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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Between my new job, summer events and crazy weather, July is flying by. My brain is full as I adjust to life at ZUMIX, but when I get a chance, here’s what I have been reading:

These Unlucky Stars, Gillian McDunn
Annie has felt like the odd one out since her mom left – her dad and brother are just so predictable. But a summer where she makes some new friends, including a cranky elderly woman and her dog, changes Annie’s perspective. A sweet, realistic middle-grade novel.

Monsieur Pamplemousse and the French Solution, Michael Bond
Summoned home to Paris from a work trip, food critic Monsieur Pamplemousse and his faithful bloodhound Pommes Frites are faced with sabotage at work. This mystery was confusing at times but highly entertaining. Part of a series; I found it at Manchester by the Book.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, Suleika Jaouad
After a cancer diagnosis in her early 20s, Jaouad chronicled her experience in a column for The New York Times. After entering remission, she took a cross-country road trip to connect with readers, strangers and friends. This memoir is unstinting in its portrayal of illness, loss and grief – but wow, what gorgeous writing and unflinching honesty. And finally, at the end, some hope. So good.

The Island Home, Libby Page
Lorna fled the small Scottish island where she was born as a teenager, and she’s never been back. But now she and her own teenage daughter, Ella, are returning for a family funeral. Page’s third novel is a warm, insightful, poignant look at family and community and facing up to our old fears. I ordered it from my beloved Blackwells.

The Road Trip, Beth O’Leary
Addie and Dylan haven’t spoken since they broke up two years ago. But when Dylan’s car collides with Addie’s on the way to a mutual friend’s wedding, they end up crammed into a Mini Cooper with Addie’s sister, Dylan’s best friend and a random guy who needed a ride. Parts of this were sweet and funny – I loved Kevin the truck driver – but many of the “past” parts were painful to read, and many of the characters are very self-absorbed.

Ways to Grow Love, Renee Watson
Ryan Hart is struggling to adjust to a very different summer. Between her mom’s pregnancy and going to church camp for the first time, there’s a lot of change – but Ryan and her friends meet the challenges with spunk and compassion. Sweet and funny.

Amari and the Night Brothers, B.B. Alston
Amari Peters has been struggling since her big brother Quinton went missing. When a summons arrives from the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations – a highly unusual summer camp that might give Amari some answers – she plunges into a world of magic and secrets. Super fun middle-grade fantasy with some sharp commentary on race and prejudice. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Most links are to Trident, a perennial local fave. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Hello, friends. Here we are, two days before Christmas, and I am feeling all the emotions: seesawing between loneliness and hope, heavy sadness and sharp, sudden joy.

On the long list of things that are different this year, my holiday traditions (like most people’s) have been upended. I’m not in Texas with my family, and I am also still figuring out life (and Christmas) after divorce. I love December and all its rituals, large and small, and this year I have had no choice but to adapt and remake so many of the traditions I love.

I wrote last week about how I put up my tiny tree, not the same as the big one we had for years, but still twinkly and lovely. Many of my ornaments remain packed away, for now, but the ones I’ve chosen all have deep and sweet associations. I cried when I found our old stockings packed away in a box, but I pulled out the snowflake hangers, and my guy and I bought new stockings, for a new season.

When J and I sent Christmas cards, we’d pick out a photo, design a card on Shutterfly, order stacks of them, then hand-address them all in one go, sitting at the kitchen table with Christmas music playing. This year, that honestly felt like too much. (I didn’t send cards at all last year.) I bought a few different sets of letterpress cards and have been addressing them in small batches, scribbling notes to faraway family and friends and sealing each one with a poinsettia sticker. The ones I’ve received are Scotch-taped to the doorframe, reminding me of the folks I love and wish I could hug.

There will be no Christmas Eve service in Texas this year, but I’ll tune into a Zoom listening party for the carol choir I’ve participated in. We won’t have a traditional menu, because we are making this part up as we go along. I won’t go running in my parents’ neighborhood or bump into friends from high school, but I’ll run along the Eastie trails I love, and wave at the few local friends I can still see in person.

It won’t look like this forever, I know. But this is how it looks now. And some days, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that it looks different, and keep on making it new.

Merry Christmas, if you’re celebrating. See you next week.

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We’re nearly halfway through November, which so far has included gorgeous weather, serious election stress and (more) pandemic uncertainty. Here’s what I have been reading:

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, Luisana Duarte Armendariz
Nine-year-old Julieta is so excited – she gets to go to Paris to help her dad bring some valuable pieces from the Louvre back to Boston. But then a rare diamond is stolen. Julieta tries to help catch the thief – but she seems to make things worse. A cute middle-grade mystery with fun details about Paris and Boston (Julieta’s parents both work at the MFA).

This is My Brain in Love, I.W. Gregorio
Jocelyn Wu is trying to save her family’s Chinese restaurant from failure. Will Domenici just needs a summer job. But when he becomes Jocelyn’s first employee, they become friends – and maybe something more. A witty, sweet YA novel with two protagonists who both struggle with their mental health.

The Last Garden in England, Julia Kelly
When garden designer Emma Lovell is hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House, she unearths not only overgrown plants, but secrets: some related to the house and its family, some to the garden’s original designer, Venetia Smith. An engaging multi-timeline story about strong women fighting to make their own choices: Emma in 2021, Venetia in 1907, and three different women during World War II. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Holly Jackson
Pippa Fitz-Amobi has never believed that Sal Singh killed his girlfriend, Andie Bell. So when she needs a senior capstone project, she launches her own murder investigation with the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi. This was very Veronica Mars (though Pippa often has terrible judgment) – a real nail-biter, but a very effective distraction from election news.

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson
Amara is dying to go visit her dad’s family in Harlem for her 12th birthday – she’s never been to NYC, or met her cousins. But once she gets there, she has to deal with some unexpected friction. I loved this sweet middle-grade story about family, forgiveness and finding yourself in a new place.

Birds by the Shore, Jennifer Ackerman
I found this essay collection in September at the beautiful Bookstore of Gloucester. Ackerman shares quiet, keen-eyed observations about the wildlife (birds, yes, but also fish, crabs, invertebrates) and shifting microclimate of the Delaware shore. A little slow, but worthwhile.

Finding Refuge, Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Our society tends to see grief as an individual, linear process–but it has collective aspects, too, and it’s much messier than that. Johnson shares some of her own story and practices around processing grief. I applaud her premise, but the writing style was hard for me to follow (could be election brain). Includes meditations/journaling prompts. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski gets roped into (temporarily) coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old high school, she’s drawn into a web of other problems: poverty, teenage pregnancy, unsavory conditions at a couple of local manufacturing plants. This entry was intense (I shouldn’t have read it before bed!), but so compelling. I love this series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Books and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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We are halfway through September (tomorrow is my birthday), and I’m struggling to find a fall rhythm. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Laura Imai Messina
Since Yui lost her mother and her daughter in the 2011 tsunami, she has been paralyzed by grief. But then she hears about a phone booth in a garden by the sea: a place for people to come and talk to their lost loved ones. When she starts visiting the phone booth, Yui meets others who are grieving, and they form a kind of community. Lovely and poignant. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

Windy City Blues, Sara Paretsky
I flew through this collection of short stories featuring my favorite Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski. Many familiar characters – her neighbor, several friends – make appearances, and the cases are entertaining.

Her Last Flight, Beatriz Williams
In 1947, photographer Janey Everett heads to Spain in search of downed pilot Sam Mallory. What she finds there leads her to rural Hawaii, in search of the woman who was his flying partner and possibly his lover. Williams writes lush, satisfying historical fiction with wry dialogue, and I enjoyed this story.

Ways to Make Sunshine, Renée Watson
Ryan Hart, age 10, is juggling a lot: her family’s new (old) house, her fear of public speaking, her irritating older brother, the school talent show. But she’s smart, spunky and creative, and I loved watching her face her problems with grit and joy.

The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister
Boston, 1853: a wealthy Englishwoman recruits experienced trail guide Virginia Reeve and a dozen other women for an all-female Arctic expedition. A year later, Virginia is on trial for murder. Macallister expertly weaves together two timelines, delving into each woman’s viewpoint and building to a few terrible reveals. Compelling, if gruesome at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Switch, Beth O’Leary
Leena Cotton needs a break after blowing a big presentation at work. Her grandmother, Eileen, needs a change of scenery, too. So they switch lives: Leena goes to rural Yorkshire and Eileen goes to London. I loved watching these two women live each other’s lives: Leena dives headfirst into planning the May Day festival and Eileen discovers online dating, among other things. Sweet, warm and funny.

Evidence, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s poems have been keeping me company over breakfast this summer. This collection includes musings on flora and fauna, heartbreak and joy, and so much keen-eyed noticing. Lovely.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
I adore Doyle’s rambling joyous exuberant prose and “proems.” I once reviewed an anthology he had edited, and he sent me a lovely email about it. This posthumous collection of his essays is vintage Doyle: warmhearted, keen-eyed, sharp and sweet and compassionate.

In Praise of Retreat, Kirsteen Macleod
In our ultra-connected world, retreating is both frowned upon and immensely appealing. Macleod weaves her own story of various types of retreats (yoga ashrams, cabins in the woods) together with research and musings on retreat as a practice. Thoroughly researched and interesting, but reading this one during semi-quarantine was kind of a slog. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30, 2021).

By the Book, Amanda Sellet
Bookish Mary Porter-Malcolm knows all about the pitfalls awaiting young ladies who are trying to find eligible men. But when she’s thrust into the social politics of 21st-century high school, she starts to realize real life doesn’t always match the books. I loved this YA novel – Mary is both smart and endearingly clueless. Her big, loud family and professor parents were so much fun, and the dialogue is hilarious. Found at The Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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We’re (more than) three months into quarantine – my personal clock hit the three-month mark last weekend. Massachusetts, like a lot of states, is slowly reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to appear. Recently, I’ve been out to a few local businesses that were closed for a while, but otherwise, my routine hasn’t changed much since March. And I’m frankly sick of it.

I keep seeing essays or tweets around the Internet of things people want to keep from this time: more time with their families, fewer commutes, less traffic congestion, and so on. That’s all fine and good – and I have a few silver linings of my own. But honestly, there’s a lot from this time I don’t want to keep.

I don’t want to keep the constant, gnawing anxiety: will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will I/they be able to afford the medical bills? What if they don’t get better?

I don’t want to keep the constant risk/reward calculation (what one friend called “mental actuarial tables”) that goes on in my brain every time I leave the house. I am sick and tired of mentally estimating the risk of a walk or a hug or a trip to the grocery store. I miss being able to plan travel, or have anything but a walk or a Trader Joe’s trip to look forward to.

I don’t want to keep the constant isolation, so acute it sometimes makes me cry, sitting here at my kitchen table with no one else around. I miss my coworkers, my librarians and baristas and yoga instructors and especially my florist. Most of all I miss my friends, even those I have seen since quarantine started. We go on walks and wave goodbye from behind our masks instead of sharing a meal together and parting with hugs. It helps, but it’s not the same.

I don’t want to keep this incompetent president, unwilling to listen to scientific experts or wise advisors, fanning the flames of partisan division for his own selfish ends (or because he just likes chaos, I can’t tell). The U.S. response to the pandemic has been fragmented and inadequate, and I am frustrated and sad that so many people have died.

I don’t want to rush into a post-pandemic “new normal” until we can do so safely, and I think we’ve got a long road ahead. I will keep taking precautions and wearing a mask when I go out, for as long as it takes. But I don’t want to keep so many aspects of this time. And I needed to say so.

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Happy Tuesday, friends. Here we are in week 11 of this strange restricted life, and the world is turning toward summer. I ran this morning by the water, through haze and humidity and (eventual) bright sunshine. The beach roses are blowing and the purple iris are budding, and I’m wearing my favorite denim shorts and growing herb seedlings in my kitchen window (until I can get some soil to pot them).

We are deep into whatever kind of “now normal” we are all creating for ourselves, and while there’s beauty and joy in that, today I wanted to acknowledge: I miss how it used to be.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re moving slowly into a phased reopening, but masks and social distancing and other restrictions will be part of our lives for a long while. There are some parts of “normal” we simply won’t get back, at least not for the foreseeable future. And that hurts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things I miss:

  • Hugging my friends.
  • Browsing my favorite bookstores.
  • The library, especially the central BPL branch near my office.
  • Hanging out at coffee shops.
  • Making travel plans, which are all obviously on hold at the moment.
  • Running to the grocery store to grab “just one thing.”
  • Walking outside without a mask.
  • My family in Texas (the Zoom calls are fun, but not the same).
  • Going to friends’ houses for dinner or just to hang out.
  • By the same token: having people over to my house.
  • My colleagues, and the musical chitchat that passes for water-cooler talk at Berklee.
  • Sitting in on workshops and talking to our students.
  • The buzz of commencement season in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Going to yoga classes in a real studio.
  • Going to book events at a bookstore.
  • Walking to Downeast with my guy on a Saturday night to sample ciders and talk to the folks behind the counter.
  • Planning for summer festivals and concerts.
  • Going to the hair salon (they’re starting to reopen, but I’m going to wait a while).
  • My florist.
  • Waking up without the constant low-level (or higher-level) pandemic anxiety.

What do you miss?

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leaves-blue-sky-eastie

I don’t know about you, but this is one of the strangest Holy Weeks I can remember.

Navigating this pandemic has either been the most fitting or the most terrible way to walk through Lent: isolated, alone. I struggle with Lent, anyhow: the focus on grief and penitence is difficult to sustain for that long. (Real talk: it’s even harder in the years where we have tough winters.)

This year I have been (loosely) following some of Sarah Bessey’s kind, pragmatic Field Notes Lent practices. And I have been extra glad I went to the noon Ash Wednesday service at Old South Church, because – though I didn’t know it then – I wouldn’t get to go to church again for a while.

I have heard a couple of mini-sermons this week, from an acquaintance back in Texas and from my friend Simon, in Oxford. (I don’t have much patience for sermons these days, but I will listen to him preach any day of the week.) Both talks included exhortations to hang onto God, who has not let go of us, and reminders that Jesus, of all people and all deities, understands fear and suffering. I also heard a little looking ahead to Easter Sunday, which to me seems premature. I know it’s coming, but I am not ready yet; we are still sitting in the darkness after that earthquake on a Friday afternoon, not knowing what the hell just happened or what might be coming next.

Tied up with the general isolation grief is my lingering church grief: I lost my church community here in Boston, abruptly and painfully, in the fall of 2018. I have tried to move on, to forgive and let go, but the wound has not fully healed yet. I had heard stories of churches hurting their members and their ministers, treating them badly, but I never thought it would happen to me. Palm Sunday used to be a glorious day at Brookline; the kids would march around the sanctuary waving palm branches while we sang every song we could find that involved the word Hosanna. I could hardly face the thought of it, this year.

I’ve been streaming bits of the Sunday services from two churches that are still mine: Highland, in Abilene, where I spent my college, post-college and newlywed years, and St Aldates, in Oxford, where Simon preaches and where I went every Sunday (sometimes twice) when I was in graduate school. I couldn’t stream anything on Palm Sunday, though: the mere fact of it broke my heart. We are usually together, singing Hosanna, and this year so many of us are alone.

We are sad and aching, fearful and weary, and on the days when I can muster up a little faith, I know this is where God meets us. I also know that faith resists all our attempts to write it into a tidy narrative. I grew up among tidy narratives, alliterative three-point sermons, questions and answers easily matched with Bible verses. My adulthood has brought doubts and change, messiness and grief – they do not fit into those neat boxes. Neither, I have to say, does the joy that comes bursting out when you least expect it, found in the most unlikely of places.

I am often full of fear these days, and I don’t have the answers, either for the current crisis or any others I might face. For now, I am holding onto the words my friend Christie wrote on Instagram earlier this week: “the good news is that ours is not the last word. The Word has spoken—is always speaking—and the message is mercy and love.”

If you are marking Easter or Passover or simply the arrival of each day, I wish you joy, mercy, and love where you can find it, in these days.

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This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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I had my first bite of a September apple last week, sampling a crisp Macintosh from the white bag on the kitchen counter. It tasted delicious: tart, juicy, the embodiment of fall in New England. And I was stunned by the wave of sadness that followed it.

Since I moved to Boston, apples have been tangled up with September: crisp sunny days, cool nights, black-eyed Susans and dahlias and late daylilies in the flower beds around town. September is the start of the academic year, and in a city like Boston, that shifts the rhythm in a big way. And every fall, September has meant apple picking.

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Apple picking was and is a beloved tradition for my former church. I’d eaten apples all my life, but there are no apple orchards in West Texas, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight of their rambling, gnarled branches heavy with fruit. I fell instantly in love.

Last year, some dear friends who’d moved away came back to visit for a long weekend, and we made sure to plan our apple-picking excursion when they were here. We wandered the orchard and filled our bags to bursting and ate the traditional orchard lunch of hot dogs and apple cider donuts. There were photos and laughter and tired kiddos, and cold, fresh cider. It felt right.

This year, so much has shifted: I’m living across the water in Eastie, spending my Sunday mornings sleeping in or running instead of going to church. I’m navigating the end of the marriage whose story began when I was in college. I am not who I was, and my life is a testament to that fact. But it is still September, and the apples have appeared at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

I’ll keep eating them, because the flavor and enjoyment are worth the reminder of all I have lost. Things are different now, but life is still full of sweetness. I’m trying to feel it all, live it all, truly taste both the grief and the joy.

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what I know about Kelly

 

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My friend Kelly passed away last week.

I hadn’t seen her for some months, since her health began to fail (she had battled cancer for two decades, but the last stretch has been particularly rough). She and her family are a part of the church here in Boston where, for eight years, I spent nearly every Sunday. I always loved catching up with them at common meal, or in the back of the sanctuary after service. Since my time at that church ended, abruptly and painfully, last fall, I had mostly heard updates about her health through the grapevine.

By some measures, I didn’t know Kelly very well. I know she came to Boston from Oklahoma, many years ago, and chose to make a life here with her husband, Joe. I know she fought hard to beat back the cancer long enough to watch her two daughters grow up. I know she makes a delicious cranberry relish, which she would sometimes bring to Turkeypalooza, and sometimes Amy would bring it, made from Kelly’s recipe. I know she listened well, and was honest about her pain while never letting it dominate a conversation. A few years ago, she and Joe hosted the church Christmas party, and we ate and laughed, and sang carols in their living room. I know she enjoyed having everyone there.

Most of all, this is what I know about Kelly: she is a person who loved, and was loved.

I ran into Kelly on the library steps a few months back, when she was on her way to meet friends for afternoon tea and I was heading to the farmers’ market. We hugged, caught up a bit, and there was sorrow and kindness in her gentle eyes. We miss you, she said. I know, I said. I miss you too. We chatted about her girls, and my then-new job at Berklee, and we parted with another hug. I can’t remember if we said I love you, but I know we both felt it that day.

Last year, on Easter Sunday, J and I stood in front of the congregation and sang an old hymn I have known all my life: There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. J played the guitar and we took turns singing, and I looked at Kelly sitting in one of the front pews, quietly singing along with us. It was her lips moving to those familiar words, and the joy on her face, that prompted me to invite everyone to join us on the last verse: Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. 

Kelly lived by redeeming love, walking a hard road with faith and compassion for many years. She embodied the names she gave to her daughters: grace and hope. And she is – I hope with all my heart – at peace and at rest from her pain.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I believe you are healed. We will miss you here, but I look forward to hugging you and singing with you again one day.

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