Another new year. Another new year without

Christmas day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day… each seemed a timely day to write a post, to update our loved ones on how we are REALLY doing. Those days came, and went, blessedly. Aside from our youngest, we don’t look forward to the holidays with the same eager anticipation that used to make Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve so special. Truthfully, we don’t look forward to ANYTHING as we used to… making plans, booking trips, buying tickets for events without Shea still feels very wrong. We persevere, and there are moments of joy, laughter, happiness… but there is the missing her, between. All is bitter sweet.

Allow this to be a holiday card from the Anderluhs. We haven’t mailed one out since Shea was first diagnosed, in 2008. As each year has come to an end, I have wrestled with the thought of Christmas cards. I want to send out the most perfect card, one that expresses our gratitude, one that includes Shea, somehow, one that takes note of each and every blessing we’ve received since Shea got sick. There are so many, so many friends, neighbors, past classmates, even strangers who have helped us, who have touched my heart so deeply that I must acknowledge each and every one… but the sheer numbers have grown too deep for me to realistically reach out to each personally.

I realized it just the other day, as I looked at my e-mail in-box. After deleting the junk, there were more than 400 messages I’d saved, in the hopes of replying personally to each. But these were not the only messages that deserved a response. There were also messages in my Facebook inbox, more than I could count. And text messages, beautiful notes of support, to which I hadn’t responded at the moment, wanting to find enough time to convey the gratitude I truly felt. The sum total of my procrastination created a state of inertia… and so I’m turning to blogging to make my excuses, and express my thanks.

Thank you, friends, for loving Shea, for loving us. For the string of paper cranes that flies over Shea’s grave. For continuing to call on us, even when we rarely leave the house. For thinking of us, for asking about us. For sharing your memories of her. For messages sent on Facebook, on Christmas, on her page, private messages to me. For comments on photos and videos of her from years ago, that keep her alive. For Christmas morning visits, and hugs, and gifts for Bailey. For holiday cards that not only show your families enjoying good times together, but also include personal notes remembering Shea and acknowledging our pain during these moments. For anonymous gifts left on our porch. For pictures of friends with rubber duckies… for footprints in the snow, by her grave. For messages of support and solidarity from other bereaved parents. For our community, our village, Jamie’s posse, our church, our friends, who kept us afloat when Shea’s medical expenses threatened to wipe out our savings… for our neighbors on the Court, who stepped up to pay for Shea’s funeral luncheon… for John’s and my high school classmates, who contributed to fundraisers, sent messages of support, and attended Shea’s wake… to our college classmates, and my sorority sisters, who expressed their love in so many ways, and sent mementos of Shea that will always remind me of them… to the Lymphomaniacs… to Liz, Margaret, Beth, Libby, and Dr. Chaudhury… to Susan and my crazy fun Inverness girls… to the the play group, and the posse, slash village… to the teachers and staff of Thomas Middle School… for Shea’s supporters from Hersey High School, St. Viator, St. James and Olive-Mary Stitt… Corre Friends… March Animal Hospital… Deerwood Farm, Matchmaker Ltd., Happenstance Farm and especially Buena Vista Farm for keeping Jamie and me distracted when we needed it most… Kraft Foods Inc, especially John’s co-workers who listened, and those who supported us financially… our CaringBridge Community… Hodgkins refractory and relapsed (on Facebook)… Cancer moms, bonded for life (on Facebook)…. Bereaved Parents of Childhood Cancer (on Facebook)… Share Goldens, and Denise and Virginia, for Bailey… facebook friends who answered calls for various videos, etc…. Cal’s Angels (Stacey and Tom)… Donna’s Good Things (Sheila and Jeremy)… Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS)… CureSearch… and most of all, Molly, Lauren, Carla, Julia, Gabby, Maddy, Catherine, Emily, Val, Peter, Kevin, Mary, Carlos, Erin, Coco, Joe, Destiny, Jack, Ian, Kristi, Stephanie, Zach, and ❤ Janet


Please know that we are deeply grateful for each and every act of kindness you have shown to us during these difficult years.  Even while we have struggled with Shea’s pain, we have been surprised and amazed by the outpouring of kindness of support from friends new and old. That has been the unexpected blessing.

We wish you all the happiest of new years as 2014 unfolds its tender wings.

With much love–

The Anderluh FamilyIMG_1473


Things are better. It’s a conscious choice. I

Things are better. It’s a conscious choice. I could dwell on the series of sad events  that have occurred over the past 12 months. But what good would that do me?

I think of Shea, and her absence, constantly during my day. Simultaneously, I think of song lyrics written by a duo that have become my heroes. Years ago, our dear friends Katie and Kent introduced us to the music of Lowen and Navarro, a singer/songwriter pair whose harmonies played out during our daughters’ growing up years. Lately, lines from their song “what I make myself believe” have been echoing in my head.

“You can let sadness be your magnet
Or hope be your masterpiece…”

As much as I am so deeply affected by the sad events of the past year, I don’t want them to define me, nor do I think that Shea would want me to focus on sadness. She didn’t roll that way. So I am trying to attune myself to the good things around me. I’m trying to notice the beauty around me, and am carrying the hope that Shea is with me in those moments, when I see an especially beautiful tree or flower or mallard duck. When Bailey sings a long-winded tale of howling discourse, indecipherable to you or me, but clearly composed of eloquent thought. When Jamie sits down at the piano and plays a beautiful melody, despite the fact that she is anti-music lesson.

I’m soaking it in, all of it.


The Daily Grind


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Most of my days begin in the same way. After dropping off Jamie at school, I sit down with my laptop, catch up with e-mail and facebook posts, and proceed to waste the bulk of my free time. Many days I barely manage to squeeze in a shower before it’s time to pick Jamie up at 2:45; she can attest to the fact that I often show up late, hair still wet. Where does the time go?
Oh, I know I should be more productive. There is laundry to do. Dishes to put away. Seeds to plant, weeds to pull. I mean to walk the dog, use the treadmill, see a friend. But I don’t. Instead, I spend most days inside, at the computer, distracting myself from the cold, hard, painful reality of loss. It’s approaching a year since Shea’s death, and I still haven’t begun the insurmountable task of writing thank-you notes. Some would argue that people don’t expect them, but the guilt of the task undone will remain a heavy weight on my shoulders until I put them in the mail. Each kindness, every generous act we received merits a sincere and eloquent response.
So why do I procrastinate? Why am I so stuck? I think I’m getting better, I really do. But it is a SLOW process. And John and I have some very dark moments.
It’s been a horrible year, filled with a number of tough losses. Beginning with last June, when Sam, our beloved golden retriever, suddenly went blind. Despite our best efforts, his health went downhill rapidly, and he died on June 19. It was especially tough because John and Shea were in NYC, where she was receiving experimental treatment, and Megan was away at school, unable to say goodbye to him. I cried for days.
Ten days later, after a scan, we received the horrible news that Shea’s treatment wasn’t working, and that there were no more curative options available. They came back to Illinois on June 30. Of course, we hoped that she had months to live, but that was not to be.
When we woke up on July 25, we found that Shea had died during the night.
The days and weeks and months that followed have mostly been a fog. Our wonderful friends and family got us through those early days, helping us choose the pictures for her wake, ironing the clothes she’d wear, designing and printing the programs for the funeral mass. The turnout was overwhelming. The music was beautiful. Somehow, thanks to the love and support, we got through it.
But how do you get through the rest of your life after losing a child? You need to reinvent so many things… ordinary days aren’t ordinary anymore, and birthdays and holidays are a little bit dreadful. I confess that too much wine has been consumed on milestone days, blurring the pain that comes with Shea’s absence. She was our middle child, the peacemaker, the most sensitive and empathic, the most thoughtful gift-giver. Her smile lit up the room — my whole world seems darker without her. And yet, the days and weeks and months pass.
“Men channel grief into productivity,” I read. That is certainly true of John. He comes home from work and picks up my slack, cooking and cleaning and planting. He is remarkably patient with me. We are gentle with each other, knowing well that each and every one of us grieves differently. Criticism isn’t called for.
We survived Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. John’s birthday. Our world was rocked again when my dad became ill in the beginning of March, with MDS. I was brought back to a place I didn’t want to go as I joined my parents at the hospital, translating blood counts, explaining neutropenia, debating whether to transfuse. Painful memories, still raw, were revived. I spent my 48th birthday at the Kellogg Cancer Center with Mom and Dad, watching him struggle to drink enough water to bring up his blood pressure. Twenty-five days later, he was dead, and once again, I was there with the still body of a loved one, saying goodbye, tears falling. To tell the truth, my tears were as much for Shea as for my Dad… if not more.
How odd to be the voice of experience, as a daughter joining mother and brother at the funeral home. “Hard-won expertise,” my mother said. It’s not something I ever wanted, the vocabulary of cancer, to be the advisor in matters of death. But I got through it, once again. Those days passed.
How I would have preferred to crawl into my cave on Mother’s Day, my first without Shea. I couldn’t do that to Mom, on her first without Dad. John, ever busy, made dinner for us all. Another day to be endured…
Another day, another dog. We put Guinness to sleep on May 15, ending the risk that he would ever bite anyone else, human or canine. I bear the scars of his last attack. I would have sworn he loved me too much to ever bite me; he proved me wrong. “Springer Spaniel Rage,” they call it. We were cuddling, I bent to kiss his belly. It was foolish; I knew that was his trigger. It happened too fast to prevent. I miss him terribly.
“Hard-won expertise.” The past year has made me an expert in loss. Two beloved dogs, best friends and companions. My dear dad, aged 83. My daughter. Grief is debilitating, that I know for sure. What I’ve also learned, the hard way, is that as much as others offer comfort, words of solace, offers of support, I am still very much alone in my grief, as a mourning mom. When a well-meaning friend says, “I know how you feel; I lost my (insert loved one’s name/relationship),” unless they’ve lost a child, they have no idea at all. Having lived through these losses, I’m here to tell you that there is no comparison between my grief for Shea and my grief for Dad, for Sam, for Guinness, all of whom I loved.
ImageI mourn Shea a million times more.