No pessimist, 2016

Hello friends, I miss you, and I miss my time here. I hope your week has been better than mine. Even though I tried to prepare myself for this grief for nearly four years, it’s the sort of thing for which one cannot prepare. Matt and I are both in the midst of a difficult phase; the adrenaline is gone, and the reality of daily life without Jeff is cold and hard to bear. Somehow I didn’t realize it would get worse before it gets better. But I’m determined to cheer myself up (and hopefully some of you, as well) so I’m re-blogging one of my favorite photos ever, of a view that holds a very special place in my heart. That sight never failed to inspire me with hope and joy.

If you are feeling discouraged, or lonely, or sad for any reason, perhaps Keller’s words and the courage of her life will lift your spirits. I’m praying we all have a wonderful weekend– or at least a quiet, comforting one. Thanks for being here, and for helping me to keep looking up. I hope you all realize what a blessing you are to me.

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, 2003

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” — Helen Keller

Few sights are more breathtaking to me than the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding lands and sea.  Such a vivid reminder of the creativity of people, and especially of the God in whose image they are made, never failed to lift my spirits no matter how many times I stood on the shore and looked out on this scene.  I am deeply grateful for the daring, hard work and optimism that made such wonders a reality for us to enjoy.  What wonders, large or small, are you thankful for today?


  1. Grief is such a personal thing and so unpredictable. Feelings do change eventually, but you feel what you feel at a particular time and the change can’t be forced. Words are inadequate… I wish that I could do something concrete… telling you I’m thinking of you and sending love just doesn’t seem enough… x

    • J, you are doing something concrete, just by being here. 🙂 I always enjoy hearing from you, and it is more than enough. Thank you so much for caring!

  2. Julia,
    Nothing can ever prepare us for the grief that follows losing our dear ones. May our good Lord who gave you courage through the years that Jeff underwent the various surgeries and the painful treatments, give you peace and comfort. May His mighty hand be beneath you and may He continue to use you to inspire and comfort many.
    with prayers,

    • Thank you K. E. Those prayers are helping me to survive. I really believe that. I am deeply grateful for the kindness and concern of so many people whom I have never met, yet whose presence has sustained me for quite some time now. I do believe your prayers are being answered, although there are some days when I feel those answers more surely than on other days. On the really bad days, I at least have the knowledge that “this too shall pass” and that God’s presence is steadfast.

  3. Jim Beavers

    Julia, even though I don’t comment often, please know that I pray for you daily.

    • Thank you Jim. You have been with us here for a long time now and I do take comfort in your prayers, and deeply appreciate your presence here.

  4. Harbin77

    Good morning Julia. I am sorry you are going through a sad and rough time right now. I will keep you in my prayers that every thing will get better for you. Your friend. Jim

    • Thank you, Jim. You started blogging around the same time I did, I think, and your blog was one of the first ones I read. I enjoyed your reflections on faith, family and your military service. I am so happy you are part of this online community! I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.

      • Harbin77

        We are so far, God has truly blessed us. We’re very cold today in fact the low tonight is to be around 11 degrees. I guess Winter is finely setting in. Have a blessed day. 🙂 Jim

        • Yes, it’s chilly here too. I keep reminding myself it’s normal to be this cold in December!

  5. Cherie

    Lovely, Julia, I hold you in my heart and prayers! Praying for you and Matt! Love and Light. Cherie

    • Thank you, Cherie. You are in my heart and prayers as well. I hope you and Ron have a wonderful holiday season. I’m so glad you are here!

  6. Carolyn

    You and Matt are in my thoughts and prayers daily. This is a very hard time right now, but like you said it will get better. The 18 th will be our five years without Terry’s brother, he died from brain cancer. Just a sad time. I am sending you love and hugs. May God give you the comfort you need. Love you all.

    • Thank you Carolyn. I am holding onto the hope that eventually it will all get easier. 18 years is a long time to be without someone we love. When it is linked in our memory to the holidays, it changes things a bit. Ever since the Christmas Eve (in 2010) when we learned of our friend’s brain tumor, not a single Christmas passed when I did not remember that phone call and the sorrow it brought us. What a blessing that we don’t know what lies ahead on this rocky journey, except to share a faith that the destination will help us make sense of it all. Love to you and Terry – hope you and all your family have a wonderful holiday. I am going to try to get some cards done this year, but don’t hold your breath… 🙂

  7. Janet Sawyer

    Ah, Julia, sending you hugs and prayers for strength.

    • Thank you Janet. The memory of five magical Christmas Eve times our family shared at your home continues to bless me, and always will.

  8. Megan

    This is kind of a silly thing, but today I’m grateful for Christmas stamps. I picked up a book today on my way to work to mail some much-delayed thank you cards to our friends who donated to Healing Hands in honor of Jeff. I was surprised at how much joy I took from picking which Christmas stamps to purchase, and delighting in my ultimate decision. A small wonder, this art in a square inch, but a lovely one today.

    • Megan, Boomdee and Pauline can tell you of my love for postage stamps. It’s not a small thing to me. My Granny Hedden first taught me to appreciate them, and I have never stopped enjoying them. I love to write letters and cards, and it’s so fun to decorate them with stamps. I remember that first Thanksgiving you ever spent with our family (2008 it was, I think) when you and I sat by our fire, and you wrote cards while I wrapped 12 Days of Christmas presents– I think that was the year I did it for 12 different people, so I had 144 of them to wrap! Yes, the square inch of art in each stamp is a small wonder, and one that should be more appreciated. Many nations have this beautiful, practical art form and the collecting of these treasures makes a fine hobby. If Grady or Owen ever decides to pursue it, I have many archives… 😀

  9. Amy

    I am grateful for the power of flight. It took me to see my momma and brought me safe home again. I have flown many places and though I hate the crowds I am always impressed at the idea that it can even be done. Love you.

    • Amy, I too am grateful for flight, and believe that far too many people don’t appreciate it enough. I think of the pioneers who made our air travel possible — from Lindbergh to Rickenbacker to St. Exupery to my own Daddy and his fellow pilots — and feel that we have inherited a legacy worth more than any financial wealth.

  10. I marvel this Advent that the creator of the entire universe would choose to enter His creation in the humblest way. By way of a cave beneath the earth and in the weakest form of a new born infant.
    Hold firm to God’s love and that of Matt and Jeff. That is the one thing that life can give and death cannot take away. God’s mercy allows it.

    • Alan, so true. Thanks for this reminder. God’s power was and is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) — what a reassuring miracle that is! Christmas blessings to you!

  11. Mary Elizabeth Tait

    I am so sorry that you are in the hard slog of grief. As the holidays come and go, I am praying that you will find moments of peace, maybe a new way to observe the big days….it is NOT easy and you are brave.

    I have a close friend who found herself suffering terrible grief over Thanksgiving each year……one year, she left the turkey in the fridge, made sandwiches and took the family to the beach. It was cold and windy and empty and they had a wonderful time. They go each year and the kids count this as one of their favorite traditions.

    You will find your way. May God bless you and keep you.

    Mary Elizabeth Tait

    • Mary Elizabeth, I loved reading about your friend’s original approach to Thanksgiving. I have always loved the beach in winter, even more so than in the summer, which says a lot. Thank you so much for your encouragement, and for your presence here. I hope your holidays are bright with blessings!

  12. Beth

    Julia, One of my favorite books, Tom’s Midnight Garden, has a different meaning for me as an adult. What if we could go back in time and collect all the wasted time spent and deposit In a time bank and donate to loved ones that leave us too soon? I’d gladly do so! I suppose that’s what memories really are.

    You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.


    • Beth, I must look that book up! Here we are, all these years later, and you are still finding wonderful books for me to read. Do you suppose we could talk Joyce into coming to Atlanta sometime for an old time book-talk session? What fond memories! And yes, you are right about them being a time-bank deposit, I think. Thanks so much for holding me close in thought and prayer — I do the same for you, my lifelong friend! Love to you and yours for a wonderful holiday!

  13. Julia, my heart aches for you. We can’t prepare. We think we can, and we desperately want to. We’re trying to guard our heart against that cold and lonely feeling that will follow. I wish I had words to comfort you. I’m so sad to know that you and Matt are struggling. The colder, shorter days as we descend into winter are surely no help. I’m holding you in my thoughts, today and always.

    As for that view, I’ve seen it myself. And with great irony, I’ve also sailed below that bridge to scatter my mother’s ashes on a cold, but clear early spring day. Arms around you.

    • Wow, Alys, what a wonderful place to scatter ashes. Perfect, I think. So while it may be a bittersweet memory for you, I hope it is also one of beauty.

      And so much happier than the associations some have of that location. I remember how shocked I was when we first walked across the bridge, loving every minute, and I kept seeing the crisis-help signs, and I realized for the first time that so many people choose to end their own lives there. It seemed unthinkable to me that once could stand on that bridge and not find abundant reasons all around to go on living.

      The cold, short days and dark mornings are indeed hard. I comfort myself with remembering the rhythm of the seasons, and the knowledge that the darkest day of the year will soon be here and gone, after which it will be a gradual return to the light. I feel your arms around me, and it does help!

      • Julia, it’s a sad legacy those lives lost off the edge of the bridge. They’ve made an effort to shore up the structures and I believe they patrol for that sort of thing as well.

        Here is a clip from an October article:

        “Between 2000 and 2005, bridge officers were able to stop an average of 52 people a year from jumping from the span. So far in 2016, there have been 138 successful interventions and the number is projected to exceed 200 by the end of the year.

        The increase in successful interventions is directly related to having more officers patrolling the bridge’s sidewalks, said Capt. Lisa Locati, the span’s top law enforcement official. ”

        Short days and a holiday without Jeff will be painful for you, Julia. It’s so hard to get through those “firsts” without a loved one. I hope you’ll be with your family again in Atlanta. Sending my love your way.

        • Hi Alys, thanks for telling about the interventions at the bridge. Ever since I realized that a significant number of people chose to end their lives there, that has haunted me and lent an undertone of tragedy to the beauty. How strangely appropriate for a city such as San Francisco, where there is unsurpassed beauty yet still much suffering and seemingly hopeless challenges. Once when I first started this blog, and was still looking at the statistics page from time to time, on a post in which I featured the bridge, I found that someone had been directed to my page after typing the words “Golden Gate Bridge – in despair” which immediately filled me with fear for whoever wrote that, and promptly sent me into prayer that someone, somewhere would reach that person. It also underscored my conviction to keep cynicism and cruelty and derision out of this site no matter what, and to try always to point toward hope, even when I myself couldn’t feel it in my own heart.

          Mr. Rogers once said that Gabby Hayes, for whom he worked in the very early stages of his own career, advised him to think of just one viewer and direct his work toward an individual, not a crowd. In a sense that is what I do when I write my posts; I write to myself, to the sad and lonely and despairing part of me that may be out there somewhere, in somebody else, maybe in many somebody elses, but it’s as if I’m only writing to one at a time.

          I have ditched all attempts at a “normal” Christmas this year, which I think is appropriate. But Matt and I do plan to be with Grady, Owen, Megan and Drew on Christmas morning, and not even try to pretend that things have not changed irrevocably. Still, hope is an indefatigable emotion, and rears its head where least expected. I’ve been paradoxically encouraged lately by reading Flannery O’Connor’s prose about the ultimately desolate state of humanity, because it was her deep conviction that grace can only appear when we look despair in the face, unflinchingly, and after we at last are forced to do that, hope can germinate and even bloom if we will allow it.

          I cannot say enough about how much I have appreciated, and relied upon, your steadfast presence with me through all of this– in words, in thoughts, in unexpected gifts, tangible and intangible, and the absolute certainty which all these things have conveyed to me, that I am never alone. Love and deep gratitude to you!

  14. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. ☕️ I know in my heart that Jeff pushed so hard to be here “one more day” for you and for his family. He did that for a very long time! You must be going through the hardest days of your life and you’ve surely had so many. Grief has many layers and heals much like a wound. I suppose it is a wound, the worst kind! It has to heal from the inside out, and maybe kind words from friends are the ointment that helps. I hope there is comfort in the days ahead! With much love, Sheila

    • Yes, Sheila, I have thought long and hard about how difficult it must have been for him to keep on keeping on, living an amazingly normal life as his body was ravaged by such a malicious illness and treatment that was almost equally brutal. He gave us so much by being who he was, steadfast and strong. These are unquestionably the hardest days of my life, and that’s going some, but the kind words and thoughts and prayers and love are indeed the ointment that soothes the pain. Thanks for being here. Our Verandah this month is beautiful, full of light and promise. And as has happened so often, the quote is amazingly apt. For the second time, I had to turn the page — something Jeff had always done — but the view from December was beautiful. Sending you gratitude and love!

  15. That Helen Keller was one heck of a woman. With so much going against her, she taught the world such wonderful lessons. Needed that today. Thank you. Keeping it simple is the best way to get going again. Wondered how school was going?

    • Amen to that. And Annie Sullivan was equally fabulous, wasn’t she? School is going OK. I think I managed to finish out the semester, something I could not have done if friends had not talked me out of quitting mid-stream by reminding me how much work I had already put in. We shall see how next semester goes; I’m cutting back to part time in hopes I will be able to manage it. Meanwhile, if you care to read about the Spiral of Silence or the Social Construction of Reality or the early days of television as seen through the lens of a comparative cluster criticism from two perspectives, I can send you some very amateur manuscripts to wade through. JUST KIDDING – I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!!!

      • Glad you still have your sense of humor. 😉 I hate to say it but the spiral of silence and the social construction of reality kid of sound interesting. Not much interested in the early days of television. Hang in there. Hugs.

        • Marlene, they are interesting if one can keep focus on them, so very abstract. I hate television so it was ironic that I ended up writing about it. It seemed to be what the professor wanted; my preference was to analyze the early print advertising in magazines. While I was doing my television paper, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would, I was comforted by Mr. Rogers’ now-famous words: “I got into television because I didn’t like it.” 😀 Giant commercial-free hugs!

  16. Time Zones!
    Strange, but true ….
    All my life, my mother complained that I was born on her birthday (coincidentally, December 1st, the day that you posted this blog) and ruined what could have been a lovely birthday dinner date with my dad. (As you’re aware, all one gets for dinner are ice chips, when one is in labor).
    This year I discovered an amazing thing: Mom was born a few minutes after midnight, in the Eastern time, and I was born a few minutes before midnight, in the Central time zone.
    This means that we never really have the same birthday, if we’re together in the same time zone! You see, I was born on December 2nd, Eastern time, and she was born on November 30th, Central time.
    Love to you, Julia!

    • How totally cool! Time fascinates me, especially as regards the theory of relativity, of which I have only an incomplete understanding, but enough to whet my appetite for more. I did not realize (or maybe had just forgotten) that our birthdays are so close together. We must plan some sort of celebration around that sometime. Hope you are enjoying the holidays with much festive cheer!! ❤

  17. Ann

    Dear Julia, wish I could be there and give you a hug and Matt, too. You are not alone. You have helped and inspired so many over the years. Reread your old posts and comments, perhaps they will bring you some solace.

    • Thank you Ann, that is a great suggestion. I think I will try to do that over the school break, and also I hope to re-visit some of my favorite blogs from others, which I miss so much. You are sending me virtual hugs, and that’s almost as good as real ones! I so appreciate your encouragement and kindness.

  18. MaryAnn Clontz

    I am, as always, thankful for the beautiful friendship you & I share! I love you dearly, pray for you daily, knowing you are hurting but you are trusting our Heavenly Father “nonetheless”. There have been many sermons on “Nonetheless”. They inspire us to see how we are doing what God prescribed.
    The photo of your gorgeous, happy grandsons on your birthday spread such joy!
    Please know you can call me ANYTIME, depend on me.
    The Marin Headlands are a favorite of mine, also. A few years ago, some of the family & I walked across the bridge & back. It was marvelous!
    I am wrapping you in a huge hug!

    • Thank you Mary Ann. I do hope very much to come see you sometime in person, and maybe we can stroll through Marin Headlands (or just the downtown Vacaville creek walk) and soak up the blessings. “Nonetheless” is such a great word and concept. I love you!

  19. Many say life is a journey. If this is so, it is the destination that keeps me motivated. In a similar way, the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge has never particularly inspired me. Instead, I see it as the path leading from San Francisco to that magic, little spot called Muir Woods. And though I have enjoyed more carefree strolls along its peaceful lanes, one special respite a dear sister and I shared stands out in my mind. I will always be inspired by that mystical paradise.

  20. Dorothy Walker

    Dear Julia, it’s now 10 months since Neil died and as you say even though you think you’re prepared because you know the inevitable from diagnosis, it surprises you when the grief takes over. At present I’m recovering from open heart surgery and miss Neil more than ever. Someone asked me if it was getting easier, but I think it does in some ways, but you still miss them every day in so many little ways. A 90 year old friend of mine says she still misses her husband after 30 years! However, we do move on and have the joy and love of family and friends. Blessings and love,

    • Wow Dorothy, your friend was the same age I am when she lost her husband. I don’t doubt that I will still miss Jeff in 30 years, in the unlikely event I live that long. I did not realize (or maybe forgot) that you had had open heart surgery. I hope you are recuperating well, and with minimal pain and difficulty. I can imagine that one would miss a husband tremendously at such times. Even in the “little” disappointments and frustrations of life, I miss Jeff so much. I send you blessing and love in return, and hopes that your holiday (which will be your first without Neil) will be bearable, with moments of joy to offset the pain. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing your life and ours with us.

  21. Mike

    That is a beautiful quote and I am preaching this weekend on Isaiah (35) so I will use your quote above.
    Henri Nouwen says,” the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy.” It is the same cup and our joys are hidden in sorrow.
    Can this possibly be a truism? If you think of joy and sorrow as two ends of a specturm line and bend the line then the ends become close.

    • Whoa, preaching! Wish I could be there to hear it. I love Henri Nouwen and I’m toying with doing my dissertation — assuming I get that far, which is a big assumption — on him, Jean Vanier, and the L’Arche communities. By a really lucky stroke (long story) I am actually in touch with Mr. Vanier, with whom I have corresponded directly. Long story. He read my novel and was so kind in his response to it. He was light years ahead of his time in the founding of L’Arche, a truly exemplary organization.

      Yes, the spectrum of joy and sorrow does indeed become a circle, or at least, might become one. Not too different from Flannery O’Connor’s assertion that grace can only be truly found amid evil and despair. Challenging, and maybe not 100% true, but there is enough there to chew on.

  22. Mike

    St. Exupery was an aviation pioneer? Tell me more. I can learn a lot on this blog. Thanks.

  23. Dear Julia,
    Yes, it becomes worse before it gets better. I can imagine growing pain you are experiencing at the moment. Even though memories and grief won’t fade away it will definitely get better, gradually. With prayers…

    • Thank you, Bindu. We really need and appreciate the prayers. Hope you and your loved ones are doing well.

  24. Mike

    I heard a talk about – the prophet Ezekiel whose message was that, during the exile, things are going to get better,but first worse- a little or a lot.
    Nouwens book-” Can you drink this cup” speaks a bunch about his experience at “La Arche” with his friend Bill who sometimes travelled with him. Certainly you are now drinking from the great cup of grief.
    Wow Jean Vanier. He has some insights also in that little book about the ministry of the so called developmentally delayed, which he would often challenge them to claim.

    • Mike, I’m clinging to the notion of things getting worse before they get better. I just keep wondering when the slow reversal will start, as sometimes it feels as if I (formerly we) have been waiting for it for many years.

      Thanks for the reference to that Nouwen title; it’s one I had not heard about, but I plan to read it, whether or not it fits into my dissertation, if I ever end up writing one. Believe it or not, Mr. Vanier actually offered (without my asking or even hinting) to write an introduction to my novel, if I ever publish it. Of course, that is a BIG, BIG “if” especially for a book that was written in 2005. But he did refer me to a publisher here in the USA, and told me to tell them of his offer. All this happened concurrently with Jeff’s increasing challenges (beginning with the brain tumor in spring) so I have never followed up, but perhaps I need to. I pray that Mr. Vanier lives a long time. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2014 I believe) and in my opinion, he should have won. But the Templeton Prize, which he did win, is purposely adjusted to be a higher financial reward than the Nobel. An interesting story, I think.

  25. Mike

    Jean said -pg.86 to the community at La Arche-“Your joy and pain give you a mission.”
    in CAn you drink this cup?”

    • Wow, I can’t wait to read that book. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  26. Heba

    Hello Julia,

    Please accept my deepest consolations to you and your family. I’m so sorry that I’ve just seen your post. I keep the blog’s e-mails in a special folder and get back to go through them at once. It’s been somehow a stressful year for my family and we are back in Egypt now (We spent almost a year in Rochester, MN).

    May God grant you patience to overcome your loss and may you find solace in the beauty you can still feel around you, cheer in the smile of your beloved ones and peace of mind knowing that those we lose are in the hands of the most Gracious, the most Merciful.

    You’ve might came across these quotes ^_^ :
    “I have suffered great losses and have been blessed with great consolations, but whatever life may give me or take away, this is the simple wisdom that will always light my life: I have loved, passionately, fearlessly, with all my heart and all my soul, and I have been loved in return. For me, this is enough.” ― Nando Parrado, Miracle in the Andes

    “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi

    May you forever defeat despair! ❤
    Peace …

    • Thank you, Heba. It is wonderful to hear from you. I thought of you just recently and wondered how you were doing. I am participating in a research study for parents of sons or daughters with disabilities, and the scholar working with me also is named Heba, so I think of you when I talk with her. I didn’t realize (or maybe had just forgotten) that you had been living in Minnesota. Are you happy to be back home? I think I would be. I’m sorry it has been a stressful year, but I hope that the time ahead will be full of calm and many blessings.

      I find comfort in your lovely words, and also in the quotes you sent. I don’t remember ever reading either of them, though I have read many of Rumi’s thoughts, some of which I have posted here. They both are beautiful quotes for me to keep in mind right now. Thanks so much for being here with us!

  27. Heba

    Not at all! It’s my pleasure being here ^_^. Actually I’m so happy that you remember me! Thank you for your kind wishes. ❤

    Is the scholar working with you Egyptian? 🙂 My niece, Dina has CP (cerebral palsy). My sister had difficulty giving birth to her and the doctor hadn't dealt with the baby then as quickly as possible. She's 15 years old now and she's just adorable.

    My husband, Ahmed was a visiting scientist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. Things didn't go quite well at the lab for him. We never know what's best for us nor the wisdom of what we go through, but I'm certain that it's the path chosen for us to experience and endure.

    I'm not sure you've heard about calamities in the Middle East, but Egypt is going through some rough times now. It's been going on for 3 years or more and it's much more harder for some than others. Thanks God, family and friends make it easier to handle. Bless them all.

    Keep spreading hope and peace Julia, we need more people like you!

    • Heba, I am not sure whether she is Egyptian; her last name is Abou Moha which might tell you more than it does me. Next time I talk with her, I’ll ask. 😀

      I am shamefully out of touch with the national and world news since Jeff died, and to some extent, since he has been ill. So often the news stories are sad or depressing, and I found that I could not watch it too much due to having too many other sorrows to process. I knew there was unrest in Egypt but I had hoped it was improving now. I’m happy you have family and friends to ease the stress.

      I’m so sorry to learn your time at Mayo Clinic was not as successful as you may have hoped it would be. As you say, it’s hard to go through these changes but we can at least hope that we can learn from them going forward, with a new understanding and appreciation of things that do go right. Someone once said that as we go through life it’s like driving on a foggy night with the car headlights illuminating only a few feet in front of us. We can only see a short distance ahead, but if we continue with courage and caution, we can make an entire journey of many miles that way.

      It’s wonderful to hear that Dina is now 15 and doing well. Over the years Matt has had several friends with CP and I have been encouraged by the dedication of their parents, and the joy of life that persists despite obstacles.

      Thanks so much for being here. I truly appreciate your encouragement and support!

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