As a preschooler I attended Mother Goose nursery school owned and operated by my Aunt Jan in my hometown of Reno, Nevada. Each afternoon all of us kids would gather and sit on a bench with our hands folded and propped on a long table. We eagerly awaited our serving of one cup of milk, two saltine crackers and one graham cracker. That sweet crunchy honey tasting rectangle was just the best thing after naptime on an uncomfortable cot!
I have a great association with graham crackers and so I chose to title this page “Graham Cracker Stories”. This is your treat as we celebrate the sweeter and brighter things in life.
This posting is about celebrating women from many walks of life who have overcome adversity and challenge and have great stories to share.
Let us read their stories with our whole hearts, and let us send them blessings of love and gratitude when we are finished. Let us find ourselves in them and let us celebrate all women!
Grief Diaries Radio Interview
These women do amazing work, helping others through their grieving processes and working together to transform how we grieve and discuss grieving in society.
You can find the interview here.
Grief Angels and a Whole Glass of Milk
Angie Cartwright and Lynda Cheldelin Fell are a pair of Grief Angels who refer to themselves as two halves of a whole glass of milk. I had the privilege of interviewing these amazing women, who offer much more than a calcium-rich drink; they are filled with compassion, empathy and a deep passion for aiding others who have suffered from loss and tragedy. Their message is about helping to heal the broken-hearted, and both aspire to change how mainstream society grieves.
Angie Cartwright is a big-spirited woman who has faced tragic loss many times. Her baby sister died when Angie was just five; she lost a grandfather and uncle to suicide, her husband to a car accident, and recently her mother to an accidental drug overdose. Nobody wants to say they know tragedy intimately, and Angie is no exception, but she does not hide from the pain and grief that accompanies loss. Instead she looks it right in the eye and has chosen to use her intimate understanding of the grieving process to help others.
But this did not happen automatically. After each loss Angie found herself searching for someone to connect with, someone who would just listen and understand. Angie says that when you lose a loved one, the light switch to a different world is immediate. Angie had worked with therapists and others who helped her somewhat, but it was founding Grief the Unspoken in 2011 that helped her healing process and continues to do so. Grief the Unspoken is a simple online community created for those grieving, whereby a member has access to private discussion groups and forums and receives material about various ways of coping.
In 2010, Angie had a heart-to-heart with God and asked, “What do you want from me?” She woke up knowing she would help grieving people for the rest of her life, and still wakes up every morning with this great understanding.
Angie credits Grief the Unspoken for saving her at times. When grief hit Angie hard one night, she was going to turn the group over to someone else, but she knew she had to show up for others. She told herself, “No, you need to do this. Don’t leave them behind, because death happens every day.”
Angie often wonders why we as a society are uncomfortable with people being sad, and believes more people need to be coached. She hopes to be a part of the change that makes grieving mainstream. A couple of the many things Angie would say to those who are grieving: “There’s no shame in having a broken heart today. Give yourself permission to grieve.“
Lynda Cheldelin Fell
In August of 2009, Lynda lost her beloved daughter, 15 years of age, to a car accident. Three years later, her husband had a stroke and was left with permanent disabilities. Simple things helped Lynda to heal, like forcing herself to find one thing of beauty every day: the singing of a bird, a quote, the red color of a rose, or the comfy socks she wore.
To aid in her healing process, Lynda decided to try new things like taking a soap-making class, which she found to be soothing and therapeutic, as well as making chocolate. Lynda also found helping others less fortunate than herself to be a reality check and began volunteering for a women’s care shelter, which aided in her process.
When asked how tragedy changed her Lynda responded, “Tragedy blows your heart wide open, and I have more compassion for myself, others, and humanity.”
Four years after the loss of her daughter, Lynda started her professional grief work by blogging – work she felt called to. Lynda shares her experiences of being a grieving mother through her blog, A Stroke of Love, Confessions of Grieving Mother. She features topics ranging from counseling for the grieving to giving yourself permission to find joy after loss. She then had an inspiration to start a blog talk radio show. It was this venture that brought her to Angie, who Lynda invited to be her first interview. “She is my sister; we inspire each other,” says Lynda lovingly.
Lynda would say to the grieving, “Loss is crushing and scary and it is really important to understand that you are not alone.” Lynda still has moments when she wants to hibernate, but says to others, “remember that moments of joy and contentment can still be had.”
How The Two Met
Meeting each other and collaborating were a natural transition for Angie and Lynda. They have since co-created the workbook, My Grief Diary, and tour together for The Grief Diaries: On the Road, as well as run the website. They also created the Grief Diaries Radio Show as part of their mission to increase grief awareness, which runs weekly on iTunes. They have what they call their “A-Team in Heaven” – God and their loved ones who have passed – helping them with their mission.
What I love about these women is that they don’t let their personal tragedies define who they are. Instead they have chosen to channel their anguish and pain into helping others through all stages of the grief process. Both say their work helps them tremendously with their own healing process.
For their kindness and compassion and for their dedication to their special mission, I see Lynda and Angie not as two parts to a whole glass of plain milk, but rather two parts to a whole glass of chocolate milk. They are truly two angels of grief working in the light, whose work is supported by their A-Team in Heaven. I am certain they will change how mainstream society grieves.
Blessed are those who grieve and bring comfort to others ~ Angie and Lynda, thank you for doing God’s work with such devotion and grace, from a place of faith and trust, even when your own hearts hurt.
Do you know the saying, “Dynamite comes in small packages?” It was a common comeback during my school years, used by kids who were getting picked on for being small, short, or petite. I like the sass and tenacity behind this saying and I can’t help but think of Monica as a small package of dynamite, minus the sass.
Monica is a mother of four (including two stepchildren), a wife, a sister, a businesswoman, and a cancer survivor. Her robust spirit and generous heart have most certainly brought her to where she is today: positive, hopeful, introspective, and prepared, on practically every level, for her next steps in life.
Monica was diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer at age 44, when her daughter was eight and her son was just six. There is no easy path for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, but the details around Monica’s diagnosis, treatment, and recovery compare to that of a climber who hits one large boulder after another, leaving her with skinned knees, nose, shins, and chin, all at the same time. Despite this reality, Monica harbors no anger or resentment.
Monica’s challenges started when she discovered a pea-sized lump in her right breast. Days later, at her annual gynecological exam, she pointed it out to the physician’s assistant who told her that it was nothing, “probably just a cyst.”
Divine grace entered when Monica confided in her skincare professional, Debbie, who “happened” to have previously worked with cancer patients, about her concerns about the lump. Debbie urged Monica to go back to her doctor and demand to be seen, and to have the lump further investigated. Monica went back and forth with the physician’s assistant for some time before the P.A. finally agreed to see her.
Monica was set-up for a mammogram appointment, and nothing showed up. But, the technician could feel the lump so she sent Monica to get an ultrasound. The lump did show up on the ultrasound but the radiologist concluded that the lump did not appear to be cancerous, and told Monica to follow-up with her regular doctor in 6 to 8 weeks.
Eight weeks later Monica called her gynecologist’s office. They told her that because of the radiologist’s report that they did not feel the need for her to come in. Monica saw Debbie again, who emphatically told her, “You need to stay on them.”
In the meantime, Monica discovered another lump that was growing alongside the original; she was checked again, and was sent in for another ultrasound. The experts again showed no sense of urgency. She was finally diagnosed with cancer, five months after she first discovered the original lump. Monica never saw her gynecologist throughout the entire process, only receiving a phone call from her once the diagnosis had been given.
In February 2009, Monica had a double mastectomy and started chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, Monica’s reconstructive surgery was a disaster due to poor work by the plastic surgeon. In order to rectify the “roadwork”, as she calls it, from the damage caused by the radiation treatment and a terrible infection caused by the reconstructive work, Monica has had to undergo six subsequent surgeries, with one more scheduled.
Despite these significant trials, Monica is one incredibly hopeful person – this was shown to me by the way she donned a fuchsia pink athletic jacket and had a delightful shade of soft summer pink nail polish emblazoned on her fingers and toes when she and I met. She says she is physically feeling better than ever and has learned many important life lessons from her trying ordeal. Like learning to trust and surrender, instead of trying to control.
An example of a dark moment where Monica was forced to completely surrender was one day after she insisted that her husband go to work. She assured him that she would be fine and he left. Monica soon found herself in great deal of pain. When she tried to open the bottle of painkillers, she was too weak to open the top. The friends she normally relied on to assist her were not available. Overcome with grief and loneliness, she called out to God. She received the message to find the Tylenol. She did, and discovered it had a loose lid, and she was able to find some temporary relief.
Monica suggests to others, going through great challenge, to have faith in your higher power, however that looks to you. She also said that people must say what they need to say, and not be afraid to share their needs with others. She learned this the hard way when she tried to summon the energy to make her husband’s birthday a special day, shortly after a round of chemo. “It was a complete disaster,” Monica recalls, “I should have rested and taken care of myself.”
We are never alone; we have angels both in heaven and on earth, especially during times of trial. Monica happily shared stories of earth angels who stepped up for her: Holli, a neighbor, friend, and great supporter was there when Monica needed her, gathered neighbors together to make her a community quilt, her husband Eddie, a.k.a her Prince, Dr. Baker, her new plastic surgeon, who paused his exam to allow her to pray with Knights of Columbus and prayed with them, Liz, a long-time friend stepped in to drive her to chemo and to stay with her during treatment, and Buffy, her “Pink Yoga” instructor, who is full of compassion and gave her positive messages and other tools to help her.
Monica’s current diagnosis is “NED”, No Evidence of Disease. She said that in her world, she is not always happy, but that she chooses to live each day with faith, knowing that God has a purpose for her. Her experience has made her hungry for truth and she is searching for new ways to contribute to the world. I can’t wait to see what God has planned for this wonderful ball of love and dynamite, who happens to come in a small package!
Monica’s story not only speaks of a woman who has suffered tremendously, but of a woman with courage, whose willingness to learn from her experiences can help us all. As an example, we all need to learn to ask for what we need. Seems so simple, yet it is easier, for most women, to give than it is to receive. I am also struck by the many times Monica’s healthcare professionals missed diagnosing her. This undermines a woman’s need to trust herself and to listen to her intuition and to become a bully, if it means standing up for her health. To that note, Monica never shared any of this part of her story with anger – disappointment, yes, but not anger. It is also clear to me that God intervened many times on Monica’s behalf through Debbie. God was simply not going to let something so serious slip past the radar. Monica is indeed watched over.
May God’s love and grace continue to support you in every way. May you find that you are whole, complete, and beautiful exactly as you are now, and may all of the treasures of earth and heaven be given to you. Thank you, beautiful one.