Friday, October 21, 2011

Death, Graves, and Halloween

I was driving the kids to school the other day and while I made the turn out of my street, my eye caught a gravestone, skeleton and gruesome head coming out of the ground on my neighbour's lawn.  I still felt sick to my stomach as I kissed the boys and sent them on their way.

I couldn't stop thinking about what I had seen and how it had made me feel.  I went to work that day and spoke to Candace about what had happened.  Was Halloween going to mean something totally different, now that Zack died?  Will we decorate our house like we had every other year to be the "creepy" display on the street?

I'm the type of mom who decorates for EVERY holiday, and yes, last year, we had a gravestone, bones and a bloody sign on our door.  And yet, this year our Halloween container still remains in my basement.  The boys have been bugging me to "get our scare on" this year, but I've been hesitant to bring the decorations upstairs.  I really just thought it was because I wasn't really into celebrating ANY holiday...but I'm starting to realize that it was because of what Halloween represents.  Seeing the makeshift grave on my street made me feel so sad.  Having just lost my son, I make several weekly visits to his gravesite. Zack's grave, surrounded by Elmos and his photo, brings me such comfort and strengthens my sense of spirituality...not fear and macabre.  It's where I go to be closer to heaven or maybe just close to his body where I last saw it.  It's actually a place where I find peace and quiet...not ever imagining that it could also be a place for witches and goblins.

I had to remember some Halloween history when I started to write this post and I was interested to reread the origins of the holiday. Historically, November 1st was considered All Saint's Day, a day to commemorate the saints who had died and scare away evil spirits.  On All Soul's Day, November 2nd, the celebration was about praying for the souls of loved ones (who were not saints). October 31st became the Hallow's Eve before these two celebrations and has evolved over time into a night of fear, costumes and sugar.  According to Native American philosophy, it is the time of year when the “veil between the two worlds is the thinnest.” It's the time when the spirit world is closest to us and most connected to our physical world here on earth.  It might actually be a time when the spirits of those who have died feel even closer to us and signs become clearer.

When I asked Ty and Jayden about the house down the street, they thought that it looked so "awesome" (they obviously had not made the connection that I had made).  I certainly wasn't going to mention that their brother was actually at a cemetery and that Mommy didn't really feel like having a graveyard on our lawn this year...

So what do I do? 
Is THIS our new Halloween decor?
Do I fess up and tell them that it makes me upset, risking that I ruin Halloween for them? 

Do we go to the Dollar Store to stock up on new spider webs, bugs, witches and pumpkins instead?


Do I decorate my house like everyone else with severed limbs and skeletons?

This is one of my fave Halloween Photos of me and 2 of my guys....

Monday, October 17, 2011

I found my Bliss...it was all about ME!

There are lots of post-conference posts including inspiration, critique and the like. While I suppose I could mention what I liked and disliked about the format itself, I want to discuss what I learned and how I was inspired by the women who attended this amazing conference.

This year I was lucky enough to have won a ticket to my second Blissdom Canada conference. I was not only thrilled to be going, but this year, I was coming to this conference with so many questions about what was next for me...looking to the women to whom I have been turning for the last 7 months for some ideas.

Since Zack died, I've been in a state of flux. Not sure where my life was heading after my "job" as Zack's advocate was gone. I embraced my role as Zack's caregiver and biggest cheerleader, and without the role that began to define me, where was I to turn?
I had been leading fundraising effforts for Zack's Dream Room , speaking at a few events, and writing about my journey through grief, as a way to keep Zack in my daily life. But now, I wasn't sure what path to take not only for my blog, but for me.

I thought of turning my blog into more than a series of personal stories. Of evolving it into a way to contribute money to my family. I had had incredible support from the brands with whom I worked on Zack's fundraisers, so it seemed like a real option to monetize my blog and start doing paid reviews with brands that I love and respect.

I went to Blissdom seeking the ways in which I could do this- while still maintain my integrity and authenticity...the "brand" that is me...Heather, "TJZMommy", "Zack's mom". Many bloggers work with brands on a daily basis and do it really well. In fact, it seemed that this was very much a common theme throughout the conferences I've attended in the last few months. As the art of blogging evolves, this new source of income has turned several bloggers/writers into entrepreneurs- perhaps even the new wave of "mompreneurs".

As I sat in on the sessions regarding branding and monetizing your blog, I became uncomfortable with this as a direction for me, personally. I can also totally appreciate and respect that this is what other women have done with their blogs but I quickly learned that this is not where I want to go. I started to be more and more convinced that in order to be the truest ME, I had to simply continue to write from the heart. While this certainly won't pay for daycare and skating lessons, it will be authentic and real for me.

I still have a story to tell...how can I tell it?

I started to assess the ways in which I could tell my story...other platforms above and beyond my personal site.

I sat in on the session about Community Blogs with Maureen, Minnow and Sarah, Jen and Erica and was instantly inspired to reach out to my friends on the panel, and start submitting some of my blog posts to their prestigious sites. I started to feel confident that by focusing on being a "content creator" I will be able to tell my story to different audiences who might benefit from what I've learned along this journey. I've already shared 3 posts on two of these sites and I'd feel privileged to do more.

How could I use video? I'm a total amateur when it comes to making videos...but what a fabulous way to tell my story to appeal to the emotions of other parents! Videos by my friends; Eric Alper, Laura Berg, Jeff Pulver, and Alison Kramer are true examples of how content can go viral, if they appeal to the emotions and "me too factor" in all of us. My ideas were flowing all over my handwritten notes ('cause I'm old school like that)! Where would I start this video story? What did I feel I could share with a viewing audience, while appealing to their deepest feelings as a parent? How could I spread the word about Zack's Dream Room that truly and honestly explained the question everyone always asks me...."How do you do it?".

I was even lucky enough to speak to the editor-in-chief, of Canadian Family Magazine, Jen Reynolds and discuss ways in which I might be able to share my story with her audience. How awesome would THAT be? After the publishing session, I was motivated to dedicate more time to writing, editing and working on content. I even think that this crazy life might even lead me to a book one day!

The most powerful moment in the sessions was when my talented friend Shannon, created a video to show the moments when Social Media had reached out, touched hearts and changed some part of the world...however small or large. I'm so honoured that she asked if she could share Zack's story with the Blissdom women. Through the tears in the room, it was very clear that the power of Social Media has indeed been used for enormous good.



I came home from Blissdom with the idea of both where I didn't want to take my blog and ways in which I want to evolve it.

It became extremely clear to me that I know what path I'm on;


  • I want to create and run a charitable organization called "Zack's Dream".

  • I want to dedicate more time in my week to working on the art of writing and editing.

  • I want to submit my work to both community blogs and magazines.

  • I need to create a full bio with samples of all the work that I'm really proud of!

  • I am going to do a video, sharing my story, how I am doing it and the mission of Zack's Dream.

Most of all....I realized more that ever, that I have incredible women around me who are support, mentors, inspiration and a source of strength and motivation.

I found my bliss....did you?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still Thankful

This year I have struggled with this holiday. For obvious reasons.

I have so many things to be thankful for...I know that for sure.

But with such an immense sadness it is a chore to really let my heart feel grateful.

It's helpful for me to write these down and share them with you. I've spent some time this weekend, really giving thought to the many blessings that I have in my life.

While they can never erase the pain of losing Zack, they still deserve to be celebrated.



  • I'm thankful for Ty. Ty was my first miracle. The one that taught me that I was meant to be a mom. He still makes me proud everyday, of the sweet, sensitive boy he is and the amazing, caring man I know he will become.


  • I'm so thankful for Jayden. While Jayden can test me with his crazy moods and attitude, he is the silliest and funniest kid that I know. When I need a laugh, he is there for me. When I need to be someone's favourite girl....he lets me know that I'm his, forever.

  • I'm thankful everyday for being Zack's mom. When Zack was born, it brought out a strength in me that I never knew I had. I still have that (most days). I'm grateful to have known such joy in my life- while there has been immense pain, the joy is what I hope I will always remember.


  • I'm thankful for memories and for all the photos that document our life.


  • I'm thankful that I have a husband that is sensitive, caring and loving. One that will cry with me when we are alone and one that is strong for me when I need him to be. Through the many challenges we have had over the last few years....we still choose each other. I wouldn't want to live this life with anyone but Paul.

  • I'm thankful for family time, movie night, field trips and snuggles.


  • I'm thankful for chocolate.


  • I'm thankful for my parents. For all the tests that they have both had to their health, they are the strongest people that I know. They work hard at everything that they do, including being great supporters, grandparents and parents. They are generous and caring and I know that is where I get my sense of giving.


  • I'm thankful for my sister. Proud of all she has accomplished and of the women she is. I'm grateful that I can now call her my best friend.


  • I'm thankful to have two amazing best friends- Jill and Kathryn. I couldn't live this life without your support. Crying, laughing, borrowing clothes, dogs, fundraising, carpooling and pool parties...we've done it all....together. Love you both.


  • I'm thankful to have our beautiful home on a street that surrounds us with neighbours and friends like my sweet friends; Smita, Jenn, Gina, Karen. Don't ever move.


  • I'm thankful for the energy to give back and create not only Zack's Dream Room, but help York Central and support the pediatric patients and their parents.


  • I'm thankful to be healthy and to have the ability to do more.


  • I'm thankful for little Roxy, our new dog, who is about to enter our daily lives and bring joy and laughter to our family. I know the boys will love this new experience.


  • I'm thankful for friends and family who have helped us all get through the last 7 months and the last 4 years; Libbie, Smita, Tina, Jana, Alex, Lisa and so many more.


  • I'm thankful for the opportunity to go to work everyday and feel valued with Candace at Name Your Tune. And I look forward to finding my next passion.


  • I'm thankful to SickKids for not only allowing us to have 3 years with Zack, but for being gentle, caring and respectful in our last few days with him.


  • I'm thankful for the quiet times alone, when I can cry and be free to mourn.


  • I am thankful to Elmo, Kevin Clash and Sesame Street for giving us a furry red monster to hold onto and a symbol that embodies Zack's spirit.


  • I'm thankful to the extended group of women (and men) online who have helped pick me up as I've been about to fall. They have laughed and cried with me and I'm so grateful for those new friendships.


  • I'm thankful for an outlet to express my feelings in writing on this blog.


  • I'm thankful that you take the time to read about my family, myself and to offer support.

  • Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    What are YOU thankful for?