Thursday, July 20, 2023

She Hits the Ground Running

I catch the music of tires on pavement, just outside my front door. A little squeal of delight drifts out into the morning; the car door is opened and a beautiful toddler is lifted from her car seat.

My day is about to begin; I’m in charge of a two-year-old named Matilda June.

She is my “Tilly” and I am her “Oma”.

She hits the ground running, this tiny force of nature.

“Oma’s House!” she calls out, filling my grandmother’s heart with unfathomable joy.

Matilda is my very first grandchild, and she has unlocked a space in my life that’s alive with Possibility and new purpose.

I’m loving everything about grandparenting: watching her learn and discover; seeing my daughter step into her Mothering Skills; the stirred-up memories from when I was a young mom – lullabies returning and the mingled smells of crayons, bubble bath and play dough.

I embrace it all, even welcoming the realities of diaper changes, scraped knees, tantrums and teething.

I’ve entered a portal into the-unknown-yet-familiar. There’s no turning back for me. 

I’m all in.

This rite of passage – this mysterious journey into grandparenting --   should be wholly available to All Moms of a Certain Age.

But, sadly, it isn’t.

There are grandmothers and grandfathers who are denied access to their grandchildren. For various heartbreaking reasons.


Family rifts.

Geographical distance.

Strategic rejection.

Ambiguous reasons.

Substance abuse.


Chronic health issues.

Irreconcilable differences in parenting styles.

Financial hardship.

The anguish of this came knocking one day in the grocery store on an otherwise normal Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the checkout line, loading my items onto the counter, when I overheard the conversation in front of me.

Two women exchanging pleasantries – the store clerk and the customer, doing what we women do so naturally: conversing like old friends. They were talking about popsicles, and the store clerk mentioned her granddaughter’s passion for ice cream treats.

Of course, I had to chime in. (As we women do). I offered up how much I love being an “Oma”.

“Do you have grands?” I asked the customer, a tall woman, regal in her silver-gray ponytail, her sundress, her manicured toes. I remember she absolutely exuded warmth and nurture. In my naivete, I simply assumed she had grandkids.

She looked confused at my question, so I repeated it. “Do you have grands?”

That’s when her face clouded over with something like despair and envy mixed.

“I do have grandkids,” she said, “and I used to know them.”

She paused.

“But I don’t know them anymore.”

The world stopped for a moment. The hum and bustle of the store became muted as I struggled to understand her dilemma.

“I used to know them.”

She had grandchildren but she couldn’t be with them. How awful is that?

This dear lady explained her son, the father of her grandchildren, was now divorced and the mother wanted absolutely nothing to do with the extended family; therefore, the children had been cut off from family members they once knew and loved.

I know this kind of thing can happen, but it’s kind of a vague blip on my radar.

Now, here stood a pain-filled human right in front of me, a lovely person paying for her groceries and stepping out into the summer day carrying a certain kind of pain. The pain of severance. 

The ache of empty air where once there was laughter.

The echo of bedtime stories and birthday parties, shadows of memories becoming thick like scar tissue.

Before she left, she turned around and gave me a sad smile. “I’m happy for you, really. Please, enjoy your granddaughter. Because, well … you just never know.”

You just never know.

If you are reading this and you are alienated from your grandchildren, I am deeply, truly sorry. Whatever the reasons, you have been denied the affection of Littles, the loyalty of teenagers, the thrill of seeing young adults launch out into the world.

You are suffering and please know your unseen wounds are visible to Elder Law.

“Grandparent Alienation is a type of elder abuse that occurs when grandparents are unreasonably denied meaningful opportunities to have a relationship and spend time with their grandchildren.”

If you are reading this and you – like me – are abundantly blessed with full access to your offspring’s offspring … revel in that. Drink in ALL the beauty of your situation and be keenly aware of your good fortune.

Tilly June keeps me on my toes. She has only one speed: fast-forward. Together, we go on walks in the woods, inspecting every bug and flower. She loves dandelions.

We make frozen treats and slurp them on the patio, dripping and giggling to our heart’s content.

Her parents invite me on treks to the library, the zoo, the park and the pet store.

It’s all amazing.

And I know it. Every single moment.



A little checklist for the Abundantly Blessed:

ü **Maintain empathy for those missing their grands. Don’t automatically assume other grandparents have it as good as you do.

ü **Be aware there may be legitimate reasons, including the physical safety and emotional welfare of the child, for denial.

ü **Be available to stand in the gap for kids who need a grandparent-figure to influence their young lives. You just may be the answer to somebody’s prayers.

ü **Remain locked and loaded, fully engaged in your joy of being a grandparent.

ü **Happily maintain your bragging rights. You’ve earned them.

ü **Here’s a great resource when you’re thinking up stuff to do with your grands: Type "Macaroni KID" in your search bar. Macaroni KID is a free weekly online newsletter giving you all the kid and family friendly events in your community.


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Monday, January 23, 2023



Since the sudden loss of my husband in 2008, I have surrounded myself with likeminded women; tribal comrades who “get me” with a nod or a knowing look. I find this comforting.

There are Facebook groups for widows and Twitter feeds about navigating life in the absence of a soulmate. I find these helpful.

A common thread is the tendency for others to avoid us.

This hurts. We feel alienated. We become less willing to tell you how it really is.

“Once you’re back to normal,” one person cautioned me, “things will fall back into sync”.

Um. What?

What does “normal” even look like?

FACT: There is no returning to normal. Death is a watershed moment. A seismic shift into Bewilderment. It’s not a “journey” either; it’s a hardscrabble slog through uncharted territory.

Death is a watershed moment.

A seismic shift into Bewilderment.

Within days of Roger's funeral, I was told I needed to get right back to work. Being a chronic people pleaser, I did what I was told, and regretted returning too soon. I was emotionally catatonic, unable to make the smallest decisions.

Complete strangers would approach me with something I call “comparison stories” and these were not helpful.

Such as: “You should be grateful your husband’s heart attack was fatal; my husband is hanging on by a thread and I never know when his heart might fail…can you imagine what THAT is like?”

Um, no. I can’t. But thanks, anyway, for holding space for my pain (this sentiment delivered internally, with dripping sarcasm).

But then there was this one friend who materialized like a gift on my back porch. She stood at the threshold and prayed for a buyer - - just the right family to come up the hill and occupy this sprawling acreage with woods and a pond and a barn. A 100-year-old homestead holding laughter in the walls.

I was blown away by her kindness; her refraining from advice and supplying only affirmations. Prayers. Quiet, practical support.

It’s probably true I’m an unruly widow, a rogue variation of who you may think I should be. Sometimes I can be impulsive, often ornery, and emotionally wobbly.

Trouble is, I have no desire to contort myself into another’s definition of “widow”. The business of loss and grief is a messy one. In the end, the shattered pieces look more like a mosaic, less like a well-ordered timeline of “stages”.

A Grief Mosaic

Everybody’s different. Loss is deeply personal to each individual. Some of us will appear crushed, some brave, some stoic. We put on our game faces and go out into the world.

One day at a time.

We’re not asking you to understand us; we’re simply wanting you to walk alongside us on the confused, zig-zaggy pathway of regrouping.

Also, bring snacks please.

What widows really want, is for you to hold our stories. Listen to our ramblings, even when we make no sense.

Listen – not to fix – but to support. Without judgement.

Please do not hold us to a tidy grief timeline. Grief is not linear. Grief is explosive and unpredictable, splintering us and shattering our once-imagined futures.

Grief, kindly, is also an anthem of Resilience.

A soft patchwork quilt of memories.

Maybe, at the end of the day, we are not “widows behaving badly”, but human beings carrying painful stories. 

Can you cut us some slack? Would you simply sit with us and bear witness to our pain? Allow us, please, to be messy. 




A fellow sojourner once said to me, “I just wish I could spill my stories on the floor and then have another person pick up the pieces, hold them to the light, and see the beauty in my memories. That’s all I really want.”


She’s right. A grieving person needs you to hold space for them. Not to fix, not to advise, and especially not to correct.

Simply to listen. And maybe bring snacks.

The years have loosened my grip on expectations. I’m less apt to be offended by random comments; rather, I have deeper empathy for that person’s story. Because “death” manifests itself in many ways: loss of a job, divorce, financial hardship, wayward children, and detoured dreams.   

My gaze has softened into pastels of acceptance. The view from here is manageable, even joy filled.

Pardon me if I sometimes behave badly. This, too, is part of being a widow. You cut me some slack; I’ll float you some grace.

We’ve got this.

And if you find yourself wandering the colorless landscape that has no spouse, no hand to hold, no snacks to share … please know I will walk beside you. In solidarity. In a quiet knowing, a thundering empathy.


As seen in SILVER, a magazine for seniors in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania

Published January 2023



Friday, December 2, 2022

The Field Behind the Plow


Photo by Lynn Gurdak

A heritage of rolling hills and farmland is a rich legacy; if you’re blessed enough to have lived among salt of the earth people in rural places, then you are blessed enough.

In many regions across our great land, one can claim “farmer” identity without having tossed a single bale of hay; we are farmers by proxy – identifying with the fields of dry cornstalks adorning the roadways; the smell of burning leaves is in our DNA.

If you have thrown a bale into the loft, or if you have witnessed a sunset while atop a rumbling tractor seat, then you are stitched into the very fabric of rural life.

Like the harvested fields, we are preparing for a season of rest and quiet; a hushed interval of waiting.

Recently I discovered the legacy of singer, Stan Rogers, a prominent voice of Canadian folk music. Rogers was noted for his rich baritone voice and traditional songs, inspired by the daily lives of working people -- especially those from fishing villages and farms. Sadly, he died in a fire aboard an airplane at the age of 33.

Rogers wrote the lyrics to the song, “The Field Behind the Plow.” In the words, I dug out this beautiful gem:

“Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows,
Put another season's promise in the ground.”

The sentiment is about Springtime and the planting of seeds; the formation of tidy rows and the much-anticipated harvest.

As we hunker down and fortify our walls against the elements, I like to cast a different light on that line: “Put another season’s promise in the ground” might also give a nod to a fresh blanket of snow, covering fields that have recently lined our pantry shelves. Orchards and vineyards, soon cloaked in ice, have given us pies and applesauce; juice and wine; preserves and jams.

Another season’s promise becomes a provision for the winter months. We can, with abundance, enjoy the taste of summer in the darkness of December.

While the earth freezes, we can still savor the juicy delight of a garden tomato. Or Grandma’s impossibly yummy watermelon rind pickles.

This is what I love about farm country. Promises abound whether it’s planting time, growing season or harvest. Promises even thrive in winter when the fields are at rest.

If joy is measured by produce-laden tables, may your pearls be pomegranates; may your diamonds be sweet corn.

Next time you see a resting field, consider the one who planted and worried when it didn’t rain; the family who unloaded their pickup at the farm stand, week in and week out.

In that field, deer may be bedding down at night. Turkeys will perform their comic dance across those brown fields. Geese will stitch seams into the sky overhead.

These, too, are promises of the season: things we can bank on, no matter the economic downturns.

Savor the moments. As Maya Angelou famously wrote, “Buckle close friends to your soul.”

We really can have summer memories in the raw winds of wintertime.

Photo by Lynn Gurdak

This piece also appeared in the November 2022 edition of Silver Magazine - printed by The Post-Journal, Jamestown NY

Kathy Joy is an Indy Writer for Capture Me Books; she eagerly awaits the debut of her new children's book in January 2023.







Friday, July 29, 2022

Traveling Solo

As a newly minted retiree, I am happily wandering the countryside in pursuit of waterfalls, covered bridges, quaint shops and other fun destinations.

In the nine-to-five structure of my days, these mini-adventures had to be squeezed into the weekends. Now, however, I get to unfold a map of my own design. I can draw lines from here to there and in-between, putting a star next to places of interest.

A ribbon of road, a fringe of forest, an endless blue sky. 

My vagabond soul.

Off-highway is my favorite choice. In "settings" I tell my navigation system to avoid freeways and toll roads. And off we go. 

Recently I was returning home from the Harrisburg, PA area and directed my GPS off-highway, as usual. The back roads were portals of wonder as I coasted through the Allegheny Mountains. Trees, dense and overgrown, met overhead to form a green canopy. For miles and miles, I met no other cars. I drove right into a canvas of aging barns and stately homes, hushed cemeteries and white steeples, landscaped lawns and laundry dancing in the breeze. 

Vegetable stands came into view and I slowed down so I could read signs that said, "Best Sweet Corn Ever, $3.00 a dozen" and "Leave Your Cash in the Basket if We're Not Here".  

This is the downhome rural America I love. In the cross sections of one-pump gas stations and enticing ice cream stands, I never once considered I could be doing 70 on a straight stretch of asphalt.

Meandering at 40 or 45 miles per hour, I took in acres of field corn, pastures of grazing cows, glorious bundles of hay as far as the eye could see.

As the shadows lengthened and dusk whispered in, I realized I still had hours to travel before reaching my driveway. 

Reluctantly, I switched my navigation to "highway" and accelerated into the blur of traffic. 

What I'd really like to see in our high tech world is a GPS that can track the intersection of Chaos and Possibility. I want to go there.

Wouldn't it be helpful if we could call a friend and say, "Meet me at the crossroads of Loss and Recovered Joy" ? 

Or, "Let's have coffee at that little place on Main Street - you know the one - where you empty the dregs of cold resentment and tank up on a large cup of affirmation!" My GPS will show me the way.

Or not.

No amount of technology will locate the corner of Loss and Acceptance; it's an organic mechanism of the human heart. 

No warp speed coordinates will zoom in on the corner of Anger and Forgiveness. You have to get there by fits and starts. By lurching sideways and avoiding the potholes of outrage.

Fact is, there is no straight highway, no winding back road, to a safe arrival. The best anyone can do is remain calm and trust the navigation. Oh, and take lots of stretch breaks. 

When we get to those mile markers, we should honk and wave, so the next traveler feels not so alone.

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Please consider purchasing my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Of Cemeteries, Selfies and Restored Barns


On the occasion of my daughter’s wedding in June 2020, I visited my husband’s grave. A strange place to take a selfie, perhaps – but that’s what I did.

After placing my mother-of-the-bride sunflowers on Roger’s stone, I took a selfie.

I wanted to preserve the moment, to mark yet another grief-point of Roger’s gaping impossible absence: the wedding where he – not I – should have walked her down the aisle.

The photo is my profile picture on Facebook.

The response has been more than I’d expected, a generous cluster of comments such as “you look great” and “you look fresh as springtime”.

I’d taken the photo to literally make sure I was still in my physical body, the day had been so surreal without him there. I was shadow inside a circle of Nothingness; sorrow inside layers of regret.

It had been the best day and the worst day. 

My carefully applied makeup had been cried into hot rivulets of smeared mascara. A layer of sunburn tinged my skin. My hair, all done up for the wedding, was now mashed down by my favorite sun visor.

I felt a million miles away from Beautiful.

In that moment I was bereft, lonely, a little bit mad. No, a lot mad.

Angry because another Big Life Event had come and gone. Without him.

Without us.

Since that warm June day in a cemetery in Chandlers Valley, Pennsylvania, there have been more Life Events: our second daughter married.

A sweet baby girl arrived, christening me a grandma for the very first time.

I’ve retired.

Moved to a new place. Again.

Published a new book. Working on another.

Life Events. Big Days.

Often I wonder what it might have looked like, to grow old with this man. To grow into a season of “older love” with my husband. We’d experienced the roller coaster of new love, the solemn and joyful entry into a marriage covenant; the happy chaos of parenting; the chasing down of careers, of dreams, possibilities and future hopes. We’d been naïve, thinking we would also welcome a mellower time of Seasoned Love, of holding hands in the Silence of Knowing.

But we didn’t.

He didn’t. He had to leave because his heart could no longer keep pace with his intensity, his constant quest to fix things and put in hay and build relationships and try-try-try to mend situations that were clearly beyond mending.

I saw it. I saw it and I wanted him to slow down, to have a seat, to find contentment, to be still. JUST BE STILL.

And then his heart stopped.

And ours kept beating.

Myself and our daughters, we kept moving forward because that’s what the surviving do: they step into the tender lands of a place they do not know, a place without him.

Without his laughter, his dad jokes, his made-up silly songs. His love of bonfires in the back, down by the barn. His good humor toward the girls’ horses, which he often referred to as “hay burners”.

Of course he was always fixing things. He shored up the barn, the barn that everybody said should be razed. Start all over, they cautioned. Build something new.

But not him. No, not Roger. He gazed out our living room window at that barn, studying the way it sagged to the one side. The graying of worn wood from weather and wind and a ‘hundred winters.

Then one day he began. He had help from family, but mostly he took it on as a personal mission. Openly marveling at the dove-tailed wood in that old barn, Roger made it sturdy again. He honored the craftsmanship that had gone before. The barn rallied and stood strong. Impervious to the winds, like Roger himself.

That barn? That old barn is a metaphor for the life he and I shared. The landmark was once a New Beginning on top of a windswept hill. A cathedral of Possibility.

That old barn was made sturdy by times of abundance and in lean times, too. It grew long in the tooth but proved immeasurable in endurance. That structure held laughter in its walls, harbored tools, welcomed children, kept all God’s creatures safe and dry.

Held secrets.

That old barn.

Our abbreviated lives.

It’s beautiful still, that sanctuary of wood and clay and dirt, still sheltering livestock, still smelling of hay and tractors, of oats and manure.

I drive up there sometimes, just to be sure it’s still there. And it is. It’s always there – like the memory of our life together. I can count on that, at least.

So back to the photo. A quick snapshot of myself, standing in front of his gravestone.

Maybe there is a wisp of beauty, after all – a spark of durability; an elegance that rises from unfathomable loss.

This is not vanity, this notion of seeing myself beautiful. This is grit and moxie and a gutsy refusal to lose hope.

A striking kind of loveliness. Harvested from suffering. I’ve seen this in the eyes of other widows, this odd, reflective beauty. The pain is there, but so is the hope – that relentless belief that as long as you cherish the memories, that person lives on inside your own heart.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
 A time to kill and a time to heal.

    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
 A time to cry and a time to laugh.

    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
 A time to search and a time to quit searching.

    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
 A time to love and a time to hate.

    A time for war and a time for peace.

 What do people really get for all their hard work?  I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 New Living Translation

The book, “Older Love” by Warren Hanson, is a lovely collection of thoughts and illustrations celebrating the mellowed love of old age.

The photo of the old barn is a Google image – although it strongly resembles our hilltop barn before it was fixed up.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Digging for Gems


The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.


Dear humans in the relentless industry of helping people:

Just remember, while you are excavating hopeful shiny gems that surface under your careful surveillance ... there are also impossibly exquisite jewels emerging from your own heart.


Remember that.

This blog supports

Please consider purchasing my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Matt's Pen



Some childhood stories stick with you like bright, bobbing buoys in uncharted seas. They serve as vivid markers as we navigate our days.

One story, for me, is about a worker who lost his job. Everything was gone: his income, his years of education, his sense of purpose. He’d been a well-known businessman.

But the one thing he took away from that career was his pen.

That pen? This guy repurposed it for writing stories that would be published and passed down to generations of readers.

By all accounts, this author did not make money from his stories. Something of greater value emerged: his legacy.

The stories became powerful influencers for good: affirmations, encouragement, purpose-filled texts to uplift, to sustain.

I’ve always liked this story. It is timeless. Relatable. Unique yet universal.

We are all repurposing our gifts, just like this writer dude from ancient times.

Sewing machines are being regenerated into mask factories.

Fitness coaches are upping their game - moving their services to interactive video sessions.

Boardroom meetings are expanding into Zoom extravaganzas – wonderfully unexpected, often funny, exchanges among colleagues.

First Responders are keeping us safe in challenging conditions.

Team Leaders are repurposing and expanding their skills to maneuver the platoons and keep everyone focused.

It’s amazing, really, this human capacity to adapt and redirect and manage and breathe;

To release what we’d planned on and embrace what is.

To be grateful we have paychecks, while others are still waiting for help.

To shift our perspective from Planning to Adapting.

To walk away from everything familiar and step into the Unknown.

Perhaps, in a way, we are plying our pens – writing our own stories for our children to read and re-read.

These heirlooms handed down will far surpass any Roth-IRA, 401-K or Estate provision.

Treasures of survival are the currency that can never be stolen, lost or wrongly invested.

You have more abundance than you know.

With reserves to bank on when times are lean.

Kathy Joy

Another look at the gospel of Matthew

May 20, 2020