He’s no Prince Charming …

This guy is no Disney prince, that's for sure.

This guy is no Disney prince, that’s for sure.

It’s amazing what you can learn listening to other people’s conversations.

I don’t mean eavesdropping – that would be rude. But if you’re in a place like, say, a bus, and people around you want to talk loudly about things that may or may not be personal, it’s really kinda hard to tune them out. I know because I do ride a bus and I really have – honestly! – tried to tune out conversations, often to no avail.

I’ve learned about women cheating on their husbands, nurses despising their bosses, which med school courses and professors are easier than others, who has the better burgers. People talk about their babysitters, their children, their spouses, their finances, their vacations – everything is open on the bus.

Today, though, I learned something new. Today I actually stopped trying to tune out the conversation I thought I was hearing to actually listen in, just to see if what I was hearing was really happening.

Two guys, in their early to mid-20s, were talking about the best time of year to get married.

Before you get carried away, or decide you’re not really all that surprised (“Oh, sure, they’re trying to find the ideal time in between the seasons – basketball, baseball and football!”), let me explain. They weren’t talking sports, or weather, or even holidays.

They were looking at the things going on in their lives and trying to decide around that.

The funny part of the conversation was that neither of the guys was even engaged – and that became really the point of their conversation. If they could determine what would be the best time to get married, then they’d have a better idea of when they should get engaged.

The one guy seemed to have it all figured out. He had this set of classes coming up this semester, then another set, then residency – and he wanted to have a ring on her finger before he started residency.

The second guy made me laugh – out loud, so I had to look at my phone and pretend I was seeing something funny. As he was contemplating the best time of year to get married, and thus engaged, he decided that “if we’re still together this time next year, I’ll buy her a ring.”

Ummm … what? If you’re still together, you’ll buy her a ring? Because what, there’s nothing better to do? If you’re that unsure about your relationship lasting another year, why in the world are you thinking you’ll buy a ring with the hope that it lasts forever?

I don’t mean to stereotype, I really don’t – I think it’s wonderful that Guy No. 1 has it all set up and knows how to make the most of his time and enjoy his engagement and wedding. But Guy No. 2 … well, he’s kind of the reason wedding planning magazines are targeted to the brides.

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Superman’s got nothing on ‘my girls’

Superman may be the Man of Steel, able to leap tall buildings, blah blah blah … But when it comes to spreading strength and giving power, nothing compares to a woman and her besties.

I’m always amazed at how strong I feel when I’ve spent some time with any of my best friends. I don’t consider myself a “weak” person overall, but like anyone else I have my weak moments – those time when I doubt myself, don’t think I’m good enough for this or that or generally just feel insecure. Whether we admit it or not, we all have those moments.

(Don't judge me - I'm a writer, not an artist.)

(Don’t judge me – I’m a writer, not an artist.)

And sometimes we get caught up in those moments. Sometimes it seems there are more of those moments than any other kind of moments. No matter how much we know we have it good – I’ve got amazing kids, a wonderful extended family, am seeing a great man, have a great job and am, for the most part, really, really happy – those moments can take over and make us feel weak and insignificant.

But just like our body reacts when we’re thirsty or hungry by going after food and drink, my “being” tends to reach out to those I know can fill me with strength, just by being by my side.

This winter gave me a lot of those “weak” moments. I started physical therapy last fall for IT Band Syndrome in my right leg, followed that up with wearing a brace on my right knee because ITBS had pulled my kneecap off-center, then had my right foot in a boot. Christmas just didn’t feel “Christmas-y” enough, and then the snow just kept coming and coming and coming … it seemed winter would never end.

Then about three weeks ago I reached out to one of my girls. A week later, I had dinner with another one on a Friday and went and spent time with yet another that Sunday. The following weekend I met another one at her daughter’s softball tournament, and  later that week I had dinner with yet another one. Three weeks, five of my besties.

There was some chatter about things that might be going wrong in different parts of our lives, but really about 95 percent of the conversation – if not more – was just about life. Kids, work, catching up, laughing (lots and lots of laughing) and promises to do this more often.

And then something happened. Those “moments” began to disappear. The self-doubt went away, and took a heaping handful of insecurity with it. I felt stronger. More confident. Ready to take on the world.

(OK, I meant that kind of not-so-literally, so my health scare and my daughter’s pneumonia almost knocked me off my foundation, but I recovered quickly!)

The point is, my girls make me stronger. Not by saying or doing anything special – just by being “my girls.” Knowing I have that base – and I’m assuming each of them has their own base, as well – and reconnecting to that base does more for me than any energy drink or hour at the gym ever could.

 

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I saw it on Facebook …

Anyone who knows me at all knows my life is pretty much an open book. Ask me a question and chances are pretty good I’ll answer it, no matter how personal or private the subject. (Note I said, “… chances are pretty good.” There are some things I still hold sacred.)

Social media has made it even easier to share things – or harder to keep things to myself, however you want to look at it. Follow me on Facebook for just a few days and you’re going to know more about me than you may have ever wanted to know. I went to a cousin’s birthday party a few years ago and, at separate times, her mother, brother and father all commented about how all of Facebook would know what was happening at the party because I was there.

This was my view for the nearly seven hours I was hooked up to a heart monitor and on oxygen at UI Hospitals and Clinics earlier this week.

This was my view for the nearly seven hours I was hooked up to a heart monitor and on oxygen at UI Hospitals and Clinics earlier this week.

Facebook has made it easier to share.

For all it’s benefits, though, there are some downsides to social media, too. While I personally think it’s great to share some things – including an endless supply of snark and sarcasm – with my friends and family, there are some things that have always been private, and always will be. If I have a personal disagreement with someone I care about, you won’t know about it by reading my Facebook timeline. I won’t make vague posts about my unhappiness with someone close to me, or use Facebook as my personal aresenal to call names to or belittle any of my friends.

There are some things, however, where the line is kind of blurred – more specifically, health issues. Don’t get me wrong, I have no trouble posting when I do something stupid that results in a doctor’s appointment or a splint or a rehab boot – like breaking my pinky toe while putting on my pajamas, or hurting my knee when Mia the Newfoundland head-butted me to sway me in her direction. I post about my migraines, the flu, stupid head colds and achy bones.

But the big stuff? How do you handle that? The kind of stuff where you know it’s serious, you know there are people who should know what’s going on, but you don’t want to post it on Facebook and look like you’re trying to get attention. The I-went-to-the-hospital kind of stuff? It’s not that I wouldn’t post it – God knows I would – but when do you put it up for public consumption?

I faced this very issue earlier this week when I went to the emergency room following a “minor cardiac event.” We’re still not sure what it ended up being, but emergency room doctors told me I had all the indications of a minor attack, but a CT scan of my heart showed no damage and no clogged arteries.

The “event” happened while I was at work – and luck would have it that I work in the best hospital in the area. I was sitting at my desk working – nothing stressful, just writing, because that’s what I do, I write. Suddenly I had this searing pain under my left breast, kind of like that side ache we used to get as kids when we’d run too much or too fast or for too long – kind of like that, but worse, and higher. It lasted for a good 8-10 minutes before it even started to subside. I tried doubling over, bending to the side, even standing up to make the pain go away and nothing worked. Once it finally did stop I was left with a pain in the back of my neck and in my left jaw.

The jaw pain was what stopped the 24-hour nurse from asking questions. Once I got to that, she told me to head to the ER immediately. So I did. When you go to the ER with complaints of chest pain, you get to go to the front of the line. No waiting in the waiting room, you get an EKG and then sent to a room. Not long into my stay they told me I’d be staying overnight for observation (that changed with the clean CT scan, but not until right at the last minute).

My first thoughts were to wait and see how everything came out before I told anyone, but I was already texting Mark about regular “stuff” when I got sent to a room, so I shot him an, “Oh, by the way, I’m in the ER getting my heart checked out” text. Classy, I know.

The more I chatted with Mark, the more I knew there were some people who had to know where I was. My kids. My parents. My list grew, but then the doubt started setting in: Do I tell others now, while I’m still here, or wait until I go home? Or at least until I get out of the ER and up to the room I thought I was going to be in? Do I post it on Facebook? No, I know I’d catch holy hell from quite a few people if that’s where they first heard about it. If I tell people now, will it seem odd, like I’m an attention-seeker, or do I tell them now because they’ll want to know? Who do I tell immediately, and who finds out on social media?

I don’t know that I know the right answer even now. There were a handful of people who knew I was in the hospital on Monday, but most everyone found out later. Today, in fact, in an email I sent to some letting them know what happened so they’d hear it from me before reading about it in this blog or on Facebook.

So if you’re offended because you’re just hearing about this now, and this way, I’m sorry. I guess I’m still learning.

(The heart issue came out OK, no overnight stay – just orders to follow up and reduce stress. Ha! Yeah, right …)

 

 

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I think you’ve got the wrong number …

When your cell phone number spells out something profane, chances are pretty good you’re going to get a few prank calls.

Trust me on this – I speak from experience.

I was selling real estate 10-11 years ago, with a business partner/boyfriend, when we both switched cell phone carriers and received new numbers. Neither of us thought anything of our numbers until we saw other Realtors who had personalized their phone numbers: 319-SELL-IOWA or 319-SHE-SELLS. Something like that.

BoyWrongNumber001We quick pulled out our phones and looked at the number pad to see what our own numbers spelled out. Mark #1 (or more commonly, “Bad Mark,” because my new boyfriend is also a Mark) shook his head, his numbers spelled out gibberish. I looked at my own numbers a bit, then raised my head, grinned a little, and said, “Ah, shit.”

He thought I meant my numbers spelled gibberish, too.

Actually, they spell out, “AH_-SHIT.”

Not exactly the kind of thing you want on your business card. It didn’t work so well when I stopped selling real estate and became the faith and values reporter at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. You don’t really want to hand a card to a minister with a shortcut like that.

It wasn’t long after I got the new number that I started getting prank phone calls, usually from someone drunk, most often between 1 and 3 a.m. “Hey, do you know you’re shit?” “Awwww, shit.” “Can I have your number? I want shit.”

And so it went. I even had one co-worker ask me to let him know if I ever wanted to change my number – he wanted to take it over.

I never did get rid of the number; I guess it just got too easy to tell people if they wanted to remember my number, there was a really easy way. And somehow, the prank calls stopped. Apparently it became less funny to be drunk and look at your phone to see what kind of obscene telephone numbers were out there, and who really had them.

Now with the popularity of texting, the wrong numbers are much more humorous – and maybe a little frightening.

A few months ago I received a text from a man telling me he’d changed his mind, he was willing to give it a shot and could I meet him somewhere to deliver the package. Me being me, I texted him back that he’d gotten the wrong number but “good luck with the package.”

He then felt the need to tell me he had changed his mind on giving up women and that the package was a new sex toy designed for men who didn’t like women. But hey, “while I’ve got you, you could try to help me change my mind again.”

Um … no.

Then there was rant I received a few days ago from a guy who swore we’d been in a heated argument the night before.

“No,” I texted back, “you’ve got the wrong number.”

“No, I don’t. Quit being an ass.”

He then sent me three screen shots of the heated text argument he’d been in – complete with the other phone number, the one that was close to mine, but wasn’t mine.

I pointed that out to him.

“Oh, I have the wrong number.”

“Ya think?”

It may be time to consider a new number …

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Words to live by … seriously

I’ve missed blogging. I’ve missed the writing, the conversation, the idea-gathering, the snarkiness. I’ve missed it a lot. Yet when I sit down to write a new post, something blocks me.

I blame the “break” first on a migraine medication I started taking daily in September. It was designed to be preventive – if I took it every day the migraines would go away. Then I realized that not only was it not making the migraines stop (I had two of the worst ones I’ve ever had while actually on the medication), it put me in a perpetual state of fog. I set my body on “auto pilot” and just made the motions to get through the day, without actually doing anything to participate.

And when you don’t feel like you’re doing anything, it’s really hard to write about it.

I put some blame, too, on my new part-time job. I started working in  a shoe store in the mall right before Thanksgiving – just a few nights a week and on Sundays – and I’m downright exhausted during the week. Where I once automatically turned the laptop on and spent hours reading and researching, there are days now the home computer goes untouched.

I’m off the fog medication now (I’d rather deal with the occasional migraine than a constant state of fogginess) and am trying to get back to blogging. I’m still incredibly tired most of the time, so we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, a friend posted this on Facebook today and I just finished reading it. And I love it. I love it so much I’m making it my inaugural post-fog post.

Enjoy. Learn a few things. See how many you can do in a day.

And that one about dancing with my dad? I’m going to get that one in the very next chance I get.

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Is it safe?

Hiding from karma

I know, I know – I promised to turn over a new blogging leaf, to be out here more often, and then I disappear.

I’ve had a good reason, I promise. Oh, sure, I’ve been a little busy. I picked up a second job right before the holidays (that’s another blog post – getting a job in retail in the state’s largest mall right before Thanksgiving – uh, really?!), moved Teen Girl home from college right before Christmas, then had to actually do the holidays.

But the real reason is that I’ve been hiding. Not from any actual person, or from anything you can actually see, oh no, nothing that easy. I’ve been hiding from karma. It seems karma has taken quite a liking to me lately, and, well, quite frankly I don’t need any help embarrassing myself or making myself look silly. Karma can just go find someone else to pick on.

Karma, however, doesn’t work that way. She (and, feminism aside, I’m convinced karma is a she because we all know that when it comes to being spiteful, women have that market cornered) arrives on her own time, usually unannounced and uninvited, and leaves whenever she decides it’s time. There’s nothing you can do to speed the process.

Sigh.

So I went into hiding, of sorts. I tried to keep myself from making the snarky comments, thinking the snide thoughts or saying the smart-ass things that instantly came to mind. That’s where karma gets me most – when I’m at my snarkiest. Let’s not forget she waited years, YEARS, before striking at me for that one time I stopped dating a guy for saying he was an aff-eh-KON-dee-oh of weapons, not because of his love of guns but because of what I mistakenly thought was a deliberate mispronouncing “aficionado” and how appalled I was to discover that no, that’s how he really pronounced it.

Then there was the time I waited for a half-hour for a reporter to take him to interview a patient, only to find out the patient had been discharged and the two had arranged privately to meet outside the hospital – and neither thought to tell me.

More recently, at my retail job, karma took another swing. I am one of two non-college students in our particular store, and the other is the store manager. I don’t mind being “the rookie,” and sometimes get a kick out of being the low person on the totem pole. It’s not my first job at retail, however, and I’ve worked with the public in some form or another since I was 13, so I’m more than comfortable talking to people and working the register.

One night I was asked to close by myself – the first time – and one of the college girls asked if I felt comfortable counting down the drawer. Uh, yeah. I think I can handle that.

I should have heard her coming. Thinking back now, I think she was even wearing loud, clacking high heels. That wench, karma.

For the rest of the night I was a bit insulted. “Do I feel comfortable counting down the drawer? Seriously? SERIOUSLY.” Or one of my favorites of the night, “Hmph.”

Then it came down to count down the drawer. I opened the computer program and I counted down the drawer. Then I clicked next and I did it again and hit balance. It didn’t balance. I tried it again – it didn’t balance. This program gives you only three tries, so I panicked. Then I tried again. Nope.

Then I remembered. I was still figuring up the “base fund” when I should have moved on to the deposit. I was using the right numbers on the wrong computer page. I had just completely messed up that night’s deposit.

So, “Do you feel comfortable counting down the drawer?” actually should have finished with, ” … with this software?”

Sooo … yeah. I’ve been in hiding. But as with a bear in hibernation, I can only silence the snark for so long. It’s getting restless and so am I. So I’m back. Karma be damned.

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Love lasts forever: Journal offers grieving parents an outlet for memories, thoughts, expressions

ArtNote: This story first appeared on the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page on Nov. 8, 2013, and then on the UI’s IowaNow homepage on Jan.14, 2014.

 

Love Lasts Forever: A Journal of Memories isn’t like other baby books or children’s memory journals. It’s not for parents to fill out as their children grow and mature, with hopes of passing it on as that child has children of his or her own.

This journal is different.

Love Lasts Forever is for a group no parent ever wants to be part of—those parents who have lost a child.

•••••

“If she hadn’t been such a beacon of light, life, love, and hope, perhaps I wouldn’t be so aware of the darkness.”
—Mindy Kankel, mother of Mari

Mari Kankel was just six weeks old when doctors at UI Children’s Hospital discovered three major abnormalities in the little girl’s heart. The prognosis wasn’t good—though they weren’t sure how long, doctors knew Mari’s life would not be a long one. They prepared her parents for the worst.

“When we finally knew the depth and degree of Mari’s medical issues, we were very conscious all that time of bringing up our other kids in an atmosphere of being able to love her and to accept her,” says Mari’s mom, Mindy. “I wanted them to understand how serious the situation was, what a fine line their sister walked, and that we would navigate it as a family.”

Mari Kankel
(Mari Kankel was just six weeks old when her parents learned she had several heart deformities and would not live to adulthood. Kankel exceeded doctors’ expectations and lived to be almost 16 years old. Her mother, Mindy, is among the parents whose thoughts are expressed in the book. Photo courtesy of the Kankel family.)

She said she realized that the chronic nature of Mari’s medical conditions and needs would be difficult for her siblings, as well, and worried that they might get angry, scared, or resentful at the extra attention Mari required, and also with the stress of frequent hospitalizations and the uncertain outcomes. She and her husband let them know it was OK to have those feelings and to express them. She hoped that the family unit would remain strong if everyone clearly understood what was at stake. Mari’s fight became the family’s fight. Even more, though, it became Mindy’s fight.

“As I look at the final part of Mari’s journey, what was interesting was that the rest of my family seemed to be more prepared and more in tune to the idea that this was probably the end of Mari’s life, more than I was, and I was her primary caretaker,” Mindy recalls. “I had become so close to it, I really felt that my sense of purpose was tied to hers. As long as she continued to give me the sign, as long as she continued to let me know that she wanted to keep on fighting, then I would do what I could to let that happen.”

Mari had seven open-heart surgeries before her second birthday, followed by numerous surgeries and procedures over the next several years. With every open-heart surgery, doctors told her parents she had a 50 percent chance of surviving. She went into cardiac arrest at least twice. Many doctors didn’t think Mari would live past her seventh birthday.

Mari died on Nov. 11, 2010, two months shy of her 16th birthday.

•••••

“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But … there is no word for a parent who loses a child; that’s how awful the loss is.” —Neugeboren, 1976

Love Lasts Forever: A Journal of Memories was written by two members of the pediatric palliative care team at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, Sheila Frascht and Noelle K. Andrew. Frascht, a former pediatric intensive care nurse, is developer and coordinator of the Grief Services Program and a certified hospice and palliative pediatric nurse. Andrew, a former church pastor, has served as the UI Children’s Hospital pediatric chaplain for more than four years.

The two women have spent countless hours with families as they’ve grieved, as they’ve prepared to say goodbye to a child, and as they’ve struggled to find the words of comfort and support for each other and for themselves. Frascht was one of the first nurses to care for Mari in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. She and Andrew have helped find resources for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents to help them move forward.

It was in that search for resources that the women found a hole, a necessary resource that couldn’t be found.

“There were all these books that addressed all these different issues, but we couldn’t find a journal that allowed families to really celebrate their child’s life as well as reflect on their child’s death,” Frascht says. “You have a baby book for when your child lives, but what about the memories you want to hold onto when your child doesn’t live?”

“I remember saying at one point, ‘If we can’t find it, why don’t we just make it?’” she recalls.

And so they did.

Love Lasts Forever: A Journal of Memories is a book the two women collaborated on as a journal for families who have lost children. For Frascht and Andrew, creating the book meant completing that comfort package—that group of materials to turn to for information—for a grieving family, providing that last outlet for them to record those special moments with or about their child.

“I’m always just in awe of how a stranger invites us into their world,” Andrew says. “They invite us into a part of the world they don’t want to be a part of.”

“We both have cried with families, we have been disappointed and sad and angry,” she says. “We’re trying to be a lifeline for them in a time of uncertainty.”

“This journal gives them a framework to place their thoughts, their memories, to write things they’re going to want to remember,” says Andrew. “It creates a legacy for their child.”

The book offers journal entry pages for such things as “A Beautiful Hello,” and “How You Embraced Life,” but also for things parents may wonder in later years, such as “Questions I Want to Ask You” and “Special Days We Remember You.” There is an entry page for the day parents and child had to say goodbye.

Many of the pages have quotes from families whose children were patients at UI Children’s Hospital before they passed away.

It offers an outlet for parents and grandparents to say what they need to say, to write what they don’t think anyone else will understand. To record the memories they don’t want to forget.

“I think it has the potential to engage those very broken hearts that never have any closure,” Andrew says.

•••••

“I am forever blessed and made better by my beautiful granddaughter who did not do a deed. She just ‘was’ in all of her divine love, innocence, and beauty. Knowing her changed me forever.” —Kim Felhafer, grandmother of Cecelia

Felhafer awaited with nervous anticipation the birth of her first grandchild. Her daughter, Anna Barnts, had had a fairly normal pregnancy throughout her first 30 weeks.

“The only abnormality that we saw was that Anna was really big, we thought this baby was going to be a really big baby,” Felhafer recalls.

A few weeks later, however, Felhafer’s dreams were shattered.

Barnts was “somewhere between 32 and 36 weeks into her pregnancy” when she went in for an ultrasound. Her obstetrician was concerned, and called her back a few weeks later for a second screening. After the second ultrasound, Barnts was referred to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She and the baby’s father, Mark McKinley, asked Felhafer to come along.

“I was very unprepared for what happened that day, and so, I think, were they,” Felhafer remembers. “We began to have some very serious concern at this point.”

When the doctor came into the room, she explained to Barnts that her baby’s long bones were too short, and weren’t going to grow. Among the long bones are the ribs, meaning the infant’s lungs would not be able to expand. The condition would not allow the baby to live long, they were told.

“We had just had a baby shower the week before, and I wanted to let people know that there had been some concerns arise,” Felhafer said. “Those are some hard conversations to have with multiple people, but my only instincts were to protect Anna, and to protect the baby, Cecelia. I wanted to let as many people know as possible, so Anna wouldn’t have to have those conversations.”

She turned to Frascht often for help and guidance while awaiting Cecelia’s arrival, and Frascht helped her to anticipate Cecelia’s life and embrace it for however long it would be.

“It wouldn’t mean that it wouldn’t have meaning and it wouldn’t have love and it wouldn’t have memories,” Felhafer says. “You don’t get to choose what the outcome is, but you can decide how the journey will go. We decided to make plans for Cecelia’s baptism and who would be there. We were going to enjoy her life.”

Cecelia was born on July 20, 2009. She died one week later, July 27, 2009. Felhafer and her daughter celebrate Cecelia’s birthday every year.

•••••

Love Lasts Forever was published in August 2013, and both Kankel and Felhafer said they were honored to be asked for comments to be used in the book. Though it wasn’t available for them at the times of their loss, they say having the opportunity to share stories of the children they lost is a rare and welcome blessing.

“Part of the reason I get excited to share our journey is that you’re given a window of opportunity to grieve, and then truly the rest of the world doesn’t want to hear about your baby who passed,” Felhafer says. “It’s uncomfortable for them. They don’t mean harm, but they don’t know that it’s still fun for me to hear her name, that I still enjoy telling her story. They don’t understand that the fear is that that child will be forgotten.”

Kankel says keeping a journal is a “safe” place to store memories and thoughts, and emotions.

“Sometimes the most helpful things are those writings that are the most raw, when there’s no one looking over your shoulder, no one reading them or judging them,” she says. “You have this complete freedom to express thoughts and feelings that might be too difficult to talk about and you can choose to share them or keep them close. I think that’s absolutely necessary for parents to find any peace or for any kind of healing process to begin. To help you make sense of not only your child’s life but also of their death.”

•••••

“Your child’s life mattered. Whether that life lasted for moments, days, months, or years, it was lived with meaning and with purpose. This journal gives you the space to chronicle the story of your child…precious memories you never want to forget. The pages take you through the beautiful moment when you said hello, the heartbreaking moment you had to say goodbye and the grief that follows. You will feel understanding and support in the words of other parents and grandparents who find themselves on a similar journey through life. Your child changed the world simply by existing; we invite you to remember here.”
—Love Lasts Forever: A Journal of Memories
"Love Lasts Forever" journal cover

Love Lasts Forever is included in a package of informational materials given to every family who experiences the loss of a child at UI Children’s Hospital. It is also available at www.amazon.com, and proceeds from the sale of the book will be directed to the pediatric palliative care program at UI Children’s Hospital.

 

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