Nostalgia and a love letter to Mountain Park Elementary School

The Yard Signs came today.

Yard signs were not a thing when I was growing up in the Northeast, so I am not sure if they are a Southern thing or a new thing. Yard signs, to be clear, are congratulations for students matriculating from one level to the next. Each May, neighborhoods around my community, will have yards with signs congratulating students graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. While some may view these signs with the ‘participation trophy eye roll’, they are happy indicators of an achievement. A milestone achieved.


Those milestones, however, can be bittersweet for parents and the signs spiked in the yard can serve as the pointed reminder of the passage of time.

When the yard signs for elementary school came out today, many of my friends posted on social media with apologies for the nostalgia they were feeling. One friend, with sons finishing elementary and middle school, like mine, invited people to hide her posts for the next few weeks as she was “in her feelings” and would be sharing a lot of memories.

Friends in your feelings, share away. Each of us know the sting of time passing too quickly and the burn of leaving a safe and loving place. I think it is only through sharing that we can move on.

Sean’s yard sign, indicating his graduation from Mountain Park Elementary School, was the one I spiked in the grass today. Mountain Park has been an integral part of my life for the last ten years and I am in my feels about leaving.

April 9, 2008 was the first time I entered “MPES”. I remember because it was my birthday and Kevin and I were bringing both boys to see the house he was building. Ryan, four years old at the time, had barfed in the car and I needed to stop to get something to clean him up. Schools weren’t locked at that time and I walked in to find kind people happy to give me paper towels and water. Having two boys in car seats that day, the children in the cafeteria seemed huge, mature and capable!   

Approximately twelve months later, Ryan and I were back for kindergarten round up. This child who I felt was fresh out of my womb was practicing getting on a bus and touring a “media center”.  Surely the surreality was unique to me!

When I met his teacher at the “sneak peek” that summer, I really introduced myself with a bang. I can remember, with the embarrassment one feels when recalling a fall where you know you showed your underpants, telling Ms. Nicol, “Ryan is very smart. If he isn’t challenged appropriately, he is likely to be disruptive in the classroom. What can you tell me you will do to keep him challenged and on task?”

Insert universal teacher eye roll. I should have wound up in a red file cabinet labeled “A-hole parents”, but to my knowledge, I wasn’t. If I wound up in any special file, it was one called “first timer - loves her kid”. Ryan thrived in Kindergarten and in every class, every year for his tenure at Mountain Park.

Bringing Sean to Kindergarten was a different experience. I cloaked myself in experience. I knew the drill. I tried to ignore the fact that I was bringing a TOTALLY different kid with unique needs and talents. But that was ok. The faculty and staff didn’t ignore that. The best teachers in the world met Sean where he was, for who he is, identified his ADD and got him help to give him the best chance at success. I didn’t have to do anything but trust them. Which I did. Wholly and completely.

Looking out at the yard sign is so much more, however, than an inventory of Ryan and Sean’s teachers (each of whom were truly extraordinary) while at Mountain Park. It is a remembrance symbol of all the growth and change that has transpired since that first day I walked in needing paper towels.

For example, on that day, I was in my thirties, I was a full time Mom and I was sure of a lot of things. I didn’t have an iPhone (because they didn’t exist), Kevin was a builder and my dog was my beloved, Lillian.  I had no idea about the tearful thrill of spelling bee success (Ryan) and the tearful horror of early spelling bee defeat (Sean). (First timers who love your kids: beware of the spelling bee).

Today, I’m LATE into my forties. I work full time and I don’t know shit. I have two smart phones and a different house. Kevin’s building business and my beloved Lillian have died. But we have new things. Different things. Good things. Especially Bella.

But it isn’t just me that has evolved in these last ten years. When Ryan entered Kindergarten, Obama was president, we were carrying Blackberries and Oprah was still on TV. Epic events have occurred.

December 14, 2012. In Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six staff members were fatally shot by Adam Lanza. At the time, Ryan was a third grader and Sean was in Kindergarten. I remember the news breaking while I was at work at Piedmont Hospital. I thought about those babies at Sandy Hook who got on the bus that morning with Christmas presents and expectations for a fun day. I thought about those staff members who went to work every day with love in their hearts for the students but never having ANY idea how that might be tested. I thought about how Sandy Hook could easily be Mountain Park or Roswell North or any other vulnerable place of innocence in the United States. I thought about the children who were on the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers. My heart broke in an irreparable way. Evil exists in this world and it is indiscriminate. Seeing the families in Newtown and their pain has never left me, even six years later. Because I would be willing to bet a lot of those Moms and Dads were in a file labeled: “First timers - love their kid”.

January 27, 2016. Snowmageddon. I remember being at work that day and telling my boss that I thought we needed to send our staff home because the roads were getting bad. My boss, my friend, now admits she “poo-pooed” my concern. Canceling a patient visit after observing the worsening road conditions, I headed straight to Mountain Park to collect Ryan and Sean ( 5th and 2nd grade). It was a harrowing 1.7 mile drive home but we made it together and sat in front of a fire before sundown. Many parents in the city weren’t as fortunate, however. Hundreds of parents were stranded on highways and side roads unable to go anywhere and get to their children. A nightmare. Mountain Park, however, handled it with its typical love and calm. A few staff members and our wonderful principal stayed at the school - OVERNIGHT- until each student was picked up and safe.

As a community, we’ve had to endure loss and grief. In Ryan and Sean’s years at Mountain Park, we’ve lost too many students. Sweet Creed Campbell died in Kindergarten and is remembered in a beautiful mural outside the Media Center. Finn Dana died suddenly in fourth grade and has his own reading corner in the Media Center. Another tragedy when Tristan Shupbach, fifth grader, died before his performance as Captain Hook in 2017. Other schoolmates have battled cancer, lost parents and siblings and one has to ask why? I can only say that for both of my sons, their exposure to grief and loss, which are inevitable life lessons, has been handled at Mountain Park with the highest level of empathy and healing. For that I am infinitely grateful.

Many times, when I speak to patients and families about hospice care, which is the next step in their journey, I can be admittedly impatient when they resist what I think they need. I know there is good in the next step. I know there’s nothing left for them in the level where they are. I can be quick to put them in an “A-hole” folder and not one more appropriately labeled, “First timers”.

Mountain Park and my sons’ elementary school experience has been more special and life changing than I can possibly explain. I am beyond blessed by every single educator that encountered my sons and changed them for the better. I say that without hesitation. I have SINCERE gratitude for the Mountain Park leadership/ administration that fosters this environment and I thank you all for raising me.

Mountain Park Elementary School has been my special and safe place for the past ten years. Unfortunately, my stay there is coming to a close. Age and time wait for none of us. I’m no longer a “first timer” but I’m still in a folder of “loves my kids”.


Tonight, I am offering thanks to which I can’t put words for everyone at Mountain Park. But I am also extending kindness and empathy for everyone who feels scared to leave a place that has provided care. There’s no yard sign that can make that feel a whole lot easier.



And to be clear, May 24 is Sean’s “graduation” from Mountain Park. To my other Moms “in the feels”, come find me in the fetal position at the back of the playground. To my other deeply loved friends facing their own ‘next place’, I’ll come find you.


What’s your Stone?

Happy Easter, HOPEspotters ! ( Don’t go away non Easter celebrators.) Today is a day of HOPE for all of us and I am inviting you to the church of hope, a place where I preach. I have a message I want to share and I think it is for us all. I believe a story of overcoming and rising has a universal appeal and a timeless application. And I LOVE stories.

So without being biblical, as I am no one’s theologian, let’s just review the story. Good Friday: Jesus is crucified and dies. Placed in a tomb that is sealed with a stone. Holy Saturday, we sit and wait. I’ve already written about that as the day we need to hold space for each other. Easter Sunday, the disciples, the friends, show up at the tomb of their friend and the stone has been rolled back, the tomb is empty. Jesus is resurrected and the miracle becomes legend. 

For those that believe, the miracle of Jesus defeating death has been the basis of their faith. It’s an answered prayer, a promise fulfilled.

But this is the church of hope, preached by me and I’m only asking for attention to the story, not the theology. The story is Jesus was crucified by people who didn’t believe in Him. He was dead. Placed in a tomb by those that loved and mourned Him. Not one of them expected what they would find on Sunday.

In this story, the message is deep and wide and loud and clear. 

The stone was rolled back. After the miracle, being trapped in the tomb was not tolerated. 

I’ve been to church on Easter almost every year of my life and I’ve heard about the empty tomb. I’ve yet to hear (and if I’ve missed it, shame on me) discussion on the events in that tomb. Like, what EXACTLY happened? Jesus was lying in there dead and God’s miracle came and restored life to Him. Jesus woke up after a hideous crucifiction ALIVE.

But what happened next? HOW did the stone get rolled back? Scripture would have you believe it was a very large boulder that sealed this man’s tomb. Who took care of the stone?

In my head, the details are clear: Jesus woke up and recognized the miracle bestowed on him. The opportunity. The second chance. But the boulder that sealed his tomb remained. It was dark. And confusing. Maybe Jesus cried and thought, “why am I STILL in the dark??”

The burden of a miracle is ia gift that should not be wasted. It was decision time. What to do with this massive stone? 

The newly resurrected man knew with certainty. 
With human grit and renewed determination, Jesus rolled it back himself. 

In my whole heart, I believe there was an epic battle in the tomb on Saturday night/ Sunday morning. Jesus, fresh off a resurrection, gathered up more strength than he thought he had and pushed and sweated and shoved and moved that stone. God’s miracle was to bring Him back to life. Moving the stone was all on Him. 

It wasn’t easy. Budge, push, wiggle, move. A crack of light provided new determination. 

Scripture assures us, He got out.

My HOPEspot friends, let me bring you back to my prayer for you:




What am I saying? WHAT IS YOUR STONE?

Friends, I believe we all have stones that keep us locked in our tombs. Despite the miracle of second chances that we’ve all been granted, we remain in a dark tomb. All of us. Even the best of us.

What are our stones? What seems to have crucified you? Addiction? Anger? Lack of forgiveness? Denial? Fear? Feelings of inadequacy? Hanging on to a bad situation? Stones that keep us in a tomb and away from the life of our dreams.

 Big. Bad. Stones. Stones that keep us from celebrating our miracle of second chances. Crucifixion did not define Jesus.  It shouldn’t  define us. 

I have a really brave friend. This friend has a child who struggled with some anxiety, crippling at times. My friend made the brave choice to send her child to a place that treated her around the clock and ultimately healed the child.

Talking to my friend about the hard choice she made, she admitted that she had resisted the “last resort”. In hindsight, my friend wished she had succumbed earlier to what finally was the ultimate solution. My friend’s tomb was dark. Her determination to move the stone was nothing short of heroic. 

And it is all over literature and the arts..

Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, perhaps the greatest character  ever to exemplify redemption, sang, “My soul belongs to God, I know I made that bargain long ago, He gave me hope when hope was gone, He gave me strength to carry on.”

The wise and wonderful Dr. Seuss reminded us, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

My Easter plea is for each of you to name your stone, the one that keeps you trapped in the dark, scary tomb.  Place that stone against your feeling this Easter morning and play the Jesus. Wake up. Recognize you’ve been given a miracle. Look that stone in the eye and start to rock that bitch.

I know it isn’t easy to find yourself in the dark, realizing that you have the gift of potential. You aren’t the first to struggle with that. Push, shove, dig deep thinking about all those that love you and WANT you out of that tomb.

We need you out of that tomb, friends. You can’t possibly imagine the glory and the love and the celebration that await you on the other side. So get to pushing. 

What’s your stone?

Roll it back. 


The Agony Of Loss

When I was in nursing school, one of the most vivid lessons I can still recall is when a professor taught us how to easily identify a patient suffering from kidney stones. She explained that patients come into the ER, typically clutching their lower backs and walking frantically in a circle. The professor explained, you can spot these patients because they are “visibly trying to escape from their pain.”

Years later, as a newly married lady, I observed Kevin doing exactly what my nursing professor described, early one Sunday morning,  and a trip to the ER confirmed he had kidney stones. It was clear to me watching him that day that when the pain is so intense, a primal instinct seems to take over in an attempt to get away from the thing that hurts so badly. Unfortunately, the pain is deep inside and there is no easy escape.

Monday night, the University of Georgia suffered a devastating overtime loss to the University of Alabama in the College Football playoffs. The stunning touchdown by Alabama abruptly ended a dreamlike season for the Georgia Bulldogs and its fans who have hungered for a championship for over 20 years. For a large part of the game it seemed that Georgia would be victorious, but Alabama dashed those hopes and stole away a long anticipated joy. And to be fair to Alabama, they suffered a last second loss in last year’s National Championship game to Clemson, so they also know how quickly one’s heart can sink. 

In Georgia this week, it seems as if many of the people I’ve seen are walking around “visibly trying to escape from their pain”. And it wasn’t hard to spot because I’d seen it, in fact experienced it, only 11 months before. In Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons blew a historic lead against the New England Patriots to lose in overtime and hence deprive the city of a long awaited championship. 

Loss is universal and the band, R.E.M was right when they sang the sad song, “Everybody Hurts”.  For the Georgia Bulldog nation, I really offer my sincere sympathy. I remember how crushed I felt for a long time after the Falcons defeat and as much as I tried to escape it, the pain of the loss, like a kidney stone, was deep inside me. There was no easy escape. It had to be a process- kind of a painful process. 

Now if you’ve read this far and have no heart for sports, you may be making the obvious judgement: such upset over a GAME. As a hospice nurse, SURELY you have perspective on what really matters and REAL problems people face. 

I assure you, I do. And that is why I think it is important to seize a teachable moment, such as the ones sports offer us, to gain that critical perspective. 

The agony of defeat is brutally painful. Even if you are not a sports fan, every person alive can relate to the devastating feeling of waking up and remembering a loss; dedicating the first few moments awake to reliving the pain and sadness. It is shocking each morning, then painfully familiar and it thrusts us out of bed, “visibly trying to escape the pain.” Ask any parent who has lost a child. Or a person who has lost their spouse. Or someone who has witnessed the collapse of what they thought they could rely upon in their life, like their marriage or their career. Their first waking thoughts are to inventory the ownership of what they hold most dear and each morning they have to reintroduce to their brains that they’ve suffered the most devastating loss. 

I remember an episode of “Glee” that addressed the death of lead character, Finn, played by Cory Monteith. The episode was predicated to the actor’s actual untimely death at the age of 31 from a drug overdose. In the memorial episode, his TV mom gave a very compelling performance as she sorts the belongings in his room. She cries that she used to wonder about parents who’d lost a child and how they woke up in the morning and now she knows that a bereaved parent can wake because they have those precious 5 seconds of wakefulness before the painful memory surfaces. And then they remember that everything is different.

So where am I going? I ask myself that all the time. I’ve gone from a painful football loss to the worst pain imaginable- a parent’s loss of a child. I am really all over the place.

Every week when I take my son, Sean, to the allergist for his shots, I pass a church that boldly advertises its weekly bereavement support group. They have a big banner on the front lawn that asks, “Got grief?” Every single time I drive by, I wonder how many chairs they set up for the group meetings. EVERYONE has GOT GRIEF.

No one is going to attend their group and bemoan the Bulldogs or the Falcons historic losses, I don’t think. However, I guarantee you there are people there that are fans and right now they are trying to visibly escape their pain. Because the thing about sports battles is the better, stronger, faster is SUPPOSED to prevail. And every fan of a team believes that their team is better, stronger, faster. The outcome, we lull ourselves into believing, should be fair. 

Losing a child is not fair. Watching a parent battle cancer is not fair. Seeing a loved one succumb to ALS is not fair. More often than not, our greatest battles are not fair. So when a battle, like a sports championship, lifts your heart in belief that good will prevail, it is supposed to be fair. There are rules in sports, after all. There are no god damn rules whatsoever in end stage disease. 

My wonderful mentor tells a perfect story about a day when her newly renovated basement flooded and caused much destruction. When she, who’d worked in hospice for over 20 years, and her husband went to assess the damage, he, after a moment, shouted, “don’t tell me at least it is not pancreatic cancer because I DON”T want to hear it!”

His reaction to what he suspected her response would be is what I imagine and Dawg fans still reading might be guessing I am going to say next. I’m not. You are mad and you are sad and you should RAGE! It didn’t go your way and everything up until that point had you believing that it would and it HURTS!!!!!

We’ve all heard of the expressions “a school of fish” or a “pride of lions”. As the English language has evolved some of the collective nouns used to describe groups of animals have become less used. I recently learned, however, that a herd of elephants used to be described as “a memory”. “A memory of elephants” is a gathering of the most majestic mammals and I, for one, think it remains a perfect descriptor. 

Elephants, to me, are amazing. They are massive. They are filled with love. They leave a deep impression on the Earth where they roam. Grief and loss is also quite amazing. It is massive. It is generated by love. It leaves a deep impression.

I get some reasonable peace if I continue to extrapolate the analogy of a memory of elephants and loss. When the elephants move on, the impression remains. But over time, it does soften. The majesty can’t be forgotten but the hardened footprint fills in with new soil and fresh grass. 

So to my grievers, please accept this as a love letter to you. If you are “visibly trying to escape your pain” that lies deep within, whatever its cause, I am really sorry for what you are feeling. After you have your five seconds of peace upon awakening and your sad truth returns to your mind, know you are not alone. And I fully believe, because I have seen it throughout my career, that no matter how deep the impression made by your “memory of elephants”, it will soften. It. Will. Soften. 

This. IS. Us.

Hopespotters, HELLO!

Given the feelings and sentiments we share here on HOPEspot, I am guessing many of you are “This Is Us” watchers. It’s been a week since William’s death. Are you OK?

C’mere.  We need to talk about this. Even if you don’t watch “This Is Us”, we need to talk about this. Please don’t quit reading if you’re not a watcher, I’ve still got something to say.

C’mere. S’OK. Have a cookie. S’OK.

To be clear for all readers, “This Is Us” is the hit NBC show that started Fall 2016. From the first episode, we met William, the biological father of one of the show’s leads, Randall. William abandoned Randall on the steps of a firehouse as an infant because Randall’s mother was a junkie and William was struggling with his own issues. In the pilot episode, Randall finds William and learns that William is struggling with Stage IV cancer. Randall brings William into his home, introduces him to his wife and daughters and watches a beautiful and redemptive love take place. William is appropriately remorseful for his past and refreshingly inspiring in his enthusiasm for the seeming last days of his life.

In last week’s episode-- SPOILER ALERT-- Randall takes William on a road trip back to his hometown of Memphis. Conscientious Randall brings maps that William throws out the window. William tells Randall to roll the windows down and turn up the music. Randall brings William to his childhood home where he pulls out a treasure of toys he buried as a boy. They visit the “gravesite” of Randall’s adoptive father. They laugh. They drink from the water fountain that was designated for ‘whites’.  William finally returns to his cousin, who he left in a bind years ago when he was called to take care of his beloved mother, and asks for forgiveness. Forgiveness is mercifully received and the two reunite to make beautiful music together.

There’s glorious joy shown on this father/ son trip until the next morning when William wakes up in total organ failure and needs to be brought to the hospital. Randall learns that William is imminently dying and their interaction from that point goes beyond Hollywood special and reaches into spiritually perfect. It is this point that so many of my friends broke down when watching. My dear friend, Ivette, is still in a puddle, and she is a warrior who knows life is hard.

What happens in that eleventh hour is everything, and I will tell you why. William, who met Randall as a child abandoning junkie, has been redeemed as a loving father and grandfather. William had an opportunity to give thanks to the Man who raised Randall. William gave Randall his final book of poetry. William was forgiven by his cousin. William told Randall his life was hard, but he was glad for who was there when he was born and who is with him as he dies.  Things that needed to be said, were said. Forgiven, forgiven. Gifted, gifted.  William was assured his legacy would be one of love and he would not be alone in death.

C’mere. S’ok.  It’s sad. And it’s hard to watch. I’m really going to miss William, too.

But now I want to say what experiences compels me to say and I don’t want to be preachy about it.

William did it right. William’s best chapter was his final one. It is for possibilities such as William’s that I push hard to promote hospice.

William didn’t die in hospice, but William had a hospice death. William had opportunity to complete his final work and did so, seemingly, with an appropriate amount of comfort. I HATED to see William die, but we, as viewers, knew when we met him, that he was terminally ill. We cried because WE GOT TO LOVE HIM and that was spectacular. It was going to hurt to lose him in any case. It hurt worse because we got to see the goodness in him. It should hurt less because we got to see the goodness in him.

William is fictional, but his loss was all too real for viewers. It was painful because none of us are immune to loss and reliving one in such a personal way brings all of those feelings right to the surface.

For a long time, I had some well rehearsed “talk offs” about working as a hospice nurse. “Oh, it’s a privilege to be there for families at such a difficult time.” Or, “I know I can’t change the outcome, but I know I can change the experience.” I believed, and still believe those things.

But what my humanity has come to show me unconditionally, is there is no treatment for the sadness. Even a beautiful death like William’s, is sad. I find myself with increasing years of experience more, not less, sad.

We had our annual memorial service for Weinstein Hospice this past Sunday. I love and dread this event. I believe the way we honor those who have died in our program over the past year is beautiful. And I know that time for remembrance is powerful for me.

This year two things stood out strongly for me. First, our chaplain read Psalm 23.  “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley  of death…” Her words were unforgettable. Grief is the valley of death but the psalm reads that we walk THROUGH, we do not, though at times we might feel like it, curl up and lay down in it. Bravo, Donna Faye.

Then, she used her beautiful voice, to sing “For Good” from the Broadway musical, “Wicked”. If you aren’t familiar with the tune, its message is, “I don’t know if I’ve been changed for the better...because I knew you, I  have been changed for Good.” These words sang into my heart and expressed exactly how I felt about every person we memorialized that day. Each one forever changes us.

Back to William. And the sadness. One of the goals of William and Randall’s road trip was to get to “The Peabody” in Memphis to see the ducks. If any readers aren’t familiar with “The Peabody” it is a luxury hotel in Memphis that features a daily duck march to the lobby fountain and has since 1940.  William wanted Randall to see the ducks and that was the plan for the day that William got sick and died.

No ducks.

But in true, “This Is Us”, there’s redemption and magic in this life style, we, the viewer, see Randall driving back home, tearfully, and stopped on the highway by crossing ducks. The ducks remind him of William’s advice to “roll down the windows” and smile crosses his bereaved face. The ducks march across the highway in heavy demonstration of the power of love and the victory that is redemption. 

For the bereaved who watch “This is Us”. Or who were at Weinstein’s service. Or who just read this and know loss:  C’mere. S’ok. I hope the one you loved left you with the peace the William left Randall. More than that, I hope you find the ducks. And roll down your windows.  “This Is Us” is a hit because it really is ALL of us. I’m sorry you are sad. Keep walking through that valley.

And never ever stop HOPING.