Home from Europe: A Snapshot of a Vacation
A Book Lover's First Trip to London or, In Which I Have to Work to Find My Chill

An Open Letter to the Universe (Or, My List of Things that Make Me Sad (Right Now))

In a book I just finished, The Spellbook of Listen Taylor, there is a spell for making two happy people have an argument about absolutely nothing:

  1. Do twenty jumping jacks.
  2. Write a list of everything that makes you sad.
  3. Put the list at the bottom of a box of Kleenex.

I don’t want anyone to have an argument over nothing, but I did feel compelled to write my list of Things that Make Me Sad (right now) (even though “sad” isn’t quite the right word to capture what I have been feeling).

In my head, I keep going back and back through time, trying to find the month or the year or the day I didn’t have this underlying sense of doom or anxiety. I think it started way back with Kendell’s first surgery, when he had his hips replaced. I have done much work and had many happy days since then, but still: I don’t think I’ve ever stopped worrying, that he wouldn’t make it through the surgery, and then that his post-op complications would never get better, and then that he would still be in pain. There was a tiny little respite, maybe, for about 8 or 9 months, when he was fully recuperated from the surgery, starting to exercise regularly, and really feeling like life could be normal. Then we found out about his heart and he had his first heart surgery. My clearest memory of that day was when his heart surgeon called me from the operating room and said “we just put him on bypass.” It was so surreal, knowing I was sitting at my house (his surgery was at a hospital just a half mile away from our house), curled up on our bed waiting, and his heart wasn’t, at that very moment, beating at all.

He recuperated from that surgery, and then 18 months later had his gall bladder removed.

And then a few weeks after that, we found out that Kaleb also has a bicuspid aortic valve.

And then we found out, a year later, that he has a bulge on his aorta.

And then Kendell’s dad died.

And then, a year later, my dad died.

And then, the next year, Kendell’s mom died.

And then my mom was under strict orders not to die, which she didn’t, but she did have an incredibly difficult back surgery and a long recovery that was muddled with family tensions and long-buried resentments.

Then, last summer, we found out Kendell had to have his valve replaced again.

And then in April he almost died. He should, but all logic and statistics and medical understanding, have died.

Mix in what for me has been the hardest part of parenting—raising teenagers. I love my kids and I am proud of them; they are good kids trying to find their way in the world, but it has still been hard. I have some mom friends who have loved this part, but for me it has been anguish, and feeling guilty over the anguish makes the anguish even worse. Add in the feeling that my extended family (my mom and sisters and nieces and nephews) is fracturing. There have been so many heartaches in my kids’ lives, friends and girlfriends and boyfriends who have betrayed them, mistakes and disappointments and the ongoing struggles of modern adolescence. And all of the every day sort of worries and troubles, car wrecks, stitches, bike collisions, broken bones, sprained ankles and twisted knees and smashed fingers.

Plus my back has hurt for 92% of those years.

I just feel like asking the universe for a break. But apparently the universe is not done with me. Because at first I started writing my List of Things that Make Me Sad (right now) right in the book, until I decided it was just too grisly and depressing.

But if I am honest, I can say: I’m in a bad place right now. So, as to avoid causing anyone to have an argument over absolutely nothing, I’m going to write my list on my blog instead. There will be no jumping jacks or bottoms of Kleenex boxes. But maybe if I write it down, it will remind the universe: Amy has had enough. Amy is at her breaking point. Please, give Amy a break. (Because…Amy is writing in third person!)

  1. There is some unexpected medical fallout from Kendell’s cardiac arrest. I feel entirely alone and unable to know even where to start dealing with this, as he doesn’t really see it, only I do. (I am being vague because I am not yet ready to hold it up to the light.)
  2. Kaleb had his annual heart check up in June and it did not go well. This is another thing I just really, really can’t even look at yet. Living in constant fear that your husband could die is one thing. It’s entirely another thing with your child.
  3. You know that feeling when something happens that lets you see clearly that a relationship you thought you could trust is actually fairly untrustworthy? Like when you caught your best friend in high school making out with your boyfriend. That feeling, except with adult friendships it’s less about the boy (actually, there is no boy involved) and mostly about realizing you trusted and loved where you shouldn’t have. That happened to me this past weekend, with a friendship I have relied upon for years, and I don’t really know how to change my life to adapt to it. I do know this: the brushing-off of a friendship in whatever form of betrayal it occurs is always, whether you’re 13 or 43, an ugly feeling, one that is based surprisingly on shame and embarrassment. I’m embarrassed to have thought for so long that I actually mattered to this person. (This time I’m being vague only to protect the not-really-innocent-but-whatever.)
  4. Speaking of relationships. Another fairly important one in my life I am realizing will likely never be how I had hoped it would be. There is still goodness and connection there, but different than I had hoped. I need to make peace with the reality of this relationship rather than the wishes I had had for it. I just don’t know how. (Vague because…I love this person so much and would never want to burn any bridges.)
  5. Recent decisions of various people have left me feeling like I have failed myself, my family, and God. How do you make peace with failing God? He gave me one job. And sure, everyone will tell me it’s not my fault and people make choices. But all that means is that I failed at teaching how to make good choices. I failed.
  6. When we were in Paris, Haley’s cell phone and all of her credit cards were stolen. It’s been kind of a nightmare getting everything functional again. We mailed her a new phone…and it is stuck in the customs office in Madrid. After much research I still can’t figure out how to get it out. The replacement credit card she was sent is an emergency card, which doesn’t have a chip, so it doesn’t work at most of the places she needs it to work. She’s got two weeks left and needs cash and the phone needs to get to her before she comes home and I just am so tired of worrying about this. (I actually just googled air flights to Madrid. So I could, you know. Fly to Madrid, fetch that *#&%*+!~# cell phone, and then just hang around in Madrid for a week. That actually might be the perfect answer. Who’s coming with me?)

Or, to sum up: continuing medical troubles; terror at my child’s heart; betrayal; an emotion I don’t have a word for which is equal parts grief, regret, yearning, and self-loathing; failing God; and a kid without a cell phone or money in a foreign country.

And I know: this blog post is a great big pity party. It’s dark and sad and whiny; it fails to remember that during the years since Kendell’s first surgery, there have been a lot of good things, too. Vacations and high school graduations and birthday parties and holidays and delicious meals, running and hiking and learning and growing. I am stronger than I was when this started. My kids are all alive and in one piece and moving forward.

But oh, dear Universe. I need a little pause. A small one, but a real one. A moment when nothing is weighing on my heart. And maybe that isn’t possible, maybe a heavy, troubled heart is the universal condition of adulthood. Maybe I am asking for too much.

But still, I am asking. I need light. I need to not feel despair. I need to, for just a little while, feel like I did something right. Anything.

I’m not sure that is possible. But I need it, if it is. We all of us, in my family, need it.



Sending you a virtual hug or three. Hang in there.


Oh hon. That is so, so much. My live and prayers. Holding you in the light


Didn't feel like a pity party while reading it. Felt like a raw, honest outpouring of real feelings about hard stuff. A lot of really hard stuff. And you're right, you have failed God. We all do. All the time. We aren't perfect. But he is. And he is right there with you in those failures. And the best part to me? He can take all our failures and crappy, stupid choices and do wonderous things. I will be praying for you.


Yes! You should ALWAYS go to Madrid. Then I can stalk you there as well. You have no idea how good I am now with Google Earth.

Feisty Harriet

Oh honey, you have so much going on. I always feel a little better just getting it all written down and OUT somehow. I hope, if nothing else, there is a little relief in that.



Wish I could take you out for tea and just listen for awhile. Letting it out helps, I hope. Sometimes the only way past something is through it, but, man, does it suck in the process. Good thoughts are being sent your way. Take care.


You really do need a pause. I hope you get one- and soon.


What you said about Kendell and not remembering a day when you didn't feel underlying doom and anxiety really resonated with me. Husbands with health issues take a toll...I often look at couples and wonder what it would feel like to never worry and never fear. Do they appreciate it? Going about so carefree? I can't remember one day when I felt carefree. I'm also with you on raising teenagers. Again, a constant feeling of anxiety and worry... The consequences of their choices can have such far reaching effects. It makes it difficult to sleep most nights. How I envy those who fall deeply and soundly asleep. Thank you for your post. I hope you get the pause you need. Hugs to you.

Wendy Hill

I, too, am sending you a virtual hug and wishing it could be a real one and we could be i-r-l friends.

I saw a powerful video where a psychologist held up a glass and the audience thought she would make the half-full/half-empty analogy, but instead she talked about how the glass feels heavier the longer you hold it aloft. You are carrying so many burdens. Prayers for respite from those burdens. Perhaps jumping on that plane would be just that. If that's not possible, I hope the act of writing released some (I know I feel lighter when I get the emotions down on paper).

I still think of you every time I look at one of the Groupon deals for trips to London-Paris-Rome. For now, my focus remains on the most recent novel, but one of these days I'm going to want to do that travel research for a sequel to the other one.


I love how real your blog post is (and always is)! It's not a pity party it's just real life and it's hard and right now it's very hard for you, wishing I could do something to make it better but will settle on sending hugs and prayers your way.

Melanie Bell

I hope writing this out lifted a tiny bit of the weight. I wrote some pretty gritty stuff in the margins of that book - you probably already saw. I feel the fear of losing my son more often than I don't. I can't imagine having those fears about my husband as well. Not that I'm comparing. Just saying that life is so hard and we're all in it together. Fighting our battles beside each other. I love it when people are open about their troubles. ((Hugs))

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