learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: grief

This and That

I am really good at these posts that have a lot of random bits but not enough of each bit for a real meaty entry. Buckle up and hang on for the ride!


J has been fighting within himself for a couple of weeks now.  It is hard for me to explain what is going on. People in general, no matter how they are wired, can often encounter this rift between what they are feeling and their ability to express said feeling. It seems right now that for J, that rift is more of a large, deep and tumultuous gulf. It is understandably upsetting and frustrating to feel things that you want to express and let out but you do not know how to do so. This often leads to outbursts, to acting out, to just him not being himself.

Frankly I cannot blame him. I’d be equally inconsolable if I felt lost in my own skin. I just don’t know how to reach him in these moments.

I sit, patiently waiting. I set boundaries and make my expectations as clear as I can. I get frustrated, too. I get upset. I’ve broken down and cried once with him in my arms. It’s not pretty, it’s not perfect, it’s not fun.

A lot seems to circle back to grief. Loss is becoming real to him. J’s way is to slowly come to a full realization of an abstract, difficult concept. He’s always observing, thinking and putting pieces together but those abstract emotional things are plain hard for a concrete, linear thinker. He’s realizing that there can be massive upheaval. He is realizing that his beloved girl was forever taken from him. He cries for her regularly and grows possessive of his precious stuffies.

No matter how long you saw this coming it still shocks the system and weighs down the heart.

We have light now, though. We will get through this.


Who knew light could arrive on four prancing feet and covered in the softest, curliest fur?

J and I volunteered at APAW last week and for the first time in months, we both were light and free. J was so proud to have purpose. I hold back tears typing this because I had not seen that centered boy since June. He listened well to Jillian, APAW’s caring leader, and greeted the volunteers and their dogs amiably as well as some clients. He beamed over kisses doled out by sweet Empathy, a poodle in training, and chatted about the different dogs the whole drive home.

The class made it easy to realize that no matter how long our wait for his perfect partner is, it will be worth it. We are with people who care for him and his best interests now. What his needs are matter first and foremost when it comes to making a great match for him. There can be no deadline set for this. An arbitrary date will not produce perfection, it will merely limit prospects and possibilities. Would we rather a partner sooner over later? Of course we would. I would be lying to say bringing home a puppy tomorrow wouldn’t put me over the moon… But I am realistic. We engaged APAW because they make it their business to be subject matter experts in what they do. They have welcomed us into their fold and let us help in any way we are able, so the love we have ached over carrying since Brookie was snatched away will not go to naught. It will be shared with all these lovely poodles we meet and we can happily watch them on their journeys.

Do I wonder sometimes if a pup I meet will be J’s one day? I’d be lying to say I didn’t, but it is easier to immediately think “wow, they are sure going to make someone so happy”… Because they are, no matter what their role. Someday, it’ll be J’s turn and we’ll be okay until that day comes.

Puppy kisses help the time pass a little faster, though. I cannot complain about that!



Those of you who have experienced life with IEPs for your children or as an educator know that every 3 years, re-evaluation must occur. J is in the midst of that right now and let me tell you,  I am nervous. It came as a great relief to learn that his beloved preschool teacher is doing much of the evaluating for him, so he is agreeable and trusts her. I know how much J has grown and how much he’s gained. He is so smart and quick, it’s just always nerve-wracking to see what people put down on paper to attempt and quantify your child. It’s not hard to see where his weaknesses are but here’s hoping that his strengths are seen and celebrated, too.

A Love Letter

I sound like a broken record and for that, I am sorry. This is grief and I have no sense of closure for this, not for myself and especially not for my son. My words and writing are all I have, so I hope you will bear with me. I hope this will be the last post like this for a while. – N

I wrote a post the day we met Brooklyn. You can read it here. I wrote about her overwhelmingly sweet, loving nature. I did not write more than that really because pictures taken by a dear friend told the story far better than my meager words could have hoped to.

My dear Brookie Cookie,

I cannot believe you are never coming home. I cannot believe that I will never see your face again, hear your tail thump against the floor, feel your cold nose nuzzling me awake. There will be no more morning, afternoon and evening walks. There will be no long chats as we did this or that.

Worse, there will be no sight of the beautiful language you spoke with your boy. People fret when they get a service dog for their child, especially a child like J. They worry that a bond will never occur. You eliminated that worry before we even came home. Your boy showed you that which was most precious to him and you learned, fast, to respect that. You learned that his touches on your tail, nose and ears all meant something. What? I have no idea, but you knew. He knew. You read him even better than me, his own mother, could. You could tell when to give him space or when to push up in his face and make him pay you mind rather than pay mind to that which troubled him. You overcame your lack of desire to give kisses to taste whatever crumbs graced his fingers or his cheeks. You laid close by him when he was shut down and waited until he was ready to engage again, leaving a paw within reach just in case he needed it. You played ball, gifted high-fives and loved him without question or qualification.

Until you, he could not walk through a store. You made it possible.

Until you, a baseball game was out of the question. You made it possible.

Until you, going to school was a battle. You made it possible.

Until you, his vision was unclear and unable to be diagnosed because the exam terrified him. You made it possible.

Until you, we had no peace and only a glimmer of hope. You turned our lives around.

There is no way in this world I could not love you as much as I love my sweet boy. You are a part of his heart and therefore, a part of my own. I would spend all those hours cooking you special meals and hand mixing your food and specially cleaning up after you all over again without question because it is for you and for him. I would walk on fire for you, Brookie. I hope you never, ever forget a home that loved you so deeply as ours. I hope you carry your purple teddy with you wherever you go and no one EVER takes that away from you. That was chosen special for you by a little boy who will never forget you, ever. You will be in the face of every golden he ever meets from now on and that teddy was his way of sharing with you his love of having a special cuddly toy without you getting into trouble.

You will always be in our hearts and we will always be here for you. I can’t accept that this is goodbye. I have to think that some day we will all see you again, even if we have to wait until heaven to do so.

With all my heart,



I didn’t know how to tell him.

How do you tell a child something so abstract, especially when said child works solely in concrete terms. If he cannot see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, chase it… If he cannot physically experience what you are discussing the subject can be very hard for him. He experiences the world with his whole body and yet, here I was having to explain something that would touch only his heart.

a stuffed golden retriever wearing a crocheted red service vest

little missie b

After she left, J and I went to Build-a-Bear Workshop. He chose a golden retriever to stuff and she came in a cardboard dog house. She has her own food bowl, her own leash, so it was like caring for his girl while his girl was gone. A young lady knit pretend SD vests for stuffed animals and we bought one from her fundraiser. It fit this stuffed animal well. He was excited that his little version had a “jama”, short for “pajama”, which is what he called her working vest. Now she really was a little version of his best friend.

Last night, as J and I were sitting in the bed, I tried to gently talk to him about this big change. This sad news. My words were heard, that I know, but it will take time for him to process. We pet his stuffed golden, who proudly still wore her “jama”, and I carefully took the “jama” off. I told him she never has to work anymore, she can just play now. He hugged her tight and though he watched me put the play vest away, he let me do so.

He knows. The crack in my heart will never be right, seeing that.

Miss Kitty has been working overtime this summer. His beloved black and white stuffed cat along with a few other choice stuffed animals and the little stuffed golden are hollow substitutes for a best friend but he is trying. Every day, he is battling. It is gut wrenching to watch a child fight to feel safe, comfortable, relaxed and at peace. I need to chase his peace with all I have within me. If his mother cannot find him hope and calm, who can?

15 Years

Our mornings began as dawn was barely breaking over the beach near her house. I always had to creep in for worry of waking the house though looking back, I wonder why. She was always awake when I arrived. Sleep was a fickle friend to her, often eluding her at night but taking her by surprise during the day. Her body was weary but her mind, that never tired.

“Good morning, pumpkin,” she would say, speaking just loud enough to be heard. The words were so soft but always rich with warmth and love.

“Good morning, Nana,” I would answer, quietly too so as not to wake my very tired uncle. He held down the overnights and I held down the weekdays, you see. This was how she was able to remain comfortable in her own home.


Nana Anna and Papa David on their wedding day.

This was how every day began for two months. They were two long, difficult, scary, funny and incredible months. They were two months I wish I could have back to live again and again, no matter how scary they got.

You see, Nana had cancer. It was in her liver. She was diagnosed in early 1999 and rather than aggressively attack the cancer, she considered her life and the quality thereof. She elected to simply live. She was 77 when she was diagnosed and her doctor estimated she would have about a year from that point. He was almost spot on with that estimation. She travelled, going to Ireland a last time to spend time with family there. She spent time with her family here. She simply enjoyed her time and when the cancer began to take pieces of her freedom away, a lot of her family came together to make it possible for her to live at home in comfort until the inevitable came.

And of course, it did.

I was not there when she passed. I could have been, I imagine, but that did not seem her wish. She shielded me a lot. The worst of her symptoms would come at night. My poor uncle saw the worst, her own son, yet during the day somehow it never appeared. She would not tell me the worst of what she felt. The worst I would see would be how awful the medication she needed to function made her feel, for she would cringe. We instead passed our days peacefully, sharing laughter and simply enjoying each other’s company between visits from nurses, health aides, friends and family. She did not pass away until after I left very late on the 19th, having I imagine finally found her peace. She knew the love of her life, who she waited over fifty years to see again, was waiting for her when she got to the other side.

There she rests now. I cannot visit her grave easily but it is a comfort to know she’s there with him, my grandfather, and at peace.


This is 100% a Nana Anna “I am up to no good just watch me” face.

It was 10 years after her passing that I could see her again. Her great-grandson was born with her smile. It was clear from his first day. As he has grown, J has developed her keen sense of mischief and her intensely hilarious inability to be subtle about it. He, like his great-nana, broadcasts everything he’s about to do. He has a face like glass and so did she. He has the gorgeous shape of her eyes and their beauty, but not their color. Oh no. The color is all his own, a bit of her aquamarine-ish green and my mother’s family’s blue shaken down into a startlingly pretty grey shade.

I tell him about his great nana. I tell him about her a lot. He would have loved her, as he loves his Grammie down in Virginia. Their gentle and patient natures are the perfect match for his needs. I wish he could have met Nana but that’s now how things were meant to be. Instead, she and Papa will watch over him as I hope they watch over me. I’d love to say that in the course of so many years the missing fades or hurts less but that’d be a lie. Death does not heal. It transforms those it leaves behind. You aren’t who you were before it happened… Grief is a journey that changes you. You learn to live with this part of you missing, never to return. The only way to get that part back would be to never have known the one you loved and lost it for. That’s not a price many are willing to pay, I would hope.

I love and miss you, Nana Anna. I still see you everywhere and for that, I am glad. Keep an eye on J for me and even though I know you were never too fond of animals, I know you too would have loved Brooklyn. Send a sunbeam to warm us when you can.

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