You are Here

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Like each of you, I am sure, I will never forget the horror of that day, the sadness that followed, and the bravery of so many. It is one of those iconic events that every single person that was alive on that day can tell you exactly where they were when they learned the news.

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a play, inspired by the events following the 9/11 attacks, that had a tremendous impact on me. It was beautiful. It was fabulous. It was inspiring. And its message felt awfully familiar. 

“Come From Away” is a one act Broadway musical based on the true story of Gander, Newfoundland in the days following the September 11th attacks.

The facts are (no spoilers, this is a true and well documented story) Gander, Newfoundland boasted the largest airport in the world that was THE place for airplanes to refuel as they crossed the Atlantic. When jet planes were invented, refueling became unnecessary and the airport became mostly obsolete. It is a “village” of approximately 9000 residents who have a unique sense of local pride. 

As the events of the morning of September 11th unfolded, the United States government shut down the U.S. air space in an unprecedented action.  All the planes currently in flight had to land somewhere, safely and quickly. 

Thirty-eight jet airplanes were diverted to land in Gander, Newfoundland. Thirty-eight jet planes full of 6700 passengers descended upon this community. 6700 men, women, and children, from around the world, who had no idea they would end up on this island and, for so many hours, no idea why.

It was an ordinary day for the people in Gander until they heard the news and time stopped. For the plane people, affectionately known as “come from aways” they were losing their minds being stuck on their planes for, in some cases, over 20 hours.  Many did not know what had happened at all. They were desperate to get off the planes until they realized they were in a dark and strange place that they never expected to be. One of the many beautiful songs in the show is “Lead Us out of the Darkness”, sung as the “come from aways” are disembarking and are greeted by Gander’s Salvation Army. In Gander International Airport, there is a TV with the showing the footage of the attack and there is a map that has a red circle and says, “You are here.”

You are here. Have you ever landed somewhere and been told “you are here” when you never imagined you would be? A diagnosis. A loss. You seem to be surrounded by strangers and you were desperate to learn what was happening, only to yearn for the five minutes before when you didn’t know. You are here. You have cancer. He is gone. There was an accident. 

You are here. 

Who will lead you out of the darkness?

In the case of the come from aways, they are greeted by compassion and warmth. The people in Gander anticipated needs and responded with kindness. And it didn’t take long for most of those who didn’t want to be “here” to acclimate.

Have you ever been to a chemo infusion center? A bereavement support group? An Al-anon meeting? These places are populated much like the town of Gander in those days in September 2001: half full of terrified come from aways but very often led and directed by people who understand and know how to help. 

The passengers on the plane were not able to get their luggage, so once in Gander, the townspeople lend them clothes and try to get to know their visitors. The come from aways sing about feeling like they are at a strange costume party. Nothing seems familiar and many things feel awkward in this strange place “Who am I if I don’t feel like the me from yesterday?”

Who am I now that I am here? Who am I without hair? Without a spouse? With a wheelchair?

The musical’s most beautiful scene, in my opinion, comes with a song called “Prayer”. One of the passengers recalls music that he heard in a dream that came to him on his cot in Gander. He sings, “Make me a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me bring your love, where there is injury, your pardon, Lord, and where there is doubt, true faith in You.” He continues the song but is joined by a rabbi singing about Shalom in Hebrew and then a Muslim chanting along. 

“Where there is despair in life, let me bring hope…” Every day that I work in hospice and palliative care, meeting wonderful people in horrible circumstances, this is my prayer. When there is pain or fear from disease or grief, those of us that respond, personally or professionally share this sentiment. And for these displaced people surviving the days after the horrific terrorist attack, all faiths pray the same prayer. It reminds each of us that even in unthinkable circumstance, in places we never imagined we’d be, our needs are not so different at all. 

Finally, the come from aways are granted permission to return home. Due to the incoming hurricane (!), the 38 planes leave quickly and all passengers cheer when they cross the border into the USA. They celebrate with each other and share the amazing experiences they had in Gander. It is on one of the planes that a collection is begun to thank the people who hosted them. (That collection began what is now a large annual scholarship worth over a million dollars).

Meanwhile, in Gander, the mood is less jovial. Those who turned themselves inside out for the come from aways finally have a moment to think about what has happened and who they’ll deeply miss. More somber feelings are felt when the plane people actually get home and realize the world will never be the same again.

For one character, this is where she learns what she has feared. Her firefighter son was killed at the World Trade Center. There is chilling silence as she weeps. 

This portion of the play is a perfect depiction of survivorship. “We made it!” “That’s over” turns into “Not everybody was as fortunate”. Thankfully, many decide “let’s give back” and “let’s never forget” and then quietly they learn that this episode is a permanent part of their life story.  Surviving this ordeal, enduring the hardship they faced, will continue to shape the narrative of their lives going forward. 

The play concludes with a fabulous joyful scene celebrating the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks in Gander. The “come from aways” return and are greeted warmly by their old friends with whom they’ve kept in close touch. It is on this day that the city of Gander is gifted with the only piece of steel from the World Trade Center for a memorial.  One of the plane people announces that every year on September 11th he closes his office and gives each of his employees $100 to use for random acts of kindness. It is his way of remembering. 

The mayor of Gander, in closing, states, “Tonight, we honor what was lost but we also commemorate what we found.”

Can I get an Amen?

Today, #neverforget is trending- appropriately so. We can never EVER forget the attacks of this day 18 years ago, but we should also never forget the uprising of humanity and outpouring of kindness that occured in the days following. Too often, each one of us can be a “come from away” asking to be led out of the darkness. We find ourself in a place we never thought we’d be, trying to assimilate, and learning that our world is now forever changed. We can also be the islanders who offer kindness and empathy. We can be channels of peace for those in need. And if we never forget those plain truths, I think we do honor the victims of 9/11. 

Help in Humboldt

Why do I spend my Sunday mornings like this?

HOPEspotters, most of you know I am a devout lover of sports. I follow all the major leagues and teams at both the college and pro level and really put the “fanatic” in the fan for the teams I love. And while I may not be an expert at the X’s and O’s for each game, I study all the players and the coaches in order to keep current.

I am genuinely not a competitive person, by nature, which is probably good since my own career in sports forced me to get pretty familiar with the “L” column. Sure, I like to win, maybe even love it, but the thrill of the kill isn’t the thing that sports feeds me.

Following sports, from pee-wee softball to the NFL, fulfills my love of stories. Stories that provide the most fascinating allegories for life. So many stories, so many lessons.

And no one- I mean no one- tells those stories better than the team at ESPN that produces “E:60”.

On the busiest of days, I have found myself stopped in my tracks, suddenly captivated by the tale of a legless wrestler, a deaf football team, a college basketball player who survived TWO plane crashes, presented by Jeremy Schapp and Bob Ley.  And at the end of each story, I’m usually crying, often breathless, and always reminded of the resiliency of the human spirit. There’s gifts, there’s hardships, there’s redemption and there’s inspiration. Sometimes, it is better than church.

I had the chance to meet Jeremy Schaap at an ALS Fundraising Gala in Atlanta two years ago and  I went kind of ‘fan girl’ on him. He was a true gentleman and asked why I was attending the event. When I told him I was generously asked by a family who lost a loved one to the awful disease, and I had participated in her care, he was effusive with praise for the role of the hospice nurse. A table turn I did not expect. What we agreed upon in the course of our conversation was this: we loved our jobs. The people we meet inspire us and their stories never leave us. Sometimes it can be very emotional to listen to their stories, but when we allow ourselves to be open to them, there is always beauty.

So me and Jeremy… ya… peas and carrots…

Anyhoo, Mr. Schaap and his team just produced another doozy, “Humboldt Strong”. While unloading the dishwasher this morning, I turned on the TV which was already tuned to ESPN from last night’s Final Four games.

“Humboldt Strong” is narrated by Wayne Gretzky and tells the unbelievably tragic story of the horrific bus crash involving the Junior Hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, from Humboldt, Saskatchewan. On April 6, 2018, on the way to a play- off game, the Broncos’ bus was hit by a semi- truck that ran a stop sign. This catastrophic and devastating event led to 16 deaths. There were 13 survivors, two of whom were paralyzed and two with significant traumatic brain injuries. The number of hearts broken by the incident is immeasurable. The accident sent the community, the country, the hockey world reeling. It was the worst mass casualty auto accident in Canada’s history and it was another example of the unbelievable and incomprehensible fragility of life.

The story of the Humboldt Broncos can be dissected on so many different levels. There’s loss, there’s grief, there’s anger, there’s determination, there’s community spirit. There’s a lot in the mere 60 minutes allowed to the story. A story, I am sure, that only one year later, isn’t over yet.

But there was one detail, a fairly small one, in fact, that has stuck with me today- resonated, perhaps.  During this. season of Lent, this detail seemed to illuminate a timeless and often redundant question that has to do with feeling forsaken and seeking healing.

In classic E:60 fashion, the narration gets slower as the recounting of the inevitable accident approaches. The bus is shown traveling a two lane highway that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

“At 4:58 PM, the charter bus carrying 29 Humboldt Broncos players and coaches, crossed the intersection of…. and was hit by a semi truck driving at….” “The top of the bus was literally ripped in two….” “The cargo that was carried by the truck had been spilled all over the landscape..”

“At 5:16, the first batch of emergency responders arrived…”



18 minutes.

1,080 seconds.

Impressively fast for the middle of nowhere. And yet… 18 minutes. E.I.G.H.T.E.E.N minutes. One thousand eighty seconds.

As I watched the rest of the documentary, I was utterly distracted, fairly haunted, by those eighteen minutes. What was it like for the people who survived the initial impact to wait 18 minutes? And I bet 18 minutes seems a lot longer when one doesn’t know if it will “only” be 18 minutes? And you’re in pain, and scared? And I think it is pretty cold in Saskatchewan, Canada in April, eh?

Eighteen Minutes.

And then I started to think less about the length of time those poor young men, and a few women, had to wait for help and more about if they wondered if it was coming at all. When your life gets literally blown apart by a semi truck going at full speed, I would imagine it would be normal, understandable, in fact, to question or even lose faith. Maybe in their panic and pain, they felt forsaken.

And then, of course, I started to think of all of us, who at times have been lying in a cold field, in pain and scared, and wondering when help is coming and if it will come at all. And sometimes, in the metaphor, we sit in that cold and in that pain for a hell of a lot longer than eighteen minutes.

“Mr. Jones, there were some unusual findings in your colonoscopy. We’d like you to schedule an MRI but it looks like the next available appointment isn’t available until next month.”

“There are clearly some abnormalities on the fetal ultrasound but things might change throughout the course of the pregnancy and the severity won’t really be clear until…”

“We won’t know how quickly this is going to progress and while there are some medications that might slow things down, statistics generally show that at Stage IV…”

“You’re leaving? Just like that? You’re leaving me?”

What about the people who love someone with an addiction and wonder if he or she will ever get “clean” (I hate that term, by the way) and sober?  Or the poor people who have a loved one that has gone missing, been taken, run away- and they lay on that metaphorical field in Canada wondering when the HELL help is ever going to come? Waiting out the storm can seem unbearable…

And maybe, sometimes, the wait is so painful, the thought of just surrendering to death seems inviting. Case in point, the recent suicides by the Parkland shooting survivors or the father of the Sandy Hook shooting victim. That man, Jeremy Richman, lay in that cold Canadian field, in apparent acute pain, so profound that the help he waited for for 6 years and 3 months, seemed for him to never come. And he couldn’t wait anymore.

And that, is terribly sad.

Just like some of the Humboldt Broncos, some bodies cannot stand the injury any longer and they cannot survive the wait. I pray that help has arrived for him, and others who’ve suffered like him, in a more peaceful and less tormented place.

My faith, my life experience and everything I stand for has taught me that help will always come- some way, somehow, some day a first responder will arrive. Sometimes it takes an excruciatingly long time. Maybe we’re not ready for them when it does arrive. Often times it isn’t in the form we expect, but I believe to the core of my soul that help always comes.

16 Humboldt Broncos died that day, but 13 survived. And after seeing the footage from the actual wreckage, that is 13 undeniable miracles. Because help showed up. It got there and it did what it needed to do.

Last year, I was giving a few remarks at our annual hospice bereavement service- an hour of remembrance for the loved ones of those who died in our program the previous year. My remarks included my “go to” phrase “I know it is never anyone’s best day when I, the “hospice girl”, shows up.” I understand the gravity of the situation if I have been called in. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the end of the service, when a family member of a former patient came up and told me, “You should stop saying that. I was thrilled when you came. I felt like we were finally at a place where Mom wasn’t going to suffer anymore. I was so relieved. Throughout the course of her terrible illness, I think it was my best day.”  

Huh. Help- in a form other than expected- but help, nonetheless.

In my limited experience talking with people who’ve battled addictions, they are often very open about their rock bottom day. In trusted conversations, they share the circumstances that caused them to throw up their arms and cry, “Mercy” and most bless that day, because when they courageously surrendered their substance abusing ways, that was when the help came. And that was when they let the help in.

Ryan Leaf, former NFL quarterback, known for being a big time ‘bust’ with a bad attitude fell deeply into substance abuse after his career ended prematurely and he wound up in prison. His life is now turned around completely and he is devoted to helping others battle addiction and prevent drug abuse, through regular speaking engagements and one on one counseling. He’s taken his painful past and given it grace by sharing his experiences with others so that they may avoid similar pitfalls. On April 1, 2019, he tweeted, “7 years ago today I woke up on the floor of a prison cell.. I had nothing to live for, or so I thought. If I had known the size of the blessing that was coming, I would have understood the magnitude of the battle I was fighting. I got up, there is Hope!! #7yearssober”

Ryan’s 18 minutes played out of the course of a very scary and lonely and painful decade, but help did come. (And look at that, I am back to sports…)

And, oh yeah, there is another really good story about fear and pain, waiting and praying, wreckage, loss and redemption. Some people call it, in fact, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and it’s final chapter is coming to churches near you in just two short weeks.

Spoiler alert: help comes. Not before sadness, not in the absence of fear, but it shows up BIG TIME.

Back in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, there is a large memorial at the site of the crash that occurred just over a year ago. The documentary shows how each of the featured ‘victims’ and their families are getting on with their lives. Clearly, there is still a lot of grief work to be done. No one is lying by the side of the road anymore, but there is still a lot of pain. The wounds are deep and large and the fractured hearts and hope and dreams are extensive. It is clear as the survivors and the family members of those that didn’t survive speak, there is a longing for help- or better said for healing- to arrive.

I hope they know that it will.

It absolutely will.

Happy Anniversary, HOPEspot!

Hopespotters! HOPEspot was born three years ago today. Three years ago, friends and family came to my home to launch this venture.  I was blessed with love and support that night. Those in attendance knew that I needed an outlet, a place to share my thoughts on life (mothering it and hospice-ing it). My husband, months before recognizing my discontent, connected me with a wonderfully creative web designer and HOPEspot was put in motion.

My husband’s initial diagnosis with my discontent was correct. My personal and professional experience was bubbling up in my throat and I needed to vent. I wanted to write but felt insecure with my talent. Three years into my blog, I still feel insecure about my talent. The majority of my followers are people that know me. Sometimes I worry their praise is equal to that of one might receive for looming a potholder because it was a useful application of time with a reasonably satisfactory product.

I started the blog with some shy, short outputs, but that time was marked by my niece’s heart surgery and there were tremendous feelings associated with that season.

Since then, we’ve explored Acts of God, Holy Saturday, 8th grade field trips and This is Us episodes that were life lessons. I’ve collaborated with very special people and felt good about this message.

I tried funny, observant, spiritual and informative. I tried to cover personal and professional and I wanted to make a name for myself as a writer. I still want that.

It is hard to try to be something bigger than I feel. I want to write about things that trouble me and yet I feel incomplete when I can’t make sense of the issues. I want to write from a place of total ego integrity, but I am too honest.

Three years ago, my husband wanted to help me start a blog so I could vent and grow professionally. Three years ago, Obama was still president. Three years ago, #metoo was unheard of. Three years ago, the shootings at the Orlando night club or Mandalay Bay had not happened.

Three years ago I felt younger- and more optimistic.

But this blog, this HOPEspot, has felt like a baby I’ve needed to nurture and help mature. As has been the case with my sons, I’ve made some errors.

I named HOPEspot for a reason. Personally and professionally, I’ve experienced times where answers and resources seemed absent. I know those moments where families look at each other with a love and a frightening void all at the same time.

Those moments SUCK.

My hope for HOPEspot was it would be a resource for those moments that could offer help and humor. If there was anything I could ever offer to families in those moments, I want to do it.

Three years in, I’m not as ebullient. Realities of disease, family, and circumstance constantly smack me in the face.

Three years in, I look back to why I started this and I come upon this:


Pandora was given a box she was forbidden to open. She is all of us. In predictable instant gratification, our girl opened the box and let out a host of evils she didn’t intend to release. In a panic, she closed the box, regretting the fact she didn’t follow her father’s instructions in keeping the box closed.

Thank you, Pandora for closing the box at just the right time. HOPE remained in the box. For all the hard things, I still think HOPE is the infinite remedy.

Thanks HOPEspotters followers. More. To. Come.

Hospitals, Hope and Will.

In my work, I visit hospitals often. In the upcoming week, I will be spending a lot of time in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) with my niece who is having heart surgery. (More to come on that.) I find hospitals fascinating- as much for what they offer as for what they don’t. There are three places, in particular, that baffle me.

Read More