big hair and gorgeous leotards, with a dance group and I wanted to be her. My mom tried to put me in dance but I was painfully shy. I quit immediately, except in my own living room … where one time I did a flip and fractured my wrist. I didn’t have her grace.

I was the flower girl in her wedding when I was 7. She was such a grown-up to me. She was only 20, but I was still in such awe of the beautiful, dynamic creature going through this incredible ritual. That’s MY sister? 

When I was 10 years old I became an aunt to this goofball: 

And then these two:  Years ago, when I was barely done being a kid myself, I’d babysit, pick them up from school when she couldn’t, and sometimes take them to gymnastics. I loved being their young aunt.  

It was when I was a late teen and even more after I finished high school, thereabouts, when my sister and I became the adult (ish) version of being sisters. This is when her inappropriate jokes started to make sense. When I understood her “titty twister” threats. When I realized how she could say shocking things and get away with it because she did it with a laugh and a smile.  


For awhile we did a lot of things together. Her family plus me & my boyfriend (at the time) went to Disneyland together, Las Vegas for dad’s wedding (where all 7 of us shared 1 cozy room!), and to the lake or camping together. We had the best time. 


She lived her life fearlessly. She advocated for her children fiercely. In a lot of ways, she was a role model mother as much as my own mom has been. A younger, more modern mom role model (sorry mom) that I could compare my mom against – and I’d like to think I’ve healthily incorporated both of them into my mothering.

She was determined to live her life according to her desires. I really admired that in her. Whenever she wanted something she figured out how to get it. She managed, somehow,  and she gave her kids a wonderful life with myriad experiences. They always knew how much they were loved.  



Later – after our parents split, and when I moved to Idaho to live with dad & go to college, and then met my husband and got married – my sis and I had some conflicts. I’m not going to go into that, I’d rather forget it to be honest, but I really wish that time had been different. I wish my kids had known their aunt more. I wish she had known & loved my kids. 

But I know I loved her. I loved her light, her positivity, and her bright soul. 

My sissy.

 Tell me – how do you mourn a sister? 


We all have stories

You don’t get to this age (in my case, banging on 40’s door) without having stories.

Your stories shape your life, your experiences, how you react, how you cope, how you LIVE.

I have tried to live my life in a cautious manner. It’s inherent to who I am. I don’t make snap decisions, I don’t “shoot from the hip,” and I try to retain my calm even when I’m screaming, crying, gnashing my teeth inside. Unleashing the anger beast doesn’t solve anything, and often leads to more hurt; hurtful words can often cause more problems than hurtful actions.

Lord knows I’m not perfect. I haven’t always been cautious. I have reacted emotionally. I have sought immediate gratification and soothing for my pain rather than thinking it out and processing it rationally. I’ve tried to keep those experiences to a minimum, especially as I’ve gotten older. As I’ve learned what helps long-term and what simply complicates things more.

I think that is where our stories come in. They illustrate our experiences in human nature. Experiences to learn from – learn from the people, learn from the emotions that resulted from that moment, learn from how we grieved or celebrated after.

Nobody ever knows your stories but you. Maybe they can ask? If they are curious.

You’ve heard that saying, right, that for every story there is your side, their side, and somewhere in the middle is the truth? Because our stories are skewed by our experiences and our emotions. What was minor to one person may have been major to someone else.

My experiences have brought me to where I am today. My stories have shaped how I respond and react to my experiences. I’ve tried to be cautious . . . . I AM cautious. I try to hold my tongue, not lash out, to react with love and understanding more than anger, frustration and betrayal. It’s hard. It’s hard to feel misunderstood.

My stories tell me that time changes everything. How I felt 13 years ago is not how I feel today. My experiences dictate that. Every decision we make, every deep conversation we have with a friend late at night, every argument, every resentment, every pure joy moment – all of these impact our future.

I was hurt one too many times. My experiences built on each other until I had the Berlin Wall of resentment nestled in my heart. I was trying to knock it down, brick by brick, but recent experiences have told me to shore it up again. And here we go again – more pain, more hurt, more betrayal.

Lady Justice’s scale is tipped to the negative right now, and I’m treading water to stay afloat, but I know the scale will tip back before too long. The positive will outweigh the negative. There will be healing. There will be joy.

These are my stories, built on my experiences. There is value (and weight & impact) to each one of them, the good and the bad. There is growth from every experience.

These stories will be be the sum of my life, but my novel is not nearly complete.

Peace, love and understanding. It’s the way to go, and I’m trying.




Endless mourning

Horrible, awful things are happening

How are we to survive all of this?

I try hard but my spirit is dampening

I’m already mourning all I’ve missed.

My 40th year is the least of these.

My marriage dashed; dreams gone.

My sister in law taken by a disease.

My sister, same disease, can’t go on.

Full of love, memories, childhood

Blessed with warm hands and hearts

No pain, no loss; all sweet & good

Never learned how to dodge these darts

Endless days of endless sorrow

Please, let me live, survive, please

Build me up, strength I’ll borrow

There’s no net under my knees

Falling, always falling, stripped bare

Calling out, reaching, no one there.

I will never understand

Edited on 12/17/12 to add reaction to new information.

Today I am only a mom. I am not an employee today. I am not a daughter or a wife. I am just a mom.


I will never understand the thought process that tells a person it is okay for them to take another life. I will never understand that. To take their life? It’s not like robbing them of all their cash, or stealing their watch, or even burning down their house. But to end their life? Just like that and in the blink of eye? No, never.

But even worse – children. Innocents. I can’t even think of it. My heart is exploding with empathetic pain and anguish for every loved one of every murdered child. And today, especially, today.

I’ve been to Newtown, Connecticut, and it’s a small town. A tight community. I know people with children there. They are safe, thank goodness. But so, so many others are not.

Once upon a time I supported capital punishment. Why shouldn’t a criminal, someone obviously evil who have (likely) hurt others, get the ultimate punishment?

And then I realized – I don’t have the right to make that decision. The government does not have the right to make that decision. As humans we are flawed, vulnerable, and set upon this earth for a limited time. Our time is up when the universe (God, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Divine, Great Spirit, Creator, or whatever you believe) has determined it to be up. No mere mortal should be able to independently make that decision.

I want those sick criminals to feel the pain and punishment of their actions. I want them to agonize and wail and fight and hurt for what they have done. As thinking, feeling humans they are compelled to reason through their actions over time in the best way they can. That may equate to remorse and acknowledgment of their bad deeds. It may just fuel the anger, hatred and resentment within them. In either case – they need to feel those emotions to torture them for what they did. Killing that murderer, as the “eye for an eye” believers push, will not punish the murderer. It just ends their pain.

The shooter is dead – whether by his own hand or another, I don’t know as of this writing. By this act he was essentially committing suicide anyway. What a coward. To inflict such pain on innocents. To hurt so many people so wholly unconnected with him. If the soul does live on at all, whether there is a hell or through reincarnation, I hope this man is made to feel the pain & anguish of every relative of every person he killed today, over and over and over again, throughout his existence.

May those children and teachers, whose lives were lost today through this senseless act, never be forgotten. I will never forget.

Tell me this – how do I protect my children from being murdered? How do I keep them safe?

Yours, in love, anguish and paralyzing fear,

Stef (just another Mom)

Edited to add: Since writing this on Friday I’ve found out more about the shooter. The speculation/assumption from apparent people “in the know” is that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was mentally ill. Possibly Autistic/Aspberger’s. Now I’m just sad for all of them. Sad and broken-hearted and I can’t think about those poor innocents and their families without breaking down entirely. Peace be with all 28 people who died as part of this tragedy.



The Mourners

Every day on my way to work I pass a rather large cemetery. Sometimes I can see gravediggers doing their job and I know that somebody will be buried that day. If I drive by during a service and I see the mourners hugging, kissing & crying it breaks my heart a little bit. I feel for them. I feel for their families.

A few years ago I was driving past the cemetery and I saw a women laying next to one of the graves on her side with one arm propping up her head. She appeared to be talking to the grave. Talking to the grave as one would to someone laying in bed next to them. It was a very intimate moment. I can just imagine her lover, or a close relative, like her mother, buried there and it struck me as so sad – so touching, but just so, so SAD – that she had to come here, to where the soul’s vessel was laid to rest, to feel close to her loved one. I only saw her there once.

Over the last several weeks I’ve noticed something strange at the cemetery. Well, not strange per se, but it caught my eye and has me intrigued.

First I saw a small group of people, 3 or 4, sitting on a blanket on the grass nearest the road at the cemetery having a picnic. I didn’t think they were mourners. I thought maybe they had stopped there looking for a convenient place to sit under the trees and eat. Something like that.

Then I noticed they were there again. And again. And a grave near them was growing a small shrine of sorts – flowers, flags, the usual thing.

Last week I noticed several people around the grave. Maybe 5-7 people. And balloons. And more trinkets.

And then I noticed a couple of little teddy bears had been placed around the grave.

Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Through the course of my day I will naturally drive past the grave 2-4 times. Sometimes the family is there and sometimes they aren’t, but the little shrine is always there.

I want to know the story. Whose grave is that? Is it a young child? What happened? I see a young woman there the most – is she the child’s mother? AND WHAT HAPPENED?

I’ve wanted to stop and look at that grave but I almost feel like it would be an invasion of their privacy to do so.

It tugs at my heart every day. I even thought about taking a different route to work – but I think seeing that cemetery every day, and the people in it, inspires an appreciation for my life and maybe fills me with a sense of, what? Humanity, maybe? Every day on my way to work.

An acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook the other day that we should all hug our kids more and longer. I found out he and his wife are going through something quite traumatic and personal. Maybe that’s why this grave is haunting me so much this week.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop to look. I don’t know if I really want to know. Maybe I WILL just hug my kids a little tighter and enjoy their company a little more – BECAUSE I STILL CAN.

And so can you.


Mystery solved, I’m upset, angered and altogether put-out, to say. I was having a lovely time with my son on Sunday. We had to run some errands. I drove past the cemetery on the way to the shops and saw the mourners there. On the way back they were gone. So I said, “Son, I’m going to take a detour here to look at a grave,” and I pulled into the cemetery. He was very curious so I explained about seeing the shrine and mourners. I warned him that it could be a child’s grave and that he could stay in the car if he wanted. No, he said, he wanted to go with me. So we did. I almost wish I hadn’t. I mean, now I know – but I almost wish I didn’t.

Born Nov 2007 and died May 2011. She was 3 1/2. My son asked me why she died and I didn’t know. He was very curious so I told him I would see if I could find out. I quickly Googled her name on my phone and, boom, a ton of results. I saw the first result and instantly knew who she was from the headlines back in May. She died very tragically.

I lied to my son. I told him she had been sick with a disease and he peppered me with questions the whole way home. He said, “I thought kids couldn’t die. How come she died? Can other kids die?” I tried to explain about accidents and illnesses and how they can affect anybody. Parenting fail – I probably should not have taken my son with me. On the other hand, he needs to know that sometimes people die when we aren’t prepared. I just didn’t have it in me to explain to him that sometimes they are the victims of violence as well.

When we got home I pulled my husband into our bedroom and told him the whole story. Then I sobbed for that little girl while he patted my back.

I’m happy I know where she’s laid to rest. I can drive by and know exactly why her mom sits at her grave every day. Every single day my heart will break when I drive past that grave. Every single day.

If you want the whole story you can get it here, but I’m warning you – don’t read this if you are easily affected. It stays with you.

RIP little Natasha.