A Different Sea-When the World Has Moved On – A Poem by Melissa Murphy

Grief softens

it shifts

it changes

it erupts

it cripples, it heals but is never healed.

It is a constant companion in all the shapes and forms and intensities it takes.

The loss takes everything

…all at once.

And anything you have left is taken up simply by continuing to breathe.

Continue to breathe.

A single breath followed by another single breath.

And continue from your side of this life, in the silence of your own breath, to embrace the one you love who died.

Continue to include that love in all that you do and you’ll begin to hear their whispers in the wind, you’ll feel their presence brush your cheek, they’ll paint magnificent gifts in the clouds just for you and for all the world to see.

For those who notice.

Many won’t.

Not until they do.

Not until their own hearts are ripped by loss, when the grief introduces them to gravity.

It will happen.  It does happen.  To everyone.

It’s just your turn to walk before them.

They haven’t abandoned you.  They haven’t turned their backs.  They have continued living their own lives as they did before yours crumbled around you and pulled them in for a time.

We don’t come together for life.

We come together and drift apart so there are spaces for new connection.

Healing begins to happen in those spaces.

The tide comes in and leaves some things struggling in the sand

What’s left when the tide returns is rejoined with the sea but it’s a new sea, not the sea that left you struggling in the sand.

—written by Melissa Murphy


The Sweetest Phone Call…Most Precious Messages

This was an absolutely beautiful evening here where I live in Oregon.  Clouds, rain, clearing, more clouds, more rain, more clearing.  As the sun began moving down, the light changed into something magical and golden.  I’ve never been able to resist the urge to go outside and look up whenever I see that golden light, fresh, bright green leaves bathed in it, dark gray storm behind them, brilliant double rainbow above them.  I had a really nice text visit with my son.  I sent him photos of my sky and he sent me ones of his; it was amazing in Portland, too.

PortlandSky     AlbanySky

I was teaching someone how to make a cheesecake tonight.  Ultimately, it’s very little work and a lot of waiting.  Mixing, chilling, baking, more mixing, more baking, more chilling.  Tomorrow, we’ll get to eat that particular magical and golden with Nutella cream sauce drizzled over the top and fresh strawberries.

The recipe we made was for a 9 inch cheesecake but my spring-form pan is only 7 inches.  We made the full recipe and I decided to make a tiny cheesecake in a mini pie pan with what wouldn’t fit.  The graham cracker crust only went halfway up the side and I was afraid the cheesecake part would stick so I started spreading butter around the edge of the pan with my finger.  My student asked, “Don’t you have a brush for that?”  I told him I have a paint brush but it’s too big.  He told me about the one at his place that is just about finger width… and so on… and aren’t fingers just the perfect tool sometimes.  I coated the buttered edge with extra graham cracker crumbs and called it good.


Between the work, during the waiting, I sat next to the cage where my sixteen year old parakeet, Emi, lives.  We recently lost his partner of 14 years.  He needs a lot of attention from me now so I do a lot of things sitting next to him, talking to him, listening to music together, Sudoku.  He’s survived a few close calls in his life; with nonstick cookware, midnight churro oil melting plastic utensils and a few other smoke-filled room kitchen disaster sorts of things, Fabreeze (Yes, it’s TOXIC TO BIRDS no matter what it says on the label.  It was used 2 rooms away with the door closed and put both birdies on the bottom of the cage within 24 hours).  Emi has scar tissue in his tiny lungs and so he gets a bit wheezy sometimes and makes sneezing noises; COPD for Budgies.  He’s an otherwise healthy, and mostly happy again, little and very old, bird.

As I sat with Emi tonight, it came to me that lavender might calm him, as it does us, and then maybe his breathing would be easier.  All of my lavender is blooming right now and that sky wanted me out there, too, so I grabbed my scissors and a vase and clipped a bunch.  I brought it inside to trim and put in a smaller vase with water and lavender oil to place near Emi’s cage.  While I was outside, my niece called and left a message asking me to call her, she wanted to talk to me about “some things she was experiencing.”


I felt in the middle of things so I put off calling her right away.  The light through the window caught my attention again and I saw a rainbow being cast from outside onto the curtains behind the couch where I’ve had my most vivid dreams and onto the wall beyond them.  I felt my Dannica’s presence with me and had the thought, “She really is in the light.”  I whispered thanks to her for being with me and I told her, as I do many times every day, how much I love her, my Little Angel, my Baby Girl… and miss her hugs, her physical presence, terribly.


The cheesecake had 15 minutes left in the oven but it was getting late and it’s later in my niece’s time zone so I put on the headset and called and continued to trim the lavender next to Emi’s space.  She answered in tears, so upset which worried me but at the same time I felt such calm…the beauty of this evening, the smell of cheesecake and lavender and loving my birdie and my Danni and my son and the sky… The Sky!

My niece proceeded to tell me of her experience of the past few hours/minutes/days.    “Just in the past 10 minutes,” she sobbed, “I’m feeling like Danni is trying to tell me something for you.  I keep smelling baking cakes, cupcakes, frosting, sprinkles, and Danni with you and remembering baking together.  Did she paint?  Paintbrush…  rainbows…  and flowers…. lots of flowers!”

What gifts!  It was like Christmas morning in my heart.  Dannica had actually spent the evening with me and found a way to let me know that almost as soon as it happened.  These experiences are becoming more and more powerful for me and less surprising which makes them more and more comforting at the deepest level possible.

Life is certainly something magical and golden.DanniMom

Birthday Buttons


Today, our Dannica turns 21 years old.  I remember the day she was born so clearly… the sweet smell of her little head, that first fragile cry echoes in my mind so clearly.  I’m not sure why some of those first memories are more vivid than some of the last memories.

I think of Danni every day, nearly constantly, but this week I found myself wanting to take her shopping, wanting to get her a birthday surprise and make a special treat for her special day.  The energy around me has felt spontaneous for days; like Dannica.  She was so quick witted, so creative, so curious… so FUN!

She was also very tactile and as a small child had dexterous little fingers that enjoyed disassembling anything that was held together by nuts and bolts.  These things were usually left for me to find as surprises such as the handle falling off the wood rack followed by the fireplace screen separating into three separate panels followed by the handles to the fireplace tools going missing.  The most memorable to me was one of the legs to the kitchen table just falling over onto the floor leaving a three legged table balancing over her and the little pile of green nuts and bolts.  She looked so proud!

One day while I was folding laundry, I noticed her in the closet admiring the shiny buttons on the sleeve of a coat.  She traced them and slid her little fingers over the raised patterns on them.  I’m pretty sure she was trying to figure out how to unscrew them, too.  She never lost that love of shiny buttons and even as a precocious 8, 9, 10 year old still spent time in the closet lost in fascinated examination.

I have spent the past ten months or so surrounded by my new hobby of jewelry making.  Each night, I sit on the living room floor and sort through beads, twist wire, experiment, create.  It relaxes me.  It keeps my hands busy and makes couch potato television watching (or floor potato as the case may be) feel like more of a productive activity.  It’s been positively therapeutic as well as introvert appropriate.


This path led to Etsy.  Each day, I log into my shop to see what’s new and what others are doing.  This past Thursday when I entered the site, the first thing I saw was a photo of a beautiful vintage tin full of buttons!  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and my first thought was, “Danni would *love* that!”  I nearly clicked away from it but I just couldn’t so I bought it for her.  I could just imagine the excitement in her eyes when she opened the tin and I could see her sitting on her bed laying them out, touching them, finding her favorites and putting them all back again.  They would have become her friends, the way my beads are my friends; the way these buttons are becoming my friends, too.


I can feel her joy as I slide my fingers into the box, buttons closing in to cover them completely…maybe if I reach in far enough, I’ll feel her hand doing the same from heaven.  Again, my child’s birthday brings me a priceless gift.  It even arrived with this little card containing the image of a birthday cupcake.


Thank *YOU* Danni Jade ❤

I Saw You Today


Sweet Dannica… I saw you today as I was driving by where you used to work.  You were about five years old and you were riding your Little Mermaid bicycle with the knobby white tires, sparkling tassels dangling from the handlebars.  Your helmet seemed so big on your sweet little head.  Fragile little calves clad in flowered leggings and chunky white running shoes with purple stripes.  Beautiful curls cascading out from under your helmet like Ariel’s own melodies kissed by the sun, set free on the breeze like a zillion glittering butterflies fading into the sky as I approach the next traffic light.

My little one, there you are again with two of your best girlfriends.  The weather is warm today, the sun brilliant.  You are older now, maybe fourteen.  Your innocent laughter swirls with the ecstasy of being young, happy, beautiful, and on the way to the mall.  Your friend repeatedly pounds the button on the poll to signal your turn to cross.  You’ll chat with other friends, you’ll be silly and probably annoy some of the other shoppers with your easy and endless amusement as they roll their eyes and whisper “Mall Maggots,” under their breath.  But you’ll have the time of your lives just being who you are and that makes me so happy.

I’m nearly home now and there you are again, love.  You’re walking through the park hand in hand with a handsome young man.  You are smiling, the sun lighting your hair and you are young love personified.  You see forever in each other’s gaze and feel it there between your clasped palms; a microcosm of the rest of your long lives together.  And then you’re gone.  I blink hard… and remember the butterflies and smile sadly.

I walk toward the front door of our home remembering, trying to remember, trying not to lose anything and as I see the purple ribbon and the butterfly that tell the world of your continuing presence here, I am so grateful that I got to know you and to love you every moment of your entire life…from your first breath until your last and now beyond.  In this moment I feel a sense of gratitude.  In this moment I have been given the gift of glimpsing a silver lining to the horrific dark cloud of your passing.  You are with me, the whole of your life is with me, within me, and always shall be.

That Square

I grew up on a beautiful little creek in the Rocky Mountains.  One of my earliest and many of my fondest childhood memories involve the magic of this dearly familiar yet ever-changing body of water.  Many hours were spent sitting next to the water in the shade, listening to the music of it moving over the stones.

Sometimes, I’d see a tiny fish, sometimes other squiggly, swimming things that I couldn’t identify.  I loved the way the sunshine would come through the trees and reflect the movement of the leaves on the water.  I loved the sound it made when I’d toss small rocks into the moving water and I noticed how the stones would sink right to the bottom and lie very still even as the water moved quickly by.  I loved the way they sparkled when the sun hit them.


The ground around the trees was covered in emerald greenery with thousands of purple flowers.  I would pick the flowers one at a time and suck the sweet nectar from the back of them.  Because it was sweet and because I sucked the nectar from them, I called them honeysuckle but I now realize they were Vinca.  Then I would release the flowers into the water, one at a time, and watch them go until I couldn’t see them any more.  I’d try to imagine what they were experiencing moments later, hours later, days later.  I imagined they would take a very long time to make it to the open sea.  This I couldn’t even imagine then.  A body of water so huge, so violent, so unpredictable, yet so incredibly beautiful.

When I was fifteen, the floods came.  The water started to rise and continued to rise, day after day, all through the month of May.  I remember looking over the fence from my back yard and down the hill as the muddy water filled the little gully, inch by inch, rising to hide my honeysuckle hideouts.

At the end of the street, the water normally flowed smoothly through a culvert and under the road but now the water had risen above the top of the culvert leaving a deceptively calm looking pond.  The water would then begin to turn, slowly at first, building up speed until a deep and menacing whirlpool would open up in the center and the whole thing would make a very loud, rumbling, flushing sound as huge amounts of water were released under the road at once.  Then the water would begin to rise again, resulting in the calm pond slowly building to the violent “flush.”  I could hear it from my bed at night, nearly a block away, the flush, flush, flushing of my favorite magical place….being sucked out to the sea.


When the water finally receded, all that was left was mud.  So many of the trees were gone.  All the emerald greenery; gone.  Purple flowers; gone.  Most of the big, old, familiar rocks between which I’d deposited my smaller stones; gone.  Even the gradually sloping hill that led down to the creek was gone, replaced by more of a cliff drop with scraggly roots grasping out blindly for the majestic beings they’d once supported… my friends; gone.

My father passed away on July 14, 2004.  I remember looking at that calendar page and noticing that July is in the middle of the year, the 14th is in the middle of the month and it was a Wednesday, the middle of the week.  Flush.

My sweet Dannica passed away on November 14th, 2012.  Not the middle of the year, but once again the middle of the month and a Wednesday, the middle of the week.  Flush.

There have been three more fourteenths since then.  Tomorrow will mark the fourth.  Flush.

I’ve noticed a pattern forming in my life.  It overlays the calendar like a slowly rising pond that begins to spin, slowly at first, building speed as the days pass.  I feel it pulling me in and no matter how frantically I kick my feet, it’s stronger than I am.  The tears begin to fall again and the horrible memories of that day come again, unbidden.  The thing is, I don’t even realize what’s happening until the whirlpool opens up over the center of that square and then….. flush.

After tomorrow, there will be seven more fourteenths before the next one; the Big Flush. Then I imagine the ponds widening a bit, maybe spinning a little more gently, maybe for longer before opening up and flushing.  I also imagine a few that widen to the point of being visible on radar and given a name in the style of hurricanes.

The Vinca never returned  to my honeysuckle hideouts and now they are lost to me forever but I do hold tight to the memory of each beautiful flower drifting off down the stream.  So after tomorrow, I will survey the damage and the destruction once more and I will do my best to remember the flowers and I will do my best to keep planting more.

Where are you, my sweet flower?  All these moments later; these hours, days, now months later?  Have you made it to the sea?  I’ll be there soon and I’ll look for you everywhere and I’ll do my best to see you there… my Sweetness, my little honeysuckle.

Maybe 20 Seconds

On the way out to breakfast this morning, I noticed the reflection of my blinker lighting up the street sign in front of me.  The lights from cars coming from the opposite directions added flash and color and my mind instantly remembered being on the scene of Dannica’s accident.  So many flashing lights; her there, on the stretcher, her left arm falling limply to the side.

One of the first thoughts through my head was that I couldn’t have been more than 20 seconds behind her… if I hadn’t turned on the wrong street… I’d have made up that time easily and she’d be in my arms today.

The light changed to green and I turned.  The memory had removed me from my body a little bit and I realized it as I noticed how different the world looks without her in it.  I took a deep breath and brought myself back into the moment by giving myself a play by play, “I’m driving a vehicle.  It’s foggy.  The lanes split into two up ahead.  Moving to the right one.  The light is green…  oh, my God….”

My foot came off the accelerator and time slowed way down as an SUV went straight through the red light and hit the pole below it.  No brakes.  Didn’t even try to make the turn.  “He’s drunk!” my husband said, pulling out his cell phone to call for help.  Another car, a little blue one, came around me to my left, slowed down and honked angrily before speeding off into the fog.  May that driver never be in need of assistance on the road… and if he is, don’t let me be it.

The man driving the crashed vehicle backed up then drove forward into a parking lot.  I was afraid.  “What if he’s an angry drunk?”  I got out of my van and went to his car, my husband giving directions to the 911 operator.  “We have to make sure he’s okay.”  His door opened and the first thing I did was to breathe in deeply; not drunk.  Something wrong, though.  I took his hand in mine and looked into his confused face, “Are you hurt?”  He wasn’t.

People who lived in the houses along the road where Dannica’s accident happened, came out right away.  One man opened the door of her truck.  Later, he told me she looked peaceful, like she’d gone to sleep and that he had cradled her head in his hands until help arrived.  She wasn’t alone.  She wasn’t conscious.  She didn’t feel a thing.  She was at peace.  Something wrong, though.  Something wrong.

Off to breakfast and frozen to the core all I could think about was getting my hands on a hot coffee mug.  Then my next thought… 20 seconds.  Had I not forgotten to put my wallet back in my purse last night, we’d have been 20 seconds sooner.  We could have been T-Boned on our way to breakfast.  But we weren’t.

The Gift of Sight

My first earthly memory is that of looking sleepily up into wise and smiling eyes.  I was an infant of only a few months but the memory is very clear. My maternal grandfather was cradling me in his arms.  He died only a few months later and I never got to know him but I feel so much was conveyed to me in that moment of memory, through his eyes, and in a way I do know him; the most important things, anyway.  I know he loved me. I know he was happy I was in his arms. I know I felt content there, bundled and warm.  Even as a child, I noticed people’s eyes.  I saw there a measure of emotion, intent, validation. As I grew older, I noticed deeper things in people’s eyes.  There was something there, in some of them, that I couldn’t describe. Something that attracted me to them and made me want to know what was inside even as I knew that whatever it was would be kept, held close and not lightly shared, if shared at all. I wondered if anyone would ever see something like that in my eyes. What might that look like? Would it be something I would keep, hold close, not lightly if at all share?

The day Dannica and I were released from the hospital following her birth, we were sitting together waiting for a wheelchair to be brought up by Daddy and Big Brother. It was a very quiet moment. She was wide awake and her eyes, though new and fuzzy, were bright and alert. Her tiny head was resting on my left shoulder and I was looking into her sweet face and she into mine. There was a spark of recognition as we regarded each other, sweetly, through the windows of our souls. Our bond was complete. Our little family was complete. “Let’s go home, little ones.”

The night my baby was taken from me, just over 18 years later, I waited for the car in front of the hospital, this time my arms wrapped around my 21-year-old son who was shaking almost violently from shock and cold; our family no longer complete.  As I climbed into the car, my arms had never felt so empty.  It was only the beginning of the realization that my arms were not the only empty thing about me.

Two months later now and I am beginning to wonder who I am. I have started picking up some of the pieces scattered around me. Some I set gently on the table, others I allow to slip from my fingers again to rejoin the others on the floor. I envision the pieces fitting together again but when they’re all together, there is one very important piece missing from the very center.  This makes me angry, this makes me scream.  This missing piece draws my attention to the pain of the loss of it.  The space this piece left has pulled me through it and on the other side of that space, Dannica’s tragic accident and death are my introduction, my identity, my autograph.  I’m realizing I can’t just be who I was before; that person is also dead.  But how long will this be my identity?  How long is it my introduction?  How long do I sign my name with it?

I received a letter on Dec. 7th, 2012 from Lions VisionGift. Dannica chose to be an organ donor. Her donation resulted in two corneal transplants, giving two individuals who were blind the opportunity to regain their sight. I can’t help wondering about those two people. What would it be like to look into their eyes? Would I see her there? Will they see the beauty in this world that she always saw?


Maybe I’ll never actually know what it is in the eyes that attracts me but I think I’m beginning to understand what goes into the creation of it. Challenge, pain, loss, disappointment, heartbreak, and any number of other events that bring about a deep and abiding sadness.  I see that sadness sometimes, yes, but what I really see shows up when these eyes smile, when these eyes love again, when they sparkle with laughter or happy tears.  At some point, all of these people were also hollowed out.  Perhaps what I see is a glimpse of the resilience of these human spirits and the result of their simply moving through these horrible times the best they can.

I still love birds.  I still love flowers.  I still love the earth and being here.  I still love my son and my little, incomplete family.  I know there is joy in my memories.  I know the blessings will come if I watch for them rising like steam from pavement warmed by the sun after rain.  I hope the something people see in my eyes becomes greater than the sadness that lives there now.  I hope I can come to see the beauty in this world that Dannica always saw.

So softly I whisper…

Black Bird singin’ in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free….

Black Bird Fly…

Black Bird Fly…

Into the light of a dark black night.