one year.

Dear Chad,

Here I sit.
The end of my first year without you.
The beginning of the second.

A year ago, I couldn’t imagine what a year without you would be like…what it would feel like, look like…what it would be.
I couldn’t even imagine a minute of my world without you in it.

Three hundred sixty five days.
Four seasons.
Three broken hearts in one small house.

I’ve not
heard your voice
smelled your cologne
washed your laundry
given you a kiss
or a hug
prepared your beloved maple and brown sugar oatmeal
made your bed, with the pillows just the right way
read the Sports section to you
argued with you about getting out of bed
felt the pounding of your heart against my head as I lay it on your chest
felt you gaze at me across the room

We’re mending, but never to be fully fixed.
I am proud of us, how far we’ve come.
You gave that gift to us; you made me (and the girls, too) stronger than I ever knew possible.

I’ve done my best and I’m certain you know that.
I will always keep my promises to you.

I love the little moments in my daily life where I can remember our life without tears falling down my cheeks.
I actually laugh more than I cry; which is a critical shift I’ve been waiting for.
The memories and joy outweighing the pain.
It’s taken a while to get here.
I’m grateful.
And I’m relieved this year is over.

The girls are doing well.
They don’t know the significance of today.
And I am not going to tell them.
When they get older, they will remember the date all by themselves.
I owe them one year; at least one “anniversary” that I didn’t bring it to their attention.

They have been doing so well; I don’t want to drag them back down, even briefly.
Carys is actually making some serious progress lately; I am so proud.
Cailyn is headstrong (thanks for that, by the way), but she is also such a sweetheart.
They miss you and talk about you almost daily now; without tears. Happy memories from before IT was a word in our vocabulary.

There were so many things I planned to say to you today.
You already know.
You let me have plenty of time to say it.
Thank you; for being you, for letting me be me, for giving me these beautiful little girls, for helping me find my own confidence and strength and perseverance.

I miss you.


Posted in Chad, Chatter, the girls | 3 Comments

Almost, but not quite

Remember the Grief Monster I spoke of?
He’s knocking on the door.
And I do not want to let him in.
He’s coming regardless, and I am preparing myself the best I can.

Yesterday, I received a card in the mail from the funeral home that handled Chad’s arrangements.
A “Thinking of You” card to express their sympathy as we approach the one-year mark.
I was sucker punched.
I didn’t need a reminder.

I have 8 more days.
8 more days to feel a little normal.
Almost, but not quite.

8 more days until.
It’s been almost a year.
Almost, but not quite.

I’m fine.
I’m fine.
I’m fine.
Almost, but not quite.

They tell me this milestone is the hardest.
I have to disagree.
The first day was the hardest.
And then every day after.
They say, “It gets easier with each passing day.”
Almost, but not quite.

It seems I live a double life most days.
One life where I’m on a ever-healing journey.
One life where I’m almost content with myself.
Almost, but not quite.

I’ve made it.
I’ve survived.
A whole year.

But not quite.

Posted in Chad, Chatter | 6 Comments

Free Fallin’

For his 30th birthday in 2008, I threw Chad a surprise party.
It was the first birthday he’d celebrated after finding out about IT, and we had so many people who wanted to help celebrate with us.
He was shocked to see so many people had shown up.
It was the first, and only, time that I was able to keep a secret from him.

He received a gift certificate for skydiving.
He had been talking about it for some time – especially since we found out about IT and started compiling the Bucket.
He planned a day to jump, but it was rescheduled due to high winds that particular day.
Then our lives became so chaotic that he never got the chance to go.
It was neatly written on the “to do” list on our fridge for years.
I swore it was an activity I would never, ever, EVER do with him.
“I will never do that. Period.”

Never say “never”.

I checked skydiving off Chad’s Bucket List this past weekend.
Here are a few pictures – enjoy!
I will have more pictures and a video in the coming days…I’ll post those when I get a chance.

Lisa, my mom & I with one of the photographers – all suited up!

When I get nervous, I laugh. A lot.

Still waiting…strangely enough, I wasn’t a ball of nerves at this point.
I was just ready to go!

Finally headed up!

This is actually Lisa dangling from the plane. Crazy!

And this is Lisa, again, falling! Isn’t that intense?!?!

This is probably my favorite picture! That look on my face is so genuine.
I had to force myself to look. And then that stupid look was plastered on my face
for a while because I just couldn’t move anything, not even my facial expressions!

I relaxed a bit!

Wink, my photographer, grabbed my hand and we started spinning.
Not too fast – but it was definitely a crazy experience…

I love this picture too!

I survived!

And so did my mom!

Each time someone asks me about the experience, only one word comes to mind: AMAZING!

I will not lie;  I was scared out of my mind. I couldn’t even think about it for a few days leading up to it without knots forming in my throat and tummy.
I checked the weather forecast Wednesday or Thursday, hoping the jump might be called off due to rain. Or wind. Or something weathery that would make jumping from an airplane a bad idea.

As I realized that the weather was supposed to be perfect on Saturday, I just went with it.
I’m doing this.
It’s coming up very soon!
And it will be fine.
It will be fine.
It will be fine….

And it was!
We had a slight delay because there was an issue with the plane; a malfunctioning wheel or something.
We made jokes with the staff and had a great time as we calmed our nerves.
When it was finally our turn to jump, everything went kinda fast – which is good. We didn’t have time to think about what the heck we were doing!

My mom and one of my dearest friends, Lisa, and I all crammed inside a plane with many “professional” skydivers — at least that’s what they told us!
A few student divers went out first.
And then it was Lisa’s turn – you actually see her dangling and then falling out of the plane in the pictures above.
Then it was my turn and it just happened SO fast. I saw her fall and suddenly, I was right behind her.
That first step was a doozy.
I literally thought to myself, “WHAT did I just do? I am falling like a piece of lead through the sky! I want to go home. NOW.”
Of course, those thoughts were brief because my instructor started talking and giving instructions. The photographer grabbed my hand and all three of us spun around like a top. It was so much fun!
I could barely open my eyes and I couldn’t close my mouth or smile. I couldn’t even move my arms/hands/legs for a bit – the force was crazy!

But then…
I dropped through a cloud. I touched it – even though there was really nothing to touch.
I was IN a cloud.
That’s all I can say.

When the chute was pulled, the harness jerked me erect and everything went silent. We just floated. And chatted. I got to steer for a little while. I could see everything and hear nothing. It was…well, amazing.

I closed my eyes and soaked it in for a moment or two.
It was breath-taking.
And I know Chad would have loved it.
I can see him landing, fists pumping in the air, and yelling, “WOOOOOOOOoooooooo!”, like he always did with an adrenaline rush.
And I’m sure he would have wanted to do it again.
Which is what I plan to do, too.

I have plans to get a lot of things checked off the List in the next year; and I’m not sure if anything will measure up to this experience…but I’m going to find out!

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Out of the blue

Grief is a wild, untamed thing.

An animal all its own, with fangs that sink in to hold you paralyzed when you least expect it.
An animal that hides deep in the woods, making you forget just enough and feel just safe enough to forget about the vulnerability that you cast aside.
And when you think you are safe, when you think you have found a place to hide that seems quite like a blissfully transparent paradise, grief comes. Quick and without warning.
It sucker punches you; leaves you breathless and then just walks away – ever waiting to pounce again.

I suppose it’s the time of year.
This time last year was just so…well, the sadness was palatable.
While in the middle of it, I could vividly recall every single detail.
Now, my memory has faded some.
Honestly, someone asked me the date of Chad’s death.
And I couldn’t remember. I knew the date range; but I couldn’t be sure about the actual day. That shocked me.

So, like an idiot, I went to the blog entries from last October and November.
And I cried yesterday. For two hours.
Just remembering the worst time of my life, the last days with my best friend.

Right now, I see the leaves scattered on our lawn and some of the memories come flooding back; like someone holding my head under water without letting me get a full breath above the surface first. I can smell the Hospice Home, I can see the light streaming through his room with the doors wide open, I can feel the heaviness in the air resting upon me like a steel jacket. Almost a year. It can’t really be.

One year ago, I made that sweet video of Chad telling the girls he loved them (click to see it).
One year ago tomorrow, to be exact.
It feels like yesterday. It feels like a lifetime ago.
I watched that clip a few times yesterday, searching the features of his face.
He smiled after saying their names, which was allll him. I didn’t prompt him to do that. He loved his girls.

Those eyes. I miss them.
The way they followed me around the room.
The way they talked to me without words.
The certain way they closed half way when he laughed.
The way I look into them now, even in his absence, every time I look at our girls.

I am in a place that I’ve been longing to get to; a place all my own.
I am enjoying everything I can; filling up my glass until it runs over.
But sometimes, out of the blue, the grief monster comes to visit.
Thankfully, his visits are less frequent than I ever would have imagined they could be a year ago.
What it lacks in frequency is surely made up by intensity.

I’ve made great strides this year; I’ve come far.
I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.
That’s enough.
I know what’s on the horizon and I know God has something wonderful for me and these girls of mine.

People have asked me how I’m doing so well, despite everything.
Honestly, it was all in preparation. We had the opportunity to discuss things – not everyone has the opportunity to do that.
He wanted me to be happy; he wanted me to take my time to give my best and then get back to it…get back to life.
If you knew Chad well, you know that this is so true.
We talked about my future a lot; the things he wanted for me, what he wanted for the girls.
When he couldn’t speak, he even went as far as to take off my wedding rings, place them in my palm and close my hand around them.
He released me from the guilt of surviving, of being his survivor, of living a life that would contain happiness again.
So selfless of him, really. I am ever thankful.

As this final month approaches in the first year’s journey, I’m ready for the unknown.
I’m prepared to cry. To be mad. To cry some more.
And to stand back up and get back to it.
To be happy and not feel guilty for it.
To chase my dreams, laugh every day and dare the grief monster from stealing my joy.

Posted in Chad, no words, the girls | 6 Comments


Where have I been?

Here, there and everywhere.

I’ll try to catch you up as quickly as possible…

I have taken on way too much with far too little time.
I won’t be here much.

School x 3 in this house is quite tricky.
I am on an indefinite hiatus from photography.
I still love it. I just can’t give it my full attention and that’s not fair to anyone.

As for the blog, I have grown tired of my own words.
I need to start focusing on the future instead of drowning in the past.

I plan to keep the blog here for a while; at least until I decide what to do with it.
My only goal is to preserve it for the girls, and once I get that under control, I may let the domain lapse.

I am doing well; fabulous, actually.
I know who I am.
I know what I want.
And I’m going to get it.

The girls are also doing well – growing and learning and amazing me every day.
Carys just started the 2nd grade. She loved it.
Cailyn starts kindergarten in two weeks.

I kicked my coffee habit over the Summer.
Then it came back this week.

We’re in the process of rehoming two of our three dogs.
I just cannot do it all.
The superwoman cape is going to be hung up for a while.
I’m doing what I need to do, focusing on the girls and finding my new happy.

Thanks for the support, y’all.
I couldn’t have done it without you.


Posted in Chad, Chatter, no words, the girls | 4 Comments


There are definitely days that are harder than others.
Today is one of those days.

This year is full of dates that I try so hard to ignore. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries
Even though I try to busy myself around dates that were, and still are, important to Chad and I, memories get the best of me.
It usually begins with tears – and ends with laughter, which is the way I prefer it.

Tears for the hard, sad truth that things will never be the same.
Laughter for the memories that will forever bring joy to my heart.

Today, Chad & I would have celebrated ten years of marriage.
The date is still circled on my calendar.

Last year, despite his difficulty communicating, he wanted to take me out to dinner.
(I put together a small slideshow of our life for our anniversary last year – you can view it by clicking here.)
I cherish that last date – and the fact that he insisted we go as a family to the very place where he asked me to be his wife.
It was the last time we went out as a family before he was moved to Hospice on August 17, 2010.

My heart is flooded with memories of our wedding day; how happy and young and hopeful we were.
No children yet, no mortgage, no joint checking accounts.
No pain or fear or regret.
Just love and hope.

There are so many things I want to say, but today, I am keeping it to myself.

Thank you for the well wishes and kind words today.
I do appreciate them immensely.

The girls and I are having a good day.
We have dinner reservations at our special place, just the three of us.
We’re skipping the traditional menu and opting for dessert only.

After all, life is too sweet to eat dessert last.
I plan to savor every tiny bite.

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We’re alive!

One of these days, I’ll update you on what’s going on in our lives at present.
But not now…

We’re alive.
We’re having a great Summer.

As if life isn’t chaotic enough, I’ve added a whole other dimension to the craziness by going back to school.
And I haven’t even started classes yet!!!

I’ll be back when I can catch my breath.

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Happy Father’s Day, Chad.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men in our life who are lucky enough to ever have been called “Daddy” by a small voice.
And to all the fathers my girls “borrow” from time to time, THANK YOU for giving them the opportunity to have strong male role models in their lives. It matters more than you could ever imagine.

This morning, the girls and I sent Chad some more red balloons.
In honor of Father’s Day, the girls made a card – which they sealed with a kiss and stuffed inside of one of the balloons.
Then Carys found another card she had made at school that she wanted to include.
My original plan was to send one balloon up this morning, but the cards weighed the lonely balloon down and it wouldn’t float — so we inflated a few more. Since the first balloon was so full of love (and paper), it needed a few chaperones to make sure it went upward. SO we changed plans…pretty typical for us nowadays.
The girls drew pictures and wrote lovely messages on the balloons; I wrote a simple note.

Cailyn drew chocolate chip cookies on her card; she wanted to make sure Chad knew she remembered his favorite things.
Carys picked some flowers yesterday from Chad’s mom’s house – and wanted to make sure Chad knew she picked them just for him. His favorites – that he used to pick for his mother, too.

The girls were very excited to do this today. They didn’t even take time to get dressed – they got right to work this morning.
All of us, in our pajamas, stood in the front yard and sent our Father’s Day wishes to Chad. Then the girls released the four balloons…and watched them disappear into the sky.
The girls stood there for a bit, even when the balloons were no longer visible, just in case the red vessels came back into their sight.

fathers day 2011
After our balloon release, the girls and I got dressed (finally) and grabbed some lunch.
Then, we dropped Carys off at camp. For a week! EEEEEEkkkkkkkk!
I cannot believe she is old enough to do this – or to want to do this – without Mommy there.
She was so excited, but a little nervous as we pulled into the camp area and she saw how many people were there.

We unpacked and got her all set up.
And then I learned that my baby is not a baby anymore.
Which I knew.
But it helps my mommy*heart to think she still needs me more than she actually does.

She wouldn’t allow me to kiss or hug her “in public” because I was embarrassing her.
I really thought I had a few more years before she started complaining about her embarrassing mommy…but, no. That day came too early for my taste.

I hope she has a fabulous time – which I know she will.
She has a friend from her Girl Scout Troop that is sleeping right next to her each night.

I can’t wait to hear about all the fun times and memories she’ll make this week.
And it will feel kinda strange not having her around this week.
Cailyn will see what it feels like to be an only child for once in her life…and I suspect she will start missing her sister fiercely after day three.

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Happy 5th Birthday, Cailyn!

Dear Cailyn,
Five short years ago, you came screaming into my life.
A chubby little newborn with a voracious appetite, a colicky demeanor and a dazzling pair of blue eyes.
You had me wrapped around your tiny little finger from the first moment I laid eyes on you.

You are my baby, the littlest Lanford Lady. You are my last baby. And I feel like you have that all figured out…already.
Sometimes, I wonder how you so often get your way…but I know I give in far too often than I should.
Those eyes…those dimples…I have to find some sort of antidote for their charms before you turn sixteen and ask me for a car I know you don’t need…

As I was putting together your birthday video, it hit me that this is the last birthday that you will have any pictures of yourself with Daddy from the last year. I know how challenging the last year has been for you and how very much you miss your Daddy.

It also hit me that you’ve changed so much in the last year. Emotionally; yes. And physically? Oh, yes.
This time last year, you still looked like a toddler.
Now, today, you look like a little lady.

You woke up on your birthday, feeling a bit wiser, a bit taller and a bit more confident than you did the night before.
That’s the magic of being five…a world of possibility that seems to be born overnight.

You are a perfectly equal mix of your Daddy and I; a detail-oriented planner, a shopping lover, a perfectionist, a daydreamer, a steadfast friend and a social butterfly.
You are very verbal about your emotions, which you clearly got from me; and you’re very thoughtful with your reactions, which you clearly got from him.

The rest of your personality is all YOU.
You were uniquely wired from birth to require more glitter, more sparkle and more sequins than should be humanly possible.
I hope you always keep your fashion sense…even though I’m sure I foresee a few fights arguments conversations in our future about your wardrobe selections as you pass into the teenage years. Thankfully, I have a few years to worry about that dilemma.

You have asked hard questions this year; questions that are hard for adults to wrap their head around…but you ask with a naturally inquisitive and pure heart. You make my heart swell with pride and unbelievable admiration when you remind us to be thankful for the beautiful life God has given us. I know, without a doubt, that I am shaping your future the way I should be; and I am grateful that your joyful spirit allows me to have such certainty.

Welcome to the fabulous year of FIVE.
A magical time that you will never forget, a time I hope you will always remember as the year all your dreams came true.

I love you.

High as the sky,
Deep as the ocean.


Music: The Lovely Years, Fisher

cais 5th bday card daddy

Posted in Chad, Chatter, photography, the girls | Leave a comment


When I look at my children, I do not merely see fatherless daughters.
At least not anymore.

The immediate weeks after his death, I could barely look my girls in their sparkling ocean eyes without sobbing.
They remind me so much of him.
The sorrow was all-encompassing: all the things that he will miss, all the times they will wish he was here to offer advice or a hug or refuge from their overwhelmed mother.

cai bday party & 5yr pics 231

Now, however…I dare to see past the period of pain, doubt, tears.

I see strong little spirits; on the perpetual cusp of understanding who they are meant to be.
I see little wildflowers; yielding to the rain and looking forward to their time to blossom in the sun.
I see daring little dreamers; not yet knowing that reality and dreams can be thoughtfully entwined.
I see bright little stars; lighting up my darkness with a special flair that is their own.

In the last few days, I have been hit with an onslaught of emotions with Father’s Day quickly approaching.
The commercials.
The greeting card aisles.
The recordable voice books meant to hold precious memories.
The television shows centered around weddings and watching proud fathers walk their glowing daughters down the aisle.

I have been angry.
I have been sad.
I have been weary.
I have been worried and anxious and nervous about what the upcoming day will mean for the girls.

Cailyn unexpectedly announces how much she misses him; in line at the grocery store, while in the bath tub, while at dinner.
She likes to talk about him; she likes to remember the smiles and hugs and the special whistle he let out when ever she dressed up.
She asked me if we could send Daddy a Father’s Day card to Heaven, and I will make that happen. There is a helium tank and many, many bright red balloons tucked in my hall closet for this reason alone — to send a love note whenever they feel the need.

Carys has been making Father’s Day cards for Chad at school this week.
Each day, I check her backpack and find a crisply folded piece of paper, neatly decorated with two stick figures impeccably dressed in Crayola’s finest. A girl and a man, beaming and standing under a tree and smiling sunshine. She’s always wearing pink; he’s always wearing his Wolfpack red. And she always pens, “I love you Daddy.”

My heart hurts for her on a daily basis.
I wonder what she must feel when kids at school talk about their weekends with their families, their moms and their dads.
I wonder if she refuses to talk about it because she’s afraid to cry.
I wonder if she thinks the rest of her life will be so full of hurt and sadness and an empty feeling that no one will ever truly understand.

And then an epiphany.
A thought that I’d thought so many times before, but never quite got.

I am, of course, immensely saddened for my girls.
I cry for them more than they will ever know.
It is true. The most respected, loved and heroic person in their life is no longer here.
There isn’t a physical father in this family of ours.

They do have an outstanding, loving and supportive network of men in their lives that I know are committed to helping these precious girls find their way.
They have a great-grandfather – and they will, many years from now, be aware of how lucky they are to have a relationship with their great grandfather.
They have two grandpas, who spoil the girls rotten and return them to me as the sugar high wears off…which is the way it’s supposed to be.
They have many, many uncles that love my girls as their own; taking turns giving pony rides on their knees or sight-seeing adventures from atop their broad shoulders.
They have cousins who play duck-duck-goose and tic-tac-toe and whatever else their heart desires.
They have the admiration of our male friends, who listen to (and joyfully laugh at) made-up knock-knock jokes and play Barbie or try to teach them karate without my prior knowledge…

We have been blessed in so many ways.
And I cannot continue to weep for my “fatherless” daughters as I have been.
There will always be a part of me that cannot hold back tears when I think about traditional father-daughter moments.
They had an amazing, loving and inspiring father who can never be replaced.
And now the Little Lanford Ladies need (and have) many strong male figures in their life to help fill the void I never will be able to.
I understand it’s not quite the same as having a father. But it certainly helps.
And I’m certainly thankful for each of you who take the time to make them feel special and loved.

Posted in Chad, Chatter, the girls | 1 Comment