Saturday, October 14, 2017

Our Book, My Angel Mama

Sharry and I shared a goal of writing a children’s book together, in fact, you can see that mentioned twice on her bucket list. I was going to write the book and Sharry, the talented artist, was to do the illustrations. I can now say that we have checked one more item off her list and you can find the product of this goal on Amazon, My Angel Mama. Sharry’s name is listed as an author of this book and she very much helped write it. I am very proud of this book and know that Sharry would approve. It is the labor of a broken heart and powerful connections that come from love and loss.

The primary audience is JJ, I want more than anything for our baby boy to grow up knowing all about his Mama. Already he loves this book, although truth be told not quite as much as his Thomas the train books but that is one high bar to reach! He kissed one of the pictures of Sharry and my heart melted. This is my exact hope, that JJ will have one more way to stay connected to his angel mama. Beyond JJ I pray this book can touch and inspire others with the universal themes of love found in family, the preciousness of life, dealing with loss/suffering, and savoring those we are so fortunate to hold dear.

I must also express my love and extreme gratitude to the amazing illustrator of this book, Sarah Barley. Sarah is a very talented artist (as I’m sure you can see for yourself), incredibly intuitive and I consider myself fortunate to call her friend. This book would not have happened without her. She put much creative energy and countless hours into a project, that for her, was a selfless act of charity and compassion.

Sarah first reached out to me, as so many others have, to offer her condolences with kind words of compassion and support. Then later, unexpectedly, she sent me one of my very favorite Christmas gifts which I blogged about last December. It was a set of cards entitled “We Brave Women” featuring important women from history and on the very top of the deck was a custom made card of Sharry! Needless to say, I had a very emotional and positive response. Then a bit later I felt inspired to ask Sarah about helping with our book. Here is a journal entry I made from 11/27

“While rocking JJ idea popped into my head to ask Sarah Barley if she would do the art in our children’s book. She had been thinking of writing a book that same day!
Her response:
Funny timing, I was thinking about a children's book yesterday too. (it's on my bucket list as well)

Yes I'm super interested.  Do you want input on the art? Or would it be left to me?

If we decide to do it, I'm going to pray throughout the process to try to connect to Sharry. Wouldn't that be amazing if she was a part of the creation?”

And from mine and Sharry’s goal to Sarah’s intuitive act of compassion the book is complete. I sincerely believe like Shar was in fact “part of the creation,” to use Sarah’s words, and hope that if you get a chance to check it out you will feel her influence through my words and Sarah’s art.. I miss my love and best friend now and forever but am grateful for opportunities like this to share her love and legacy.

Here is a sneak peek of a couple of the pages from the book. To see the rest you’ll have to buy a copy 😇 and if you love it like I hope you will, please share with a friend!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Forgetting Her Voice

Last night I was going through old files on my computer trying to organize and cleanup a little and I stumbled upon a couple of videos of Sharry. These are videos from the days before Sharry was torn from this world and JJ came into it, videos that I have not watched for quite a few months. I watched and was shocked. I am already starting to forget exactly how my beloved Sharry’s voice sounds. I listen to her songs often enough that I am well aware of her singing voice in my mind but did not realize I am losing track of her speaking voice.

Here is the video that hit me so hard. I love the simplicity of it as we are just hanging out in our kitchen with our cat and Shar’s big ol belly compliments of JJ. I think the video is important to share so that the world can hear and remember, at least for a time, what she sounds like.

I hate that this is happening to me and to her. My mortal, quite imperfect brain is losing parts of the person who was my everything for almost 12 years...and this is only after 15 months! I legitimately grow incredibly queasy to think about how much detail and memories will fade in 15 years. Sharry deserves so much more than that.

I, of course, will never willingly give up a single minute memory but regrettably many more are likely to fade. Fortunately, she has JJ in her corner. I am confident thanks to our baby boy her memory will be more vibrant than it would have without him. I cannot wait to tell him all about his Mom, her personality, her funny quirks, her adventures, funny stories, her pictures, videos and her voice. Between Shar’s writings and legacy, my memories and JJ’s desire to know his angel mama we will keep her memory alive as much as any humans possibly can.

JJ watching the trains (aka SLC trax) go by with his cousin. He is obsessed with Thomas the train lately!

One of his amazing babysitters has a pet bunny. JJ loves cute little animals.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


August 11 2017 would have been Sharry’s 31st birthday, 421 days after she left her body and brought her baby into this world. She is excruciatingly missed every day and particularly this day as we celebrate her life and love. Sharry always loved celebrating birthdays. As a little girl she always was very careful to remind her family what special day was coming just around the corner and how excited she was for it. Sharry’s mom recently passed on some childhood writings to me and one of the most adorable instances of Shar’s birthday focus was a nice note to her mom. “Mom I just want to write you a thank you note to tell you how much I love you and thank you for all you do, and don’t forget my birthday is only two weeks away.” On her last birthday she blogged about turning 29 and spoke of her love for adventure, family and friends.
Pictures from Shar birthdays in years past

Thirty one candles should be lit that will remain dark.
Lao Tzu, the Taoist teacher, is believed to have said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns twice as long.” Nowhere is this more true than with Sharry. She lived full of passion and love for the world and living things around her. She was idealistic, good and innocent enough to believe that she could make a difference and have an extraordinary life full of experiences, love and adventure. She fulfilled that dream and has left behind a legacy in mine and JJ’s hearts and souls as well as many others she has touched.

One of mine and Shar’s favorite meditations was to light a candle and sit and watch it in the dark for ten minutes doing our best to bring our whole attention and presence into the dancing tiny flame. It has a very peaceful and sobering power.
Sharry’s almost 30 years teach us that we all burn like a flame atop a candle. Life is beautiful. Life is light in a dark universe. Life is comfort and warmth. But life is also incredibly fragile and none can truly know how long our wick may last or predict when an unforeseen breeze may blow.

In memory of Sharry’s 31st birthday...
light a candle and bask in it’s light
Tell a loved one how much you cherish them
Forgive a slight and let love prevail
Donate time or money to a cause
(Shar loved animals, the earth and education)


Friday, July 21, 2017

All my trials

God does not give trials.
Sometimes we have the misconception that a divine being is sitting up in the clouds handing out afflictions based on people’s needs or misdeeds. And of course we never receive anything greater than we can cope with. I call BS on that idea. My idea of a loving God is not one who inflicts such horrendous pain and suffering upon his kids like some kind of disgusting medicine. Can you imagine doing that to your own kids!? “Hey JJ I love you to pieces but I know what’s best for you and here’s what the doctor ordered...heartbreaking agony!”

I sure hope not!
JJ's first southwest trip
Sharry in 2013

Here’s what I have learned from a year of suffering and from others much wiser than myself.
God does not give us trials. Life can be magical, joyous and full of light but it can also be miserable and full of absolute difficulty and suffering. And there is no rhyme or reason to it except that sooner or later we all will face be knocked down by some inevitable pain, trial or heartbreak.

I believe God can help us find support, strength and meaning from life’s very unfortunate storms. In a year where I have missed my beloved Shar more than I ever imagined possible and have shed innumerable tears I have been incredibly supported. Family, friends and strangers have been God’s hands and voice in my life as they have reached out with compassion and love. I am amazed that I have survived this year with strength I didn’t know I had. There were many nights where I longed to be dead and with Shar whether that be in a paradisiacal afterlife or simply in the dirt. Those nights now come further and further apart. I have found much meaning in my new life in diverse forms. JJ, our baby boy, gives me a reason to live and live well. My suffering has been a seed for great compassion to grow in my heart which I can use in my job as a counselor and generally as a human being toward all living things. Sharry’s life and legacy also bring extraordinary meaning to my life as I want to be more like her, cross off her bucket list and live life to the fullest (x2) for both of us.

Here is a poem that has touched me deeply about finding meaning from sorrow

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

In closing who do you think JJ looks more one year?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

One year

JJ turns one year old this Friday. On 6/15/16 of last year, Sharry and I were anxiously and excitedly waiting for our new baby and our duo to become a trio. Life seemed so full of promise, hope, and excitement as we attempted to coax out baby boy by walking around the block of our newly purchased first home. I sincerely felt on top of the world. The next morning on 6/16/16 came the cataclysm and in an instant our world was torn asunder. My Sharry, my best friend and twin soul of 11.5 years was lost from this Earth as she gave her life for her beautiful baby boy.

It has been one hell of a year. A year of absolute heartbreak and complicated grief. A year of learning to live in a new dismal normal where the absolute worst case scenarios can and do happen. A year of intensely struggling as a single parent. A year for faith trials full of doubt and despair.

Yet it has also been a year of tremendous learning and growth. Here are a handful of lessons learned this year:
  • I have learned that life is incredibly fragile and we must absolutely consciously and explicitly cherish and love those closest to us
  • Life is both extraordinarily magical and utterly miserable
  • There is pain, suffering and heartache everywhere. When you go through a severe trial people begin to open up and share their own storms creating a network of love and compassion
  • Compassion is my new very favorite word in the English dictionary (com=with, passion=suffer) and it is now one of my life’s missions to live and teach compassion along with its needed sibling, empathy
  • Searching for truth and life after life are definitely worthwhile yet slippery pursuits
  • People, very much including complete strangers, can be so good, generous and compassionate in the face of suffering
  • I love Deckers and Buhanans more than ever. Our families have been the critical life raft upon which JJ and I have clung and survived despite the torrential storms
  • Babies are extremely exhausting and so damn cute. JJ is both my anchor to this life, my literal piece of Sharry and the number one source of stress and exhaustion.
  • I no longer judge parenting. If they are not abusive and doing their best then my hat goes off to them.
  • Humans are resilient. If someone like me can survive the very worst of nonviolent tragedies than so can you. In Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B she writes about losing her husband at a young age and describes resilience as a muscle that we can strengthen. I agree.
  • Love is expansive and not limited. After losing Sharry I thought my broken heart would never be able to truly love deeply again. That has not been the case but quite the opposite. My love for Sharry has not been diminished in the least and my capacity for love has expanded. I love JJ more than I thought possible. My love for my students, family and friends has only deepened. As Mother Teresa and other wise teachers have taught, suffering carves out our heart to love more deeply.
  • I can, I must choose to believe in hope and joy

JJ and I will strive to continue the legacy that Sharry lived and espoused, to cherish experiences and relationships above all else. I choose to live a full life with love and adventure and in her place JJ and I will need to work twice as hard to fill the void her light and life leaves in the world.

And I offer my heartfelt gratitude to you reader whether you be a family member, friend, acquaintance or complete stranger for your love, generosity, prayers, good vibes, compassion...everything over the last year. I believe Shar is grateful to you as well.

Here are some adorable one year birthday pictures (taken by my talented sister) of the cute little JJ and I know if his angel mama has any choice in the matter she will be with him on this day of celebration and loss. Also you can play a JJ by the month quiz game and/or offer him birthday wishes, embedded below or link here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

This Mother’s Day is a very difficult day.

I of course am poignantly reminded of my missing love, best friend and JJ’s mama. I am reminded just how cruel and heartbreaking life can be. We live in a reality where a completely innocent baby boy is robbed of his loving mama in a freakish turn of events and she is deprived of a future for the crime of wanting to bring more love and life into the world.

Last year, Mother’s day 2016, was one week before Sharry’s baby shower at a time when she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby George (that was our top name choice at the time). We had just barely moved int our first home where Shar had created a beautiful nursery. She was nervous with anticipation feeling JJ’s movements and jutting baby parts and couldn’t wait to meet this new human who she already loved so incredibly deeply. Of course 39 days later when JJ did make his entrance into this existence Sharry was on her way out. They never even got to least not physically.

It would be very easy to throw up my hands and say what kind of hell on Earth creates situations where motherless children exist!? But that is not the entire truth of the matter. JJ has not been left motherless. I really hope and choose to believe that he has a guardian angel mother watching over him. Is it the same as having her in the flesh? Of course not but unfortunately for whatever reason that was not a choice for us.

JJ has so many loving mother figures in his life. One day a week he spends with one of my cousins who is a mother of two school age boys who look forward to seeing JJ every week after school. She is intuitive, kind, patient and loving with JJ. He loves spending time with her and her family. Another day every week JJ spends with one of my sister in laws. She is a mother of two darling girls who dote on JJ as if he was their own baby brother. She is loving, skilled, generous and compassionate. I thank God and Shar for both of these moms.

JJ and I are both so blessed to have my mom and Sharry’s mom here in St George as an intricate piece of her lives here. Sharry’s mom watches JJ at least three days a week. It is a beautiful sight in the morning when I drop JJ off to see him light up and reach out to Grandma Buhanan. This relationship is a powerful connection for both of them to their missing mother and daughter. Grandma Buhanan is so sweet, loving, patient and attentive AND she is able to share with JJ some of the powerful love that she has for her angel daughter through stories, toys, experience and presence. If Sharry does still exist and has some autonomy I’m sure she spends many days with these two.

My own mother for all intents and purposes is JJ’s adopted Earthly mom. This is both incredibly heartbreaking and so deeply fortunate. He looks to her for comfort, love and support and he finds it. I am so grateful for the emotional, physical and parental support that Grandma Decker brings to mine and JJ’s very complicated lives. When the foundation of my former life was ripped from underneath me of course my world came crashing down but my mom, just like when I was a child myself, has been a significant part of rebuilding my life in the last 11 months. I am so deeply grateful to her and I know Shar is/would be too.

The mothers in our lives teach us what true love is. Yes love can be exciting, expanding and so deeply fulfilling yet it is also selfless, patience and goodness in action. I know one of the most important lessons these moms (Shar very much included) have taught me in my life is that relationships are what make life worth living and I hope to live according to that legacy.
Two pictures by another amazing mother Sarah, who is doing the beautiful art for a children's book we're writing

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I wonder...

Ten months. Easter Sunday is JJ’s 10 month birthday. We are in freaking double digits! 303 days since I was forced to say goodbye to my beautiful and beloved Shar. Like sands in an hour glass time moves steadily on. As is typically the case the time has both felt like a blink of an eye and slogging through the hours as if I’m stuck in tar.
Easter 2015
Spring historically is my favorite season. It brings warmth, color, light and life. This spring most days after work we go on JJ and daddy hikes exploring the beautiful red rocks of southern Utah. I’m sincerely loving my job where I feel so fulfilled and supported. Nights however can very much still be a struggle. It’s ironic, compared to winter, but as there is more and more sunlight throughout the day when the sun sets I can feel ever more poignantly the weight of loss, darkness, grief and despair in the center of my chest.

Fortunately I have a pair of terrific supports (among a host of others) in my life that are helping me manage and deal with this darkness. They include an insightful and compassionate therapist who I see monthly and an intuitive and energetic spiritual guide. This spring, independent of one another, they have both challenged me to embrace creativity and curiosity. To wonder. After nearly 12 years of confidently knowing the direction and purpose of life, that is sharing the day to day adventure with Shar cherishing all the beautiful ups and depressing downs. I no longer feel that spark and meaning in my heart. I grasp to KNOW of things that humans simply cannot know. So I hope and now I wonder.
Shar at art festival 2015
art festival 

Instead of fearing and agonizing over what the utterly blank future holds. I wonder what students I may be able to help, what adventures JJ and I will go on, what beautiful souls I’ll get to meet and learn from. Instead of fearing the unknown, if Sharry and God do literally exist, I choose to be grateful she was mine and I was hers for 12 amazing years. To choose hope, belief and wonder. What is she is doing now and if she gets to be our guardian angel? To wonder what if Jesus lived and died that we may overcome the grave? To wonder what if the Buddha lived and awoke to share a message that is the key to overcoming suffering? Instead of a host of other negative places to which my mind so readily returns, I worry, I fear, I don’t know, I am not good enough...etc. I am trying to embrace my inherent curiosity and wonder what life (here and in the next) have in store. I wonder if this will work haha but wish me luck!

This is what the philosopher and the poet share in common: both are concerned with the marvelous. Amazement is the beginning of philosophy. Wonder is a kind of desire in knowing. It is the cause of delight because it carries with it the hope of discovery. -Thomas Aquinas

Continuing the "wonder" theme with one of our fave baby songs