Loss Feed

Annie's Ashes--a photo essay

    Ashes, the only real Andreanna I have left; soft, grey-white, sacred. These are places where part of her lives on:

My heart and Colorado

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I wear a glass bead around my neck that holds that grey-white whisper of her soul; it is attached to one half of a heart that says: The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other. The other half lies with the majority of her ashes in the mountains of Colorado.

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My babies saying goodbye to our home in Colorado...we paid a special visit to Aspen, our favorite spot. Annie is in the orange coat; she is four years old. Twenty years later, her sisters and brothers-in-law stand on the same bridge saying another goodbye.

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This picture I had taken after my last goodbye, looks to me like an angel is above the bridge. When I first saw it, I knew that Annie was letting me know she was just fine. I once found a note she wrote that she was an angel with a broken wing; one of her favorite sayings was from the movie, Hook: "Think happy thoughts and you can fly." So she flies...

Austin, Texas

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All around Austin, tributes from so many for such a lonely girl:  a marker on Lady Bird Lake at Lou Neff Point given with love by Peter's co-workers; a sign defines a small park area dedicated by the city of Austin at the request of EmanciPet; a memorial tree purchased by the family through The Christi Center; a bench dedicated to Annie by a mentor, Lee Mannix, who tragically died two weeks after her, both of them in charge of heaven's dogs now...

At home

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 The evolving  backyard garden still grows the gifts of mourning: a lime plant from Peter's manager; an angel that colors the night in rainbow glow from my friend, Ana; a St. Francis, from Peter, to honor Annie's love of animals; a yellow rose bush from my cousins; and a pear tree given by a daughter's college roommate (my dear Monica) and her family. One day a fountain will be in the garden, from my sister-in-law...all gifts during those first blurred and blistered days of Annie's death.         

Grand Canyon and New Mexico

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One year after Annie died, Peter took some of her ashes to the Grand Canyon. Appropriately, she has a view of the ombred canyon from a tree on Horseshoe Mesa; she loved horses after falling in love with a sweet one at camp named "Little Mama." She even graces the hollyhocked entrance,
the altar, and the chapel of El Santuario de Chimayo, my own holy place.



I was blessed this summer when a friend of the family took some of Annie's ashes to Jerusalem. Beneath this tree, part of her becomes part of that holy land, and a poem for her, placed in the Wailing Wall, prays for our eternity together.

From Dust to Heaven
You've left me...
 But, I've not forgotten the feel of your skin,
or the brightness of your smile,
my starlight.
Could Mary's grief be the lighter
that her son died to save the world?
You saved no one...but me.
You were my world.
I imagine her loss is as mine...
Wait for me my Andreanna,
here where Jesus walked,
and I will dream of the joy
that Mary has found
and how I will hold you one day forever.


Annie loved Mickey and Minnie Mouse immensely. Peter and I were always sad we weren't able to ever get the girls to Disneyland. Over the past three years, I've received wonderful gifts of pictures of dragonflies (Annie had a dragonfly tattoo) or pictures of Minnie from my students. I used to wonder how she fell in love with Minnie, and then, not so long ago, I found a picture of her dressed and ready for her first day of pre-school:

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   And then, thanks to big sister, Asha, a most special place became home to part of Annie's spirit, making one of my dreams come true:

"If you can dream it, you can do it." Walt Disney                                                                      

For Annie:  MWAH!                                                                                                      












First Hug, Last Goodbye


     My mother, Preta A. Phillips, died one week ago at age 77 on September 27, 2012.  I am the oldest of her three daughters; I've not heard from my sisters in many years. They don't know that one of my daughters, their niece, died two years ago. I don't know about my niece or great niece. My father died 27 years ago. Preta reached out to me in 2008 when she had no one else.
     Bringing her to live near me was a difficult move; she'd made my life painful for so long, and I didn't want to bring that pain into my new life with my own family. When I began to have children and voiced my concern about making the mistakes she'd made, my aunts--my father's sisters--told me to just be the mother I always wanted to have.  I had freedom to be like the parents on "Leave it to Beaver" and "My Three Sons" and "The Waltons." I had permission to love my girls with all my breath and heart. I could love them as much as I wanted to. I would never tell them I didn't want their love. I am free not to feel afraid anymore.
     However, I learned to care for her with a bit of distance. Two years ago when my daughter Annie died, my oldest daughter took over taking calls from the care facility Preta lived in. She'd pass me the information when I could better "hear" it. My other three daughters took turns going with me to see her; I couldn't do it alone.  
    Recently my mother had begun receiving hospice services after returning from the hospital a couple of weeks ago. My last visits with her were probably the best we'd ever had.  I'd made a quilt for her in August for her birthday; she appeared to like it. It will be buried with her, covering her forever.


      On the last day I saw her, she was in much pain and said she was so sick. Her aides and I tried to make her comfortable; I told Preta the Hospice Austin team were starting up to care for her and that they were sending pain medicine over immediately, her new bed had already arrived.  When she'd calmed a bit, I put the TV on for her, something we used to do together--watch movies. When a facility nurse asked  Preta how she was doing, she ignored her. She looked at me then slowly raised her arms and held them out toward me, wordlessly. I bent toward her, she hugged me and gave me a kiss.  I told her I'd be back the next day. She put the sheet and blanket over her head, as if ready to sleep.  I found out later that afternoon, she refused jello and asked for a piece of cake--a rare treat on the diabetic diet she was on. She ate it just fine. When the phone rang at 1:ooam, I knew she was gone.
     Perhaps she did me justice by making me strong enough to be an advocate for my girls whenever they needed me. If I didn't make an A or even didn't have a turn to read in elementary school, she'd head straight for the teacher's home (we lived on an Army base) and ask why. Perhaps that's where my love of school really began, where the seed was planted that Preta believed was my key to the future--an excellent education.
     Her last real hug may be my first step toward forgiveness...and being forgiven. Goodbye, Preta. We both did the best we could.
     Your Linda

Whispering Light

There are constant connections between my lost girl and me--like the way I just started this post and immediately The Canadian Tenors began singing"Hallelujah" on The Emmy's as memorial clips are shown--there's Peter Falk, as "Columbo" --(Annie used to watch all the old episodes with me); the song was also played at her memorial service last year.
I find that moments such as those, that whisper light to me whenever I'm feeling lost in the dark, happen as reliably as the sun and moon rise. She finds a way to let me know it's all okay...and so much better for her now.
This September reflects what life has become for me after Annie's death 531 days ago: a delicate balance between sleeping and waking, laughing and crying, wanting and not wanting.
It is this month that the country re-lives the sad, sad falling of towers a decade ago...my loss will become decades old as well.
It is this month that my youngest child turned 18, months away from making her own new life. As happy as I was to plan her day, shop for surprises, watch her sisters dote on her even more, I'm just as broken that Annie isn't sharing it with us. But she is.
It is this month in this year that Annie would have been 26 years old. With help from her sisters and dad, I went to her birthday dinner, had mocha cake (as there was nothing Annie loved more than coffee!), and watched a Mickey Mouse balloon float silently skyward. Star light, star bright...
Three weeks ago, Annie's nephew and my first grandchild was born. And just like that...when I think I don't have the energy to read or write another word, I realize I can't get enough of looking at him, just seeing him whispers light and energy. Golden Holden...
What has become important is just--being...mad at traffic, glad to be smelling rain, tickled at the sight of my seven-pound dog chasing deer, frustrated about overdue paperwork, sad when I see dragonflies or Minnie's red-and-white polka-dot dress, happy when I see dragonflies or Minnie's red-and-white polka-dot dress...it's all the same. It's all good. She's still here.

The earth beneath...

     For a moment, I simply could not believe that what I was seeing was not a movie.  A dark, horizontal curtain speeding across the landscape, closing down everything in its path...it was not a movie; it had happened hours earlier in Japan.  And for another moment, I felt amazed that I could be so distracted from the world that I didn't even know this earthquake and tsunami had evolved two days prior.  As much as I still feel the earth figuratively shift beneath my feet from grief, it was reality for hundreds of thousands of my brothers and sisters in humanity.
     The first anniversary of losing my daughter is approaching, feeling much like that curtain, wiping out every step forward I thought I'd made, threatening the fragile cords of familial connection that grief and pain and adjustment have been working to cut through.  We have friends with relatives living or working in Japan, and I look at these scenes that Steven Spielberg surely must have created, and feel their fear, worry, anxiety.  Out of habit, I think...what if this happened to us, where would I find insulin for my daughter, where would I get my asthma medication so I could breathe in the contaminated air and help my family...  
     Nuclear meltdowns, urban evacuations, lack of food and clean water, missing children and sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers...more tragedy than can be imagined is contained within the 42-inch, high definition screen that sits in comfort in my air-conditioned, 18 x 25-foot family room filled with books and pillows and gold and green and oak and iron.  Such grand suffering is beyond my understanding. 
     There is nothing I can do really but know that this moment pushes forward to the next.  My prayers, my thoughts, my love--with my every exhale--must add to the millions more prayers and thoughts and bits of love going out to this place that needs me, that needs all of us.  I can believe that in some existential way, the loss of my child equates to the loss of all my children equates to the loss of one and all of the world's children.  This loss, like a scary toad, sat in the darkness waiting to frighten me, sadden me, most of my life--and I thought it was not survivable.  But, moment by moment, anything can survive.  For one moment more. 



First November

     Everyone experiences first days:  first birthday, first day as boyfriend and girlfriend, first day as a ballerina, first day as a teacher or a mother or a widow or a widower.  For my family, we're in our first days and months of life without a daughter and sister. 
     The holiday season has been a joyful time for us.  We've made trips to pumpkin farms, or when time didn't allow, the grocery store, to pick out just the right shape for daddy to carve.  Peter and the girls were very good sports to smile through my stress of taking on Martha Stewart every Thanksgiving.  I've c
ollected recipes, glazed turkeys, and designed menus--and still cut open the turkey to reveal a blood-raw interior.  Charlie Brown was our seasonal guest...with his search for "The Great Pumpkin" and then that lovely, haunting melody..."Christmastime is here..." symbolizing the season for me, all warmth and love and family.
     But this was still my first Thanksgiving without Annie.  I looked out into the morning, thinking, "so this is
how it looks--still beautiful":

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It was so quiet...looking like a storybook fall--or perhaps one imagined by Monet:
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...and like that mysterious train appears in "Polar Express," a fire truck, soundless and red, went right past me...like on the day she left.  Minutes later, an ambulance turned out of the cul-de-sac three houses to my right and went, away from me, out of the neighborhood, also without a sound...like the day she left.  

     It felt warm and comfortable as I walked around the house, sharing the morning any way that Annie wanted to. In that uncertain light on that certain morning all my own, I was able to give thanks for the depth of my grief that mirrors the depth of my love, our family's love, for Andreanna. 

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     Then it was time to get packed and take a portable Thanksgiving to Dallas; Tiera was waiting.


I can't properly explain why I love visiting El Santuario de Chimayo.  Over the years, I've brought back pictures, scapulars, or bits of the miraculous dirt for my home, for my daughters--small symbols of the preservation of my love for them and for their creator, and leaving behind my prayers for their well-being and peace and safety. Perhaps it is the simplicity of life in Chimayo:  small, quiet, brown, chiles, rosaries, candles, flowers... 
It is not possible to do anything other than slow your thinking, your movement even, as you walk the grounds of the church with its miracle "pocito" -- a small well that legend, or faith, tells us is the site of healing and hope and love. 
     Perhaps I am attracted to that place because it is a spot on earth that, to me, feels holy--that God walks there; Colorado makes me feel that way, especially outside, walking in the mountains under aspen leaves with their familiar, trembling gold light shining on my path.
      Perhaps the attraction is meant to stay a mystery, simply a reminder that I don't need to know, cannot know, many of the reasons for what a heart feels or a mind thinks or a soul believes.  I'm able to bathe in my faith there.  It is always renewed.
      I only know that although most of my daughter's ashes are at rest outside Aspen, Colorado, a few of her blessed remains belonged in Chimayo.  And on a day that was as clear as a mountain October was ever meant to be, her father and I entered the sanctuary and placed a candle, with a small bit of our Annie and a small bit of the blessed dirt from "El Pocito" inside, next to the candlelights of other lost loves, lighting it together, hand in hand, as if we were lighting a wedding candle.  Through tears, we prayed for our loss and for the loss that our other daughters, Annie's sisters, have had to feel, who every day think of her in some way--sometimes sad, sometimes even with anger, but many times with humor and forgiveness, and always with immeasurable love.
     A picture of Annie, blessed by the pastor, now hangs in the sanctuary, alongside so many pictures of soldiers and babies, mothers and fathers and cousins and brothers...and sisters.  Her ashes live beneath the roses outside the chapel wall.  My prayers are answered.
     To Annie and her sisters:  God blessed my life forever the moment I breathed you in.  
      Mom.  Mwah.

Going Home

This past weekend, I took my daughter’s ashes to Colorado—her birthplace and where she often mentioned she wanted to return; she liked the cold. Returning there felt like visiting a place so uniquely yours, it is a part of your every breath.  My husband, Peter, and I spent precious few minutes with the family and friends we could fit into that narrow window of opportunity we opened to receive condolences, share memories and laughter, and accept love.

As much as I’d love to return to the Colorado of my life long ago, a life of cycling and hiking and playing in the snow; impromptu trips to Rainbow Falls or Aspen; having babies and nursing and diapers; making my own yogurt and baby food; as much as I loved that life, I can’t get it back.  The world of my past cannot be visited again, even in memory. 

Colorado, now, for me, is the moment I touched my daughter’s ashes in a small space dug out by my husband and sons-in-law, behind a large white stone on which the sun shone, solely, through an opening in the aspens and evergreens near Independence Pass.  My younger daughters held each other, a choir singing a soft hymn of tears.  As I began to cover the ashes with some of the dug-away earth, I felt the hands of my older daughters reach down, ever so gently, and help place the earth over their sister, the touch of their hands softer than a whisper.  My new sons helped Peter collect the stones to cover Annie’s grave; he then created a cross of fallen tree limbs over her. Every move in silence.

A small, white and gray bird landed on a branch just inches from where we stood saying our private goodbyes.  For several minutes, we all watched as Annie flew from branch to branch, from tree to tree, all around us.









To Andreanna with love--Mwah.                                                                                             

I suppose there must be some subconscious symbolism to my very first post being on 9-11.  Nine years ago, with disbelief at the unfolding tragedy, I made a call to my husband to say, at first, that there'd been a horrible plane crash. But as the minutes and hours went on, the reality of terrorism emerged, the United States united, heroes were born...and died.  My youngest child was eight years old, my oldest was twenty, and there were three in between.

On this 9-11, I face a very different reality.  At Eastertime, my husband lost a daughter, four sisters lost their sibling, and I lost the baby that shared my breath, my blood, my heartbeat. In the worst moments, I ache from a piece of my soul that is missing.  In the best moments, I hold on very tightly to the four daughters who want me to laugh again, to the man who's held on tightly to all of us--to me--for decades, to friends who have made the unbearable bearable, and to a faith that says this, too, shall pass.

We'll see you again, Annie.  Mwah.