Sunday, December 28, 2014

Self-publishing: Was it worth it?

So, now that I've come down off the high of holding my very own book in my hands, I've had a chance to reflect on what it took to get to that point.  For those of you who may be aspiring writers, friends and family wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past 18 months, or for those who just want to know what it took to make this dream a reality, read on!

I had been toying with the idea of writing a book for years.  Fifteen years ago I had gone as far as writing a proposal for a book about twin pregnancy and birth.  Then, the same week that I was actively seeking an agent, my 3-year old daughter died, suddenly and unexpectedly.  If you follow this blog, you know all about Meghan and what has happened in the ten years since that day.  Needless to say, my focus shifted.  That venture.  That dream.  That part of my life, dropped off the radar. 

After I started writing to Meggie a few weeks after she died, I pondered turning some of my "letters" into a book.  But how?

No matter.  Grieving got in the way. Life got in the way.  Collateral losses got in the way.  There was no energy.  No time.  But the desire was still there, waaaaay in the back of my mind but ever present in my heart. 

For the past several years, I have had the idea to write a book for bereaved parents.  Then, I began to wonder if I could write a book that served two purposes.  Both a book for the bereaved and those who support them, but also part memoir, as supporting "evidence" for the self-help portion of the book.  

It was a daunting task.  Not so much the writing part, but the logistics of it.  I worked nearly full time between all my jobs.  I had two boys to raise who played soccer almost every night and weekend.  I managed Meghan's Hope in my "free" time, a time consuming but voluntary labor of love.  With what little was left, I fostered relationships with family and friends.  I don't sleep much as it is... when the hell would I find time to write?

Two years ago I wrote the blog post that was a call to action and cry heard around the world.  It was called Be With Me.  Just for Today.  Perhaps, if you've been here before, you've read it.  It went viral. The thousands of comments and messages I received was astounding and overwhelming.  I wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of furniture and TV tip-overs.  Which I did, and I was thrilled. That has evolved in ways I only dreamed of and will write more about that soon.  

What I didn't expect from that blog post, were the hundreds of messages from other bereaved parents, who in reading it, reached out to me to thank me for sharing what it's like to be a bereaved parent publicly.  To tell me they felt the same way and thought they were the only ones.  That they were frustrated their family and friends kept telling them to get over it and move on.  That other people did not understand what it was like to lose a child.  How it hurts so much and for so long... forever.  My grief keeping and sharing encouraged them to do the same. We all helped each other to heal.

In talking to other bereaved parents, they encouraged me to write more about it.  I found myself having similar conversations with many different people about child loss and coping.  What to say to bereaved parents.  What not to say.  How to tell your family how you feel.  What to do if they don't get it.  Where to find help when they feel so alone.  

Then, I found, through my work as a home care physical therapist, there are a tremendous number of bereaved elderly, who lost their own children.  Some as babies, some as teenagers, some just last year and yet their pain is no different, no less than had it happened yesterday to their only child born still. Then I started to get referrals to talk to other bereaved parents.  As a lay mentor.  When I mentioned my plans for a book they all said, "Yes, oh please... that would be so helpful... I can't wait to read it"

Thoughts of a non-fiction book, part self-help, part memoir, began to swim around in my head again. It was daunting to consider actually undertaking writing a book!  

I received one unsolicited publishing offer as a result of my blog post. I researched the company, which was a hybrid "self-publishing" and part traditional publishing company.  They were offering me a discount of $1500 (that I would pay them) to publish it. They sent me a contract.  I didn't like the terms.  They could not be changed.  I said thank you but no thank you.  

I sought out information with another popular self-publishing company, who gave my ego all kinds of stroking and would be more than thrilled to publish my book for anywhere from $1500-6000 depending on what services I wanted.  They were more pushy, doing the car salesman thing of "let me talk to my manager to see if I can get you a better price".  I don't play that game.  After doing further research, I also rejected that offer.  Interestingly, the sales person sent me the vibe that I did the right thing.  Not with her words at all, it's just the energetic feeling I got from her tone of voice and my intuition.  Validation, I guess. 

It seemed to me self-publishing should not cost thousands of dollars and then the publisher still has control of pretty much everything and royalties amount to about $1.20 per book sold if you are lucky. It's pretty hard to recoup the initial expense, let alone make money, especially when you add in your own marketing costs since they don't do that for you!  This book was too important and too personal to give up control of content, the cover, the price... anything to someone who knew nothing of the content or the intended audience.  Such emotional and delicate subject matter with such a niche audience.  No, this was my baby... about my baby. 

I also talked to one traditional small publisher.  No cost to me up front but they still got most of the money from the sales, which is more appropriate than the other offers, but again, I was not willing to give up creative control for this particular book.  They dealt in books close to my target audience, but still with small reach.  I was close to taking this offer though, just because the pressure for editing and cover and all of that would be off. 

Finally, after literally months of research and soul-searching, I decided to truly self-publish.  I chose CreateSpace, which is an Amazon affiliate.  I did this after days and weeks  and months of reading and researching different options out there.  My head was spinning! You know what it costs to truly self-publish?  Nothing!  Well, except time, which you probably have to devote more to when pursuing this route.  

There are other costs that are worth factoring in, like finding an editor and perhaps a cover designer. Still, it's a hell of a lot less expensive and you retain full rights, creative control, and will see a much higher royalty payment per book sold as a result. You choose the size of your book, the font, the title, the content, the price, everything.  Great! So now I had a plan! 

The challenge was in finding the time to do it.  Writing can be time consuming.  Writing about something so emotional and personal requires uninterrupted time. Research also had to be done.  

There are actually courses out there that teach you how to write.  How to write a book proposal.  How to market.  How to find an agent.  There are also a plethora of books out there.  There are courses on how to meet media and sell your story.  How to write a bio.  It goes on and on. They all cost money. They may or may not help you.  It depends what you need and where you can access that information. I purchased a few.  To be honest, I have read nor watched many of them.  A colossal waste of money.  
I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November of 2013 (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the bulk of the book then.  November-December and the summer months are the only relative "down" time I have with the soccer schedule of my boys.

Then I took a break.  I got back to it in the spring and over the summer.  I began to look for an editor. I asked friends and family and other bereaved parents to read it for me to give feedback on content and flow.  Of those that even agreed to do it, only one actually read the entire book and provided the feedback. The others either couldn't get through it or didn't have the time.  Most didn't even take me up on the offer.  I get it.  People are busy.  The subject matter is very emotional.  I was sad more people didn't follow through.  It made me wonder if anyone would really buy it.  

I plowed on.  I found an editor.  I finished the first draft.  I began incorporating the line edits. It is very tedious and time consuming work.  It took months of on again, off again editing and re-editing. Then I read it again.  And edited it, again.  Rinse. Lather. Repeat.  Over and over and over.  I understand now why a good book editor can cost a few thousand dollars.

It got to the point where I couldn't get the distance I needed to do the developmental editing anymore, let alone find the few and random punctuation and grammatical or spelling/word choice errors.  I again asked if people would be willing to give it a quick read for feedback.  Crickets.  

I was on my own. 

I formatted it for CreateSpace.  Formatting errors then needed to be corrected and it also made for previously missed errors in punctuation and grammar easier to spot.  Great!  More tedious line editing.  I did have the support and assistance of my tech savvy husband, which was a Godsend!

Next began a process of uploading the file to CreateSpace for approval.  Their return of the proof was usually less than 24 hours, which was great.  You could order a digital proof, which was free and immediately available, or you could order a printed proof of the book, which took about 5 business days expedited delivery.  It's a print on demand system, so overnight or 2 day delivery really isn't an option. Cost of author copies depends on the size of the book and number of pages.  You had to pay for a printed proof.  

I ordered one printed proof for the first print ready upload, just to see the cover for real.  It looked blurry in the PDF proof.  It actually wasn't in the printed version. You can do both the printed and the digital PDF proof, which I did. So, in the meantime, other errors were found once I received the PDF print ready proof, so then I had to go back and change the original formatted word doc and re-upload it (you can't edit in their PDF proof reader). I did this 3 or 4 times before I finally hit the wall and let it go. 

Then there is the cover design.  I am blessed and fortunate to have generous friends.  Two edited it for me, one line edits only, the other both line and developmental editing.  My friend Steve, who is an amazing photographer and Photoshop guru, helped me with the cover design.  No, scratch that.  He did the entire cover design.  I just gave him my vision, he found some pictures, I chose one.  I gave him the words, he did the rest.  It's amazing.  He kicks all kinds of cover design ass.  For payment, he has requested a nice dinner with our respective significant others.  Done and done.  If you want to see his photos, check him out at this Flickr site

Once you approve the print ready proof in CreateSpace it's locked and cannot be changed.  It is immediately available for purchase in the CreateSpace store.  It took 3 days before my book was available on Amazon.

The author gets a higher royalty, almost double, from the CreateSpace store than they do from Amazon sales because Amazon takes 40%.  Still, it's far less than what most traditional or so called "Self" publishing houses take. Amazon is probably where the vast majority of books are sold today. It's where I buy all mine.  So having my book in a brick and mortar bookstore was not necessary for me. I also didn't want the hassle of trying to sell the books on my own Website, as that adds cost, the need for a sales tax permit, shipping cost determination and challenges, and a lot of trips to the post office. I'd also have to keep an inventory, which has it's own logistical challenges.

Is the book perfect?  No.  I'm sure there are a few grammatical errors I missed. 

Is the content perfect?  No.  I did the best I could.  If I had written about everything I wanted to and with the level of detail I would have liked, the book would be too heavy and too expensive to manage! There is some repetition, but it's intentional because of the way the book was written.  It's designed to read like a conversation between the reader and I in a down to earth, person to person manner.  it's also written so any chapter could stand alone.  Not everyone will read it in order.  Not everyone will read the entire book.  Not everyone will like it.  Not everyone will understand it's purpose, although I tried to make it clear from the cover copy and introduction and in my marketing efforts.

I'm sure with some distance and a re-read in a few months, along with feedback from readers, I will be able to see it with fresh eyes and update it if need be.  Therein lies another beautiful thing about self-publishing.

I can always revise it!  It just means while I am going through the process of revising the content, the book is unavailable for sale since it's also unavailable for printing.  It means potential lost sales for a few days.  

Once you have published your book with CreateSpace, you have the option of converting the files to the Kindle Publishing Platform or KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  Turns out the conversion of the Word file did not prove easy.  The formatting got all messed up.  It had to be reformatted for Kindle, which proved to be no easy task.  Thankfully, my husband is savvy because I could not have figured it out easily, if at all.  He converted it to a mobi file, wrote some HTML code to make the table of contents work the way it ideally should in a mobile device or e-reader, and an entire day of reformatting later...  it's 90% compatible with the most popular Kindle reading apps.  It looks different in every device.  What a royal PIA!  There is really no way to get it perfect for all of them so far as I can tell.  

So, after almost 2 years since I began this process, and a very concentrated last 2 months with all kinds of glitches at the end, I am a published author.  Had I known about all the formatting inconsistencies, challenges of cover design, and the likely need for multiple revisions and 24 hr lags between proof returns digitally, I'd have factored that in.  I was on a self-imposed publishing deadline, which was a good thing, because otherwise it might never have gotten done!  

The beauty of self-publishing is the only deadline is your own!  You do need to plan ahead though as editing can take a few months for your editor and then you have to incorporate all those edits which can take weeks if not longer, depending on how much time you have to devote to it.  You also have to plan for cover design, which can also be quite time consuming unless you have mad Photoshop skilz.

You could hire someone to design a cover, but that will also take a month or two and add cost that must be factored in.  How long it takes you to write is all up to you.  Obviously, if I were not also working, being a mom, and managing an educational awareness campaign, I could have done the writing a lot faster and the same is true for editing.  Then, of course, a good few weeks should be budged for unexpected glitches at the end like Kindle formatting.  If you don't have the skills to understand and do the formatting, you may need to hire someone to do the conversion for you, and that adds more time and expense.

Do I regret any of it?  Absolutely not.  While I was honored and thrilled to be offered 3 different publishing contracts, I knew in my heart of hearts, this was meant to be a truly self-published book. My goal is not to sell a million copies, although that would be nice, to know all those people are getting the information and support they need after suffering the worst loss ever.    The reality is this is a book no wants to ever have to buy.  It's a niche audience.  It's a book hundreds of people need every single day as newly bereaved parents, and one hundreds of thousands could use because they know someone who is a bereaved parent or are one themselves who has never been offered the support and guidance or even permission to grieve.

If this book helps but one person in their journey out of the darkness of grief, then it was worth every single second.  

If you'd like to learn more, visit

Monday, December 22, 2014

Visitor from Heaven...

When a loved one dies, certain days are harder than others, even years or decades later.  Anniversaries seem to be the hardest for many.  The anniversary of the day your loved one died being the most significant.  

What many people don't realize is that there are many other days that may be just as significant or perhaps, even more so, especially to a parent who has lost a child.

Many people cope with these difficult days through a ritual of remembrance.  It may only take a few minutes, or it may be something they devote hours or even an entire day to.  It's a way to mark the day as significant.  A day to honor your feelings, then and now.  A way to honor your loved one and the love you shared.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I buried my daughter.  Yesterday was the anniversary of her wake.  It was on the winter solstice.  The solstice will forever be the day we held her calling hours. Three days before Christmas will always be the day I buried my little girl.  

Not unlike a birth story, death stories need to be told.  The ritualistic remembrance is not morbid or bad or a sign of not coping well.  Quite the contrary.  Grief keeping is healthy.  It's a way of saying, "Hey, remember this person?  They were significant in my life.  Remember this day?  This day was also very significant in my life. I want you to remember them and the significance of this day, too."  

You'll see a lot of grief keeping at the holidays.  People posting messages to or about loved ones who have passed on, saying they miss them and love them.  People posting photos of their loved one who has died.  Remembrances of wonderful times they had together.  Even remembrances of the times that were not so wonderful.  I think this is a beautiful and healthy way to cope with your grief. 

Below is a keepsake I've had for ten years.  Every year, one this day, I watch it.  The photos were taken by a friend at my request during Meghan's services.  I never even noticed her presence.  Others thought I was nuts to ask her or that she was nuts for doing it.  

So many people want to help the newly bereaved.  So many offer "If there is anything I can do..." This was one of the very few things I ever asked directly for.  I'm so, so glad I had the courage and presence of mind to ask her to do it.  It was a last minute decision.  I don't regret anything about it.  

She put together the slide show/video of her photos to the song Visitor from Heaven by Twila Paris. The same song was played at Meggie's funeral.  It was written about the death of a child as I understand.  Little did I realize at the time how grateful I would be for these photos and this keepsake. Especially all these years later.  It is beautiful and powerful.  I've included it below. I encourage you to watch it and listen to the words of the song.  It is absolutely beautiful and so perfect for a child's memorial.

For what I notice now is not only the pain and sadness on our faces, but more remarkably, the love.  I can almost feel it.  Still.  After a decade.  Through the photos.  The energy was powerful then.  It is powerful today.  Love...

I have an accompanying scrapbook I made of these photos, plus ones I took at the funeral home, which I go through every year on this day as well.  I initially took the photos for Meghan's twin, who was only 3 at the time she died, and her brother, who was 6.  I wasn't sure if they'd remember and I wanted them to have the photos to look at someday if they asked or wanted to.  I wanted them to see the people who came.  To see their own expressions.  To see the love that was shown to us.  I had no idea at the time how much it would help me then and all these years later.

The act of scrapbooking the photos was also incredibly healing for me.  It was not easy, but I was surrounded by good friends while I worked on it.  It helped me process.  It helped me heal.

I realize photos or videos like this one may not be for everyone.  Making a scrapbook or video slide show of your loved one in any way could be a beautiful, loving, and moving tribute to their life and your love for them.  It also makes a wonderful gift for anyone who is bereaved.

May you feel the light and love of your loved ones who have passed on to the next place at the holidays and always.  Share your memories, a photo, their name.  Share it on social media.  Share it with friends and family.  Open your heart.  Let the love shine!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Furniture safety: Activism 101 - We've come so far and yet we have so far to go

As I sit and reflect on the place I was in emotionally ten years ago today, I am filled with a combination of sadness, gratitude, and awe.

This is the anniversary of the day I had to visit a funeral home, to plan my 3-year old daughter's wake and funeral.  The first day I woke up without her gleeful "Moooommmmmeeeeeeeee" squeals.  The first day she wasn't at the table for meals.  The first day I called her name and she did not answer or come to me... This is the day friends and family came to us with heavy hearts and tear filled eyes, having no idea what to say or do, but they brought love.  We needed love...

What I am reflecting on today is the way in which Meghan's Hope has grown these past ten years.  It was born the night she died and ten years ago, was mere hours old.  The mission as clear then as it is today.  Prevent any other child dying from a furniture tip-over the way Meghan did.  Holes in walls and in furniture don't matter! They can be fixed!  The hole in my shattered heart, dark with guilt, will never, ever be fixed.  I will live the rest of my life knowing I could have done something to prevent my daughter's death.  A few dollars and a few minutes was all it would have taken. If only I had known... If only I had access to the very thing that could have prevented it.  Furniture straps.

Meghan's Dresser

Safety First Furniture Wall Straps

Come hell or high water, it would be my mission that every parent know what I didn't.  Hell hath no fury like a mama whose child just died. For the record, that holds true ten years later, just on a different level.

I dreamed of our local community, state, and region rallying and helping us to spread the word.  I dared to hope that it became a nationally recognized problem and one that the media would help us solve.  I contacted TV and print media outlets asking them to help me raise awareness. Initially, there was a burst of support. A few newspaper and TV stories, some even nationally.  Flyers went out. Emails were sent.  Written letters of appeal were sent.  There was no social media like there is today, it was word of mouth.  But it quickly dwindled.

We established Meghan's Hope as a 501 C3 non-profit organization.  I exhibited at safety fairs and conferences.  I gave out furniture straps at these events.  I created all my own documents and brochures and informational presentations.  I spoke about it wherever I could to whomever would listen.  Still, I struggled to reach beyond our local community and even then, there was a whole lot of "it won't happen to us" going around.

I truly (and naively) expected furniture and local box stores to immediately start carrying furniture straps, as people were running in with Meghan's picture asking for them.  Most did not. I was shocked to discover they were made by popular childproofing companies, but not sold in stores, at least near us.  Why the hell not?  On-line shopping was in it's infancy when Meghan died.  I had no idea these devices existed!

I expected the furniture stores and box stores I wrote to to at least reply to me, and ideally, follow through on my request to post information about the dangers and sell the very straps that could prevent the type of accident that took my baby girl's life.  Crickets.  Not a single one responded!

Congressman Jim McGovern offered to help.  With his support, and that of a Congresswoman from PA, Allyson Schwartz, the Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act was born.  It was a bill in the US house in two different sessions of Congress. In 2005 and 2007.  I wrote to every member of Congress I could asking for their support. Neither bill ever got out of committee but it did get the attention of the Consumer Product Safety Commission  (CPSC) and the Consumer's Union.

Eventually, and painfully slowly, some of what we asked for in our bill became incorporated into a VOLUNTARY furniture safety standard written by ASTM.  It continues to be revised periodically. It's not ideal in my eyes yet, but at least progress is being made.  In 2009 tip-restraints being sold with certain types of storage furniture have been part of the standard.

There is, however, no testing or requirements for that restraining device, so it may or may not actually safely hold the weight of the furniture!  Honestly, I rarely use the device sold with the furniture, even though it brings tears to my eyes when I see one included, my little girl was a part of that...  I don't trust the cable ties or plastic L brackets to hold a 100+ pound piece of furniture, full of stuff and with a child pulling or climbing or bumping in to it accidentally.  No way.  I think they are creating a false sense of security for parents and setting manufacturers up for lawsuits that way.

There needs to be testing of the straps with that specific piece of furniture or at least some standardized testing of the restraining devices.  Both the ones sold with furniture and the ones available from the childproofing manufacturers.  There are very few with documented weight capacities.  No certification or description of how that weight capacity was determined.  Was it tested? How?  With all types of furniture?  With a giant weight?  What if it's pushed?  Pulled?  Climbed on? Bumped into?   Or is it just your best guess?

Parents should not be left to play a guessing game.  While any restraining device is better than no restraining device they are not created equal.  In fact I adamantly recommend against any cable tie type restraint.  They become brittle and crack.  They likely won't hold a heavy piece of furniture, loaded with stuff, and with a child on it.  In fact I had a set of Mommy's Helper straps (cable tie style) on my son's dresser after Meghan died.  While showing them to a TV news crew a few months later, one had broken!  I almost had a heart attack when I saw it.  His dresser was not safe, even though I thought it was safely secured.  ATTENTION FURNITURE AND RESTRAINING DEVICE MANUFACTURERS: THIS IS NOT OKAY!

I don't understand why this is not already part of the standard.  I don't understand how childproofing suppliers or furniture manufacturers can sell a safety device that has not been tested.  Forget potential litigation for failure of the device to work.  What about social responsibility?  What about protecting children?  Any cost manufacturers concur could be passed on to the consumer, or, perhaps taken out of the CEO's bonus check at the end of the year.

Let's forget about profits or inconvenience or expense.  It's about lives.  Imagine for a moment that it's your child or grandchild that this device is protecting.  Because it is. Do you want to take that gamble?  What makes you think your child won't be one of the 71 injured every day in a tip-over accident?  What makes you think your child won't be the one to die like Meghan did?  If you think it won't be yours, and/or you do nothing to protect them, you are a fool.  Yeah, remember that hell hath no fury?  She's me and she tells it to you straight.  Used to get me in trouble all the time as a kid. Maybe now, it will motivate people to act.  It will save a life...

I am beyond thrilled to be collaborating with the CPSC on their Anchor-it tip-over awareness campaign.  They recognize the dangers and the need to get the information to parents.

The thing is, it's not just parents that need to know.  It's not just our homes that we need to be concerned about tip-overs in.  Yes, they are of the utmost importance, because we all have furniture and we all have TV's and they ALL need to be safely and properly secured to the walls.

But there is also unsecured furniture and TV's everywhere our children go; in our schools, in our churches and religious halls, in hotel rooms, at recreational facilities, and in stores.  The wall of TV's at any box store gives me panic attacks!

There is also the often overlooked danger to adults, especially our elderly.  Not only in their homes but in assisted living facilities, senior centers, elderly housing and nursing homes/rehab facilities. They are often less mobile, less agile, tend to have a lot more clutter, and have large furniture and TV's that are not secured and on inappropriately sized devices.  They are at risk, too.    The armories, dressers, and entertainment units in elderly facilities should be secured!  Elders should be made aware of the risk in their own homes not only to themselves but to their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

We have a long way to go in raising awareness.

I spend a lot of time on Meghan's Hope.  I'm a one mama show.  I receive no financial compensation. My "pay" is knowing someone "listened to Meggie."  My return on investment is people sharing Meghan's Hope, doing that news story I requested, selling restraining devices in your stores, handing out our brochures, taking action and securing furniture and TV's to the walls.  Invite me to present to your organization or group.  Interview me.  Talk to me.  Listen to Meggie!

It's a difficult job, especially since it doesn't pay my bills, so I need to do it in my "free" time, which as a mom of 2 boys, is not a whole lot!  I'd do it full time if I could, but I can't.  I do need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  I need to support my boys in their educational and extracurricular endeavors.

I'm not the only parent doing this. Others have lost their children the same way and they, too, are trying to raise awareness.  There are small communities all over the country who have a heightened awareness, but it's so hard to break those barriers and cross state lines.  Go national.  Go global.  Be heard.

In the past 2 years, with the advent of social media, and especially Facebook, Meghan's hope has taken off.  A viscerally raw and emotional blog post I wrote went around the world.   Awareness started to spread.  People started to listen and act.  Still, the statistics are sobering.  Children are still being injured.  Adults are still being injured.  People are still dying.  Not enough people are sharing. Not enough people are taking the risk seriously.

Why?  Is it fear?  Is it ignorance?  Is it poor marketing skills?  For the love of God, why are people not hearing the message and if they are, and not taking action, why?  Please tell me, so I know how to help them understand.

More needs to be done.  I can't do it alone.  I'm so grateful for everyone who has shared and helped us along the way. I'm so grateful for the support of the CPSC and other organizations who recognize the danger and are taking steps to raise awareness at a national level and beyond.  Who are supporting Meghan's Hope and I am grateful for the recognition of the work I've done. I just wish it was more successful...

Activism is not for the faint of heart.  It's a labor of love.  Believe me, I'd much rather be mothering Meggie by taking her to dance class instead of through Meghan's Hope.  But now, it's the only way I can.  And so it is.

Save a life.  Secure your furniture and your TV's today.  All of them.  Then do the same at your parent's house.  Inquire at your child's pre-school, school, after school program or day care, church and gym child care, the nursing home your parents or grandparents are in. Be proactive.

Need a stocking stuffer?  Furniture and TV straps make great gifts!  Offering to install them for a family member or friend, even better!

Anchor it today.  Tomorrow may not come...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Letter to Meggie on her 10th Angelversary

Dear Meggie,

As I sit in your bedroom on this, the 10th anniversary of your death, I find myself thinking not only of your short three years here on earth, but wondering what you would be like today, had the unthinkable not happened.  Who would you be?  What would you have become?  You would be a teenager now!

Your twin brother is thirteen.  He is growing like the proverbial weed.  Ky-ole is over 6 feet and already a junior in high school!  How tall would you be now?  What would you look like? What would your voice sound like?  Would your eyes still hold that same wisdom? Would the boys be chasing you or would you be chasing them?  Never mind, I already know the answer to that one...

I gaze at the little lock of hair tied with a pink ribbon the nurses gave us the day you died. I can’t help but wonder, would your hair be long or would you prefer a pixie cut?  You never were one for keeping the “pretties” in for very long.  I wonder if your hair would still be that beautiful golden blonde or if it would have darkened like both of your brothers’ hair did.  

Would you be a girly-girl or more of a casual tomboy?  You liked to dress up but you also liked to be naked just as much!  You loved both your Tinker Bell jammies and your dinosaur jammies.  Your grandmothers would have kept you well supplied with girly clothes whether you liked it or not!

As I glance at the finger paintings and drawings you made, I can’t help but wonder, would you have been an artist?  You loved to paint!  You were very crafty.  Your hand and foot prints look so tiny now.  

I remember how active and busy you were. Would you be a dancer, gymnast, or soccer player like your brothers are?  I bet you’d have done all three of them!   Or, maybe you’d have done something entirely different.  My money is on gymnast.   

Would you still have a love of kitties, all things pink and sparkly, and Tinker Bell, or, would your tastes have changed?  Would you still be silly and playful?  I hope so.  I bet you would be.  Bampy would make sure you didn’t lose that!

Would you enjoy running 5k’s with your mother in silly costumes or would you roll your eyes in embarrassment like the boys do now? You always did run fast!  I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with you.  I can’t keep up with your brothers, either.  

What would dinner time be like if you were here?  Would the family dynamic be significantly different?  Would you still like Veggie Booty?  Does anyone else even eat Veggie Booty?
If you continued to command attention the way you used to, I’m sure it would be different! You would have had your big brothers both wrapped around your little finger!  I bet there would be a lot more arguments about which movie we watch or what game we play.  Your brothers would have learned so much more about dealing with girls… and young women.  No doubt, you’d have set them straight and kept them in line.  They would have been fiercely protective of you, too.

I wonder if it would have been a Frozen Christmas this year…  Maybe we all would have gone to the Village for Christmas.  Auntie T would have totally sucked you in to glow with the show ears at Disney World!  Grammie and Bampy probably would have spent an arm and a leg to take you to the Bippidi Boppity Boutique so you could be a princess.  We would have had matching Tinker Bell wings and wands!  :-)

Speaking of Christmas, I know the joy of the season would be back if you were still with us. So much of the joy and sparkle of the season died with you.  It’s been such a struggle to get it back.  I try, but it’s so hard.  I know you send love and light every year, and occasionally throw down an angel or an ornament just to let us know your playful side is still with us.  Still, we miss you so much it hurts.  It literally hurts.

Instead of holding a photograph of you for the big family picture, I wish I was holding you.  

It’s so hard to believe it’s been ten years Meggie.  There are so many things I thought we’d share together that we’ve already missed.  The double birthday celebrations and parties for you and Ry. The first days of school and the last days of school.  Holidays and birthdays and gatherings with friends.  Family vacations and summer day trips.  The dance recitals and sporting events we never got the chance to share.  Trips to Disney.

And now, all I have to look forward to are more milestones without you. I won’t ever get to celebrate the rites of passage into womanhood with you.  I’ll never have the opportunity to teach you to drive.  I won’t get to see you grow into the amazingly beautiful and bright woman I know you would have been.  I won’t see you graduate, get married, or have your own children.  There will be no mother daughter mani-pedis, or girls only shopping trips.  No prom, no first dates, no bridal or baby showers… I’ll never be the mother of the bride.   

Instead, I spend all of these transitional moments missing you.  Every holiday.  Every milestone your brothers reach.  Every milestone I reach.  Every milestone you should have reached.  Every Mother’s Day. Every day.  Wondering who you would be at each of them. How it would be different if you were still here with us.  Feeling the pain of your absence.

I am alone in my pain of missing you, because it, like you, is invisible.  At least most of the time.  Others can’t see it, or don’t understand it, so they don’t acknowledge it.  

When Ry gets his learner’s permit I will cry.  When he graduates, I will cry.  When he goes to his first formal dance, I will cry.  When he marries, I will cry.  When your brothers achieve all of their milestones, I will cry.  Tears of happiness for him.  Tears of sadness for me, because there is forever one, where two should always have been.  

How will Ry feel?  Will he miss sharing these moments with his twin sister?  Does he wonder what it would be like if you were still his best friend?  His telepathic partner in mischief?  What would your twinship be like now?  Would you still insist “Ry Ry did it?”  He’d probably deny it now… I think he’d catch on eventually.

How will Kyle feel?  Does he ever think about what life would be like now with his “baby” sister?  How it would be different?  

The world will forever see I have 2 boys where 2 boys and a beautiful little girl should have been. Some will know what is missing.  Most will not.  I will always know. I will always miss you.  It will always hurt.

All I can do now is hope that wherever you are, you are at peace.  You are happy.  You are free.  You are flying with the angels.  I hope your wings are sparkly!  I hope you can feel the love we hold in our hearts for you here.  We can feel the love you send us. Keep it coming!  

You always wanted to fly high in the sky…

Happy 10th Angelversary my sweet baby girl.  May your wings help you soar high and free.  




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I gave birth today! It was a long labor of love...

I gave birth today.

It was the longest labor I've ever endured.

Like all labors, it was born of love.  A love story between a mother and a daughter.  The contractions were difficult and painful at times.  The process long.  The rest periods between the contractions welcome opportunities to recharge, collect myself, shift my focus and redirect myself to my purpose.

Transition was fast and furious these past few months, with everything falling into place and happening in the way you dream of.  Until the very end.  Surprises.  Unexpected changes in plan. Stuck at 10 centimeters for so... very... long.  Interventions needed?  No, just wait patiently and let the process unfold.  Don't rush it, Kim.  All in good time.

Time to reflect...
Unlike other labors, my gift was not a beautiful child.  No, I already had that.  She died almost 10 years ago.  My labor began the day she died.

The day my daughter died, I was thrown into a deep, dark, abyss where a storm raged in and around me, relentlessly.  It hurt.  So.  Damn.  Much.  How I didn't die myself from the pain of a broken heart is beyond me.  It was a dark, lonely, confusing place.  I felt as if I'd never find my way out.  I didn't think there was a way out.  I didn't really care at that point.

What began in part as a letter written to her to foster an ongoing relationship, was coupled with an advocacy and awareness campaign.  For the past ten years I have tirelessly devoted as much of my free time as I can to trying to prevent the same tragedy that took my daughter's life from happening to any other child.

Slowly, I began to emerge from that abyss.  The storm subsided.  At least for periods of time.  When another storm came along, it didn't last as long and I was learning how to ride out the storms.  The darkness began to fade.  Things were more gray.  Then, a glimmer of light.  Of hope.  Of... happiness?  Over time, color began to creep back in to my life.

Yet there was still a broken heart inside this mama.  Still a strong and passionate drive to prevent other children from dying the way my daughter did.  I was frustrated.  No one seemed to be listening to Meggie.

Two years ago, a breakthrough.  A post, right here, about the day she died, was the cry heard around the world.  A call to action from a deeply bereaved parent.  Social media was the vehicle that carried my voice, my emotion, my pain, my pleas.  It resonated with literally millions of parents around the world.  They answered the call.  They shared Meghan's story.  They secured their furniture and their TV's.  They joined the community of Meghan's Hope on Facebook.  They became more aware of potential hazards to children and how to fix or prevent them.

Among the thousands of messages were messages of thanks from fellow bereaved parents.  They identified with the emotions I wrote about.  The pain I still feel.  The way their family and friends didn't "get" their pain and their grief.  Some told me things they had never told anyone else, because they were afraid they were broken.  They were afraid others wouldn't listen.  They didn't think anyone cared.

I began to write more.  I had long wanted to write a book about Meggie and I.  The book I wrote was not the book I thought I would write.  The book I wrote was the book I wish someone had handed me the day I walked out of the hospital 10 years ago without my daughter... forever.  It was the guide I wish I had all these years.  The guide I wish my friends and family had then... and now.

A parent's grief never ends.  It changes over time, but we never "get over" the death of our children. There is nothing that eases that hole in our hearts, that empty chair at our holiday table, or the name called that will forever go unanswered.

It's a journey.  It will continue to be a journey.  It has hills and valleys.  Sunshine and storms.  I am not "cured".  Grief is not something that you can cure or fix.  I am healing.  I am integrating.  I am memory keeping.  It's about love.

Today, the fruits of that labor, of the past ten years, was born.  That book was published.  It's aptly called Out of the Darkness: Coping With and Recovering From the Death of a Child

You'd think I would be elated.  I'm a published author.  A dream come true.  A major goal fulfilled. On some level, I am.  I feel accomplished.  It was a long journey.  It began with NaNoWriMo in 2013.  I wrote the bulk of the manuscript then.  Then it sat for a while.  Many hours of writing and many more of tedious line and developmental editing followed over the past year.  Many hours of sleep lost.  Many social invitations declined to meet deadlines.  Many amazing friends and family to help and support me along the way. It feels... wonderful to finally hold your own book in your hands.
Yet the tears fall today.  They are not tears of joy. They are tears of bittersweet pain.   People are listening to Meggie now.  Meghan's Hope is a world-wide go to resource for furniture and tip-over safety.  I am so very grateful for that.  Meggie's beautiful face and heartbreaking story are saving lives.  She's so amazing.  The tears are because of the painful fact that this book would never have been written by me if my beautiful daughter had not died.  THAT still hurts like hell.

And by tears, I mean sobbed.  Over the past several days I have cried some of the longest, most painful tears of the past ten years.  I've cried in public, in my car, at my computer, in my husband's arms, and when I opened the box that held the physical proof of my book.  I cried when I hit the publish button on CreateSpace today.  Hell, I'm fighting tears now.  All the emotion, the pain, and even the gratitude in my heart, the stress and challenges of the past several months just burst forth like a tsunami.  Of course part of my goal was to publish it before Meggie's 10th Angelversary.  It is in two days...

I want nothing more than for no other parent to ever know what that pain is like.  I want parents to have the information and resources they need to keep their kids safe.  For those that do know this pain of losing a child, I want them to know they are not alone. I want those that love them to know how to help them.  I want them to have the information and resources they need to heal.  I want us, as a society, to learn how to "do" grief, not fear or avoid the work it demands.  The work required for us to heal.  We're in it together.  All of us.

And by us, I mean you.  Everyone knows a bereaved parent, whether you realize it or not.  There are people in your life who have miscarried, had babies born still, who lost children to cancer, accidents, suicide, and murder.  Not everyone talks about it, but you all know at least one person, I promise you. They all want you to acknowledge their pain and their child. Someone has to get the word out.  One of those someones is me.

44,000 parents lose children in the US every year and that's just the children under 19.  It's millions world-wide annually.  That doesn't even include the countless parents who lose adult children every year, who hurt as much as those who lose young children.  A parent's grief is a parent's grief.  it doesn't matter how old the child was when they died or the circumstances of their death.  Their child is gone and it's so, so wrong.  This book is needed by so many...

It was hard to allow myself to give the final approval and release the book.  I know I could do better. Write more. Improve the content.  What if it's not good enough?  What if I forgot something that is important?  I know I couldn't include everything, no one would be able to lift a book that full.  That's the Virgo perfectionist in me.  That's what second editions are for, right?   Self-publishing was my only comfortable option.  I had other traditional contract offers.  I was not willing to give up creative control, not for this deeply personal project they knew nothing about. It was worth every second and every challenge I encountered.

It is my greatest hope that this book helps even just one bereaved parent or one loved one trying to understand and help them through their journey.  If that one person is helped, it will have been worth all the hours, all the tears... it would mean that someone knows they are not alone.  That there is hope. There are resources.  There is a way out of the darkness.  A way to incorporate your grief into your life and move forward.  It's so hard to see that in the beginning.

So, now that I've given birth, it's time to mother and nurture this baby.  Please, share it with your friends and family.  Gift it to a parent or grandparent or friend or family member of someone who has lost a child.  Read it yourself to glean a better understanding about coping with grief of any kind.  We will all lose someone we love someday.  Being prepared is far better for effective coping.  Trust me. I know.

If you read it, I'd love your feedback.  You can find out more about the book and where to buy it at the Out of the Darkness Grief Support Website and Facebook Page.

Thank you for your support.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Girl Power?

This past week, I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women.  It's the largest woman-centric conference of it's kind in the nation.  Ten thousand women were in attendance.  Many of whom were career business women, worked in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions, or were small business owners and entrepreneurs.  These were women who were movers and shakers and held a seemingly common goal; to break the glass ceiling and change the world.  Estrogen is a powerful motivator.

There were many vendors and exhibitors and a tremendous opportunity to attend breakout sessions and workshops to help you succeed in the business world.  There were sessions on finance, branding, social media marketing and so much more.  MBA programs were there encouraging graduate degrees. Banks were there, to discuss financing options for small businesses.  Technology companies were there, recruiting.  Small business vendors were selling their products.  You could even get a makeover from several cosmetic vendors and then get your head shot done for your social media profile pictures!

The conference drew amazing and successful and entrepreneurial women as key note speakers and one very brave and endearing man.  Among the key note speakers were Tori Burch, Academy award winning actress Lupita Nyong'o and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  They all had tremendously impressive resumes and experience and they delivered articulate, entertaining, and inspiring speeches.  The energy in the room was strong, but it was a different energy than I am accustomed to at large conferences of women.  This energy was one of power, ambition, drive, a strong desire to succeed in a "man's" world, to break gender and social barriers.  It's a good thing in many ways, but perhaps, not so much, in others.

I am used to attending conferences around childbirth.  Women drawn to these conferences are also powerful, passionate, driven, and embrace and use their hormonal gifts, but it's different.  These women have a primary overlying objective of love, compassion, and helping each other, rather than competing with each other.  They are not about breaking the glass ceiling, they are about nurturing others to reach their highest personal potential, for the greater good of everyone involved.  Similar, yes, but the energy is SOOOOOO different.  And honestly, I prefer this energy.

Of course, the truth is, I, personally, have a decent mix of both.  While the more heart-centered and nurturing energy of my energy sensitive birthy peeps resonates with me more deeply, I am also a business woman.  I have to be in order to accomplish the goals I want to in my life so I can educate and nurture others the way I feel I am called to do.  I need both kinds of energy.  I need both kinds of girl power.  I am so blessed to have both in my life.

Ironically, the speaker I enjoyed the most, was the one man who closed the morning keynotes.  John Jacobs is the co-founder of Life is Good.  You know, those cool T-shirts that have optimistic and outdoorsy pictures and sayings on them.

Photo: Is yours ready to rock around?  #thenewoldfashionedway

In sharp contrast to the women in business suits, he came out on stage in jeans, a T-shirt, and a wool hat.  His boyish charm quickly revealing a man whose mama raised him right.  He spoke of the wonder of the way his daughter views the world.  He spoke of love, optimism, goodness.  He spoke of the power of dreams and persistence and doing the right thing.  Of philanthropy and giving back and of the power of community.  He threw frisbees into the audience.  He was honest, raw, playful and yet a brilliant business man.  Not because he wanted to be the best or beat the competition, but because he wanted to share a message of goodness and hope and optimism.  I felt like he was one of "my" kinda woman.  :-)

This got me thinking.  Women are women.  Or are we?  We are all driven to do and be different things.  Not everyone can be Hillary Clinton or an Academy Award winning actress.  Not everyone wants to be.

We have so many roles we need to fill in our own lives.  Mother, daughter, spouse, sister, aunt, niece, friend...  We must fulfill the duties of our job descriptions no matter what that job may be.  Whether we are the CEO of our household or the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, we all hold a position of power and authority.  We all have a "business" we need to run.  Some of us may aspire to do great things and change the world.  Maybe that's by starting a business.  Maybe that's how we measure success.  Others may change the world through volunteering or writing a meaningful children's book.

The beauty of it is, no matter what we decide we want to do with our lives, we can.  We are so blessed and fortunate to live in a place where we, as women, have those choices and those opportunities.  When there are financial barriers to our opportunities, it's women like the ones who spoke at the Women's Conference, who provide the scholarships and angel investing to help those women find success.

We are so blessed.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have had in the past and that are available to me now.  I do hope I can pay it forward, and provide something as wonderful to a young girl or girls somewhere, sometime.