Tag Archives: connection


When my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, it was the first time in my life that I faced the fear of losing her. Rather I didn’t face it. I rarely spoke of my mom’s cancer, or all of the appointments I’d join her for, and tests leading up to surgery. There were people in my life that didn’t even know she was sick. On some level, my denial was so thick that it was like sometimes I didn’t either. I certainly wasn’t dealing with it the way I had with my dad. I dismissed the disconnection I feeling, telling myself that in her case there was a chance at a cure. A hope we’d not gotten with my dad. At the same time as all of this was going on, we found out my father-in-law needed quadruple bypass. I joined him for visits and tests too. Something I also didn’t really talk about. In conversation with a friend, I said I felt as though I was on auto-pilot. I couldn’t understand how with my dad there had been so many tears when he was diagnosed, and so much fear, yet with my mom there had been none. I wondered why? I felt so unlike myself. But as I went on about my wonderings, I started to cry… like really cry, like choke on my words cry. She listened, I talked, and when I’d let it all out, she gently offered this, « Shan it’s not that you aren’t afraid…. It’s that the fear is too hot to touch. It’s white-hot. ». She was right, and as soon as her words hit my ears they unleashed another realization : She could die. I could lose the woman who had been my unwavering, constant support. The person who seemed to understand me even when I could not. How blessed am I to know a bond so deep, and how very scary to think of losing it. A possibility not lost on my mother, because she could hear what was unspoken between us. She once said, « I need to know that whatever happens, you will be ok ». I lied. I reassured her, even though deep down I knew there was no way I’d be ok. In fact I was pretty sure that I would never be ok again. Yet I pushed on. I did life. I took care of my kids, made some pretty huge life decisions about work, showed up for those who needed me, went to appointments, and just avoided touching the white-hot truth for fear that it would incinerate me. I held it together through my father-law’s surgery and recovery. My husband and I spent our days at the hospital while he was in intensive care. Somehow being there for them soothed my other looming fears. I felt like I was doing something rather than just worrying. Maybe it offered me a temporary hall pass from the fear I had yet to face. I knew my mother’s surgery was just weeks away, and soon I could avoid it no more. The day of her surgery was the most scared I have ever been. Surgery went on longer than expected. Fear loomed larger as the minutes ticked by. I knew the risks. I’d sat through every meeting listening to the doctor list them off. When the surgical nurse finally called my cell phone to let us know that surgery was done, and that she was in recovery, I fell to knees, « She’s ok! She’s ok! I was so scared!», I sobbed. I spent that night sleeping on a cot in my mom’s room. Everyone said I should go home, but I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. She had never let me down. Never not been there for me. I had promised my father before he died that she would never be alone, and this was a promise I intended to keep. As the fear made its way out of my body like an electric shock, the peace felt in those first few days after surgery was like a heavy blanket settling my frenzied internal state. But I still wasn’t “ok”. I felt off. I told myself I should be happy, but soon found myself secretly crying every day. Questioning everything. Wondering what I would do now that I left my job. Feeling enormous pressure to make things happen. Worrying about everything in my life and feeling completely disconnected. I shut down. There were days in the month after mom’s surgery where I felt like I was losing my mind. I would think the scariest thoughts. Like now that we’d made it out of the fear I could dive deep into the dark. I imagined turning my life inside out. Something kept pulling at me to lean in hard to the parts of my life that had too once been white-hot truths. The fear of losing my mom seemed to activate all of my other fears. This was not the first time I had kept it all inside. This was not the first time I had locked away all of the pain in a box to which I held the key. This was also not the first time that I hit a wall as a result of trying to outrun the outrunable. Don’t complain. Don’t feel. Don’t be afraid. None of the things I told myself made me feel any better. It was deadening to tell myself not to feel what I was already feeling. Like I was leaving myself behind because I had told myself that somehow my feelings were inconvenient, and that feeling them was wrong. This broke my heart, and after it broke my heart, like any good break-up, it pissed me off. I was enraged. Initially directed at my circumstances, my relationships, and at pretty much anything outside of myself, soon I realized that I was most mad at ME. I had locked myself up. Throughout my life. Again and again. I didn’t let myself feel the feelings that were already there. I didn’t face my white-hot truths. Until one night I lay crying quietly in my room. It was dark, and the kids had been in bed for over an hour. I thought they were asleep, until Maya tiptoed into my room. She could not see that I was crying and I doubted that she’d heard me. She told me she’d been about to fall asleep when something inside of her told her to come and see me. To tell me that she would love me no matter what. Her message so serious, yet she did not seem upset or concerned. She’d shared like this with me before, and talked of getting messages that she knew she needed to deliver. I have known for some time that she feels things on a plane beyond even my own. I hugged her tight, and thanked her for her words. I told her, « Mama has been sad Maya. Maybe you noticed that, but I am very strong, and I will be ok. You don’t need to worry about me my love». As though I was stating the obvious, she said with calm conviction, “Oh mama, you are the strongest person I know. Something told me you needed to hear what I said, so I said it”. And there it was… a truth far greater than my fear. A reminder that I could feel what I needed to feel. I could say what needed saying. I could even turn my life inside out if that’s what I needed to do. A reminder that I would be ok no matter what. I realized in that moment that the white-hot truth could not burn me, but rather turns to ash with my touch. Lean in hard when it hurts. Feel everything you need to feel. Say it when it needs to be said. Only then will you realize you are fireproof.


Filed under Uncategorized


The last time I was here, we learned that you had cancer… We heard the doctor tell us how sorry she was. We understood that disease was running through you. The last time I was here, I held Marisol on my lap, just one year old. You were happy that she was here to lighten the mood, and to remind us of the good that was still there. You were grateful that I was here to hold mom’s hand, to help brace her for the news that would change our lives, and eventually take yours.

It’s three years ago that I sat in this same waiting room, and eight months since you had to go. I miss you dad, more than I ever knew I could. Filled with so much pain and love, at the same time. Makes me think of that conversation we had in palliative care, about a week before you passed away. A beautiful moment shared together just you and I. “I am both the happiest, and saddest I’ve ever been, at the same time” you said. You knew time was running out. The look we exchanged as your words floated there, lingering longer than words normally do; a look of complete understanding. A perfect connection between two hearts. Moments like that engraved in my heart. We were both so vulnerable, and so purely open to the gut-wrenching exchange we had in that moment. You’d been praying each night for just one more day. One more day, to make one more memory, and have one more conversation like the one we were having.

I am so thankful to have had almost two and a half years from your diagnosis. I am so thankful for our month in palliative care. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share every unspoken truth I ever wanted to share with you. What a gift. I miss you dad. More than I thought possible, and more than I let others see most of the time.

Today I’m here with mom. She’s ok dad. But you know that already. I know you are here with her. I know you are with me too. Despite this deep knowing, and how close you still feel, you also feel so far away. Your diagnosis, disease and departure transformed me, as hard things do. More than anything, I now fully understand how one can be happy and sad simultaneously. I’m leaning into that dad. I recognize the light within the darkness. It’s there, it’s always there. I’m making space for the joy that lives alongside the grief. I am learning to treat my sadness with the same respect; to welcome it in the same way, because I will always choose remembering you, and missing you over letting these vivid memories go. So I will make room for the pain, and the happiness that live together within me. I understand completely that when I resist the hard parts, and gulp down that lump in my throat, that I make it harder than it needs to be.

The last time I was here I put on a brave face. I stood by you, and fought back tears. Today I let them flow. They are tears of gratitude, for the news mom heard today is good. It too has the power to transform me, as good things also do. I am breathing into the lump in my throat. I am making room for the joy and the sadness at the same time. At the same time…



Filed under connection, family, grief, happiness, life lessons, Uncategorized, Vulnerability

A Way Through


Today I’m choosing to motivate myself. I’m choosing NOT to be miserable. Today I’m choosing CONNECTION. I sit here, on my front porch sipping my coffee, and appreciating the quiet. “I miss you dad”, I say out loud through my tears. I don’t know what it is about mornings…  I still cry almost every day, usually in the early hours. While life has certainly not stood still, it’s as though a veil still hangs between me, and the rest of the world.  I am stronger. Steadier. I can miss him without coming undone. Most of the time anyways.  But mornings, ripe with new possibilities, and a chance to start over, only remind me, that wherever I’m heading, he’s not there.  Despite this, I have certainly felt his grace, and presence. In some ways bigger, and more absolute than before.  Things that once derailed me, seem not to have the same sting.  I feel him pushing me along, “Connect Shannon.  Don’t back away from your life; your dreams.”  We always have a choice. As hard, and as painful as it is to accept this, it is the truth.  Yet fear, and sadness, that ruled my life for so long, scramble to take up new residence in other rooms.  This energy, needing somewhere to go, only loses its velocity when we are brave enough to release it. It takes courage to move on, tacking up the NO VACANCY sign, kicking fear finally to the curb.  When I’m afraid, I cocoon myself. Self-doubt, and indecision weighing me down.  A sort of self-imposed sequestering, I turn away from possibility, and hope. Like a bear going into hibernation, I insulate myself with food, and distraction, and busy myself setting up camp in my little cave.  I stop moving my body. I take myself off the list of things that need attention. I side step time for reflection.  Fear is a way through, and sometimes all I want is a way out. I’m not readying myself to engage with my fear. I am not working through it. I am sitting idly, waiting, worrying and ruminating. Stuck. When fear is in charge, it’s like the bully you avoid eye contact with. You act like it doesn’t bother you. You fake a comfort with its presence, hoping desperately that it won’t notice you.  The problem with this strategy is that when invisibility is achieved, all we’re left with is isolation.  We feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, undervalued, and unimportant. Too many “uns”!  It’s taken most of my life to see, that these UNdermining feelings are the result of a CHOICE I made. That I am the one that needs to SEE and HEAR ME!  Recognition, and external validation are but temporary elixirs. True self-recognition is not dependent on anything, or anyone outside of myself. It is dependent on how I feel about me. This relationship- the one with myself, is where I need to start when I feel myself pulling away.  The biggest threat to fear is connection.

While I have said that the how of feeling better, is vastly less complicated than the why of feeling bad, it takes intention and practice to stay on the path, like a muscle that needs exercising.  When fear is fed, instead of met, we get lost. We stop practicing, and start hiding. My hope is that with time, the choice to live better, while always deliberate, somehow stops feeling like such a chore.   I’m on the road again, thanks in part to my dad, my family and friends, and to my two amazing girls, whose existence reminds me everyday that life is good.  I have only to look through their lens for a moment, to be brought back to the joy that lives on in my sadness, and the fire within that still roars in the rain.

Today I choose to motivate myself. Today I choose connection.

*I want to take a moment to thank the nearly 2000 readers of my last article, “New Normal”, who wrote to me, and bravely shared their stories of loss and love.  When I started this blog nearly a year ago, I had no idea the impact it might have.  Thank you for following, and for sharing a piece of yourself with me. Stay connected.


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Filed under Resilience


“Suddenly our kids are made of porcelain?”, he mutters under his breath. Sounded like a question, felt like a statement. It’s ME that’s made of porcelain, I wanted to fire back! I felt the anxiety rush through me, like electricity surging through my veins. My husband’s comment was not directed at me, yet it felt very personal. Old issues rushed to the surface. Not just because we were talking about our kids, and because I do this thing (maybe all mothers do), where he says something about one of the kids, and I get defensive. Like I am doing something wrong. More than once, since we became parents 7 years ago, he has said to me, “I’m not blaming you. Why do you take it so personally?” Oh where do I begin? I lack ambivalence.  I am void of it. I care too much. I feel too deeply. My membrane is too permeable. I take things personally.

My childhood: I was well loved, but learned that I was most lovable when I was quiet, not bold, or silly. I learned to keep my voice down. I lived in a relatively quiet house (most of the time). I was overly attuned to my mother’s sadness, and my father’s pain, while they both tried very hard to mask this. I knew when there was tension. I knew when there was struggle.  I wanted to please, and ease, and so I learned to push down the energy bubbling within me. I also learned to take on their worries, and struggles as though they were my own. No one asked me to do this. They would never have wanted me to feel for them. In hindsight, maybe if they’d been a bit better at feeling for themselves, instead of hiding, I would not have taken on the task. Who knows? What I do know, is that the attunement to others was adaptive- a function of living in a somewhat chaotic environment that was outwardly very quiet. Kind of like me…

And so my kids are sensitive (each in their own way). Maybe I’ve taught it to them. Maybe I’ve passed it down in their genetic make-up.  Likely both. This piece of me, which I share with them, I have spent my life trying to disown. Why?  Because I stood out. My inner world always seemed vastly more complicated than that of my peers. Over thinking, and over feeling… Not easy when you’re a kid. Hell not easy, when you’re an adult.  The one wish I had when I was pregnant (aside from healthy baby), was please don’t let him or her be sensitive like me. It breaks my heart now to type these words. It brings me to tears… To have felt this way about myself, now seeing this shining quality in my girls’ hearts and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this bit of them may well be their greatest strength. So hard to believe that as recently as 7 years ago, I still saw this part of me as a character flaw. Now I find myself, believe it or not, almost protective of this part of my girls. Of course I don’t want them to struggle as I did. But the struggle was never really with “being sensitive”. It was with thinking that there was something wrong with me because I was. I don’t ever want them to feel less than for feeling deeply. My hope is that they will learn early to see the gift of vulnerability- the only door to connection, and that they will understand that strength and openness are not mutually exclusive.

Porcelain…  This seemingly benign word stung as it reached my ears because of all that it implied. It triggered old issues. We don’t want them to be sensitive. Sensitive is bad. It’s taken me nearly 40 years to realize that sensitive does not mean weak. While soft-hearted, I am also a fierce, confident, “watch-out world, here I come me”. The work has been balancing all of this, with my tender heart, and stepping into who I am with all of its contradictions, unapologetically.

May my children see their tenderness as a gift, and not as something that holds them back. What holds us back is seeing only the challenges, instead of the gifts, even our challenges bring. I would not be who I am today, love the way that I love, or do what I do, if it weren’t for seeing the “good” in being sensitive. Porcelain… Maybe, but underneath that veneer, lies the heart of a lion.

 “When you are who you should be, then you will set the world on fire.” 

-St. Catherine of Siena

A special word here to my mom and dad, whose tender hearts helped shape my own, and to my grandmother, Granny Mary, aka Grandma Dynamite. Thank you for reminding me that you see that lion, and encouraging me to embrace all of the bits we inherit, for they make up who we are.


Filed under Vulnerability