Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Thinking About Fifty Years

There's nothing quite like burying a 50-year time capsule to get you thinking about the big stuff.




What am I doing here and does it even really matter?

On Sunday, as part of our church's 300th anniversary celebration members of our congregation wrote personal stories and notes on colorful slips of paper. We then placed them in a time capsule with the intention of having it opened by our church's members in 2073. 

Admittedly, the idea of 2073 sent my mind wandering.

Thoughts of climate catastrophes and natural disasters settled in first. Is there any way that this spot where we are burying this time capsule right now will still hold it safely in 50 years? 

I hope so, was the honest answer playing in my mind as I looked at my 13-year old son sitting next to his cousins.

It was surreal periodically catching his eye as we moved through the service. The math of 50 years is unmistakable. Fifty years ago my parents were not even married yet. Fifty years from now these two people who have given so much to our church community won't be here to reopen that time capsule.

From my position up front with the praise band there were many times when I felt the tears well up as I looked out over the room of people who have been so impactful in my life. And as I felt the presence of those now gone who once occupied those church pews.

There is something deeply powerful about the way we are all connected through time and space.

I kept reminding myself to fully take in the moment, almost as if pinching myself in order to embrace the beauty of what we were doing there together.

During our service, as members came forward to place their personal notes in the time capsule we sang From the Inside Out by Hillsong United. The chorus felt particularly poignant.

Your Light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your Glory goes beyond all fame

And the cry of my heart is to bring You praise
From the inside out
Lord, my soul cries out

As I watched everyone bring forward a piece of their own story and place it into the capsule, I thought about the many special moments I had experienced within this congregation over my lifetime. It was like a beautiful movie playing with too many supporting characters to count - so many distinct puzzle pieces coming together in beautiful community.

On my own paper, I wrote about Joe's death and how that led me to partner with my mom and others to bring the GriefShare program to our church.  There have been hundreds of people who have found care and support in that space we created over these last 12 years. Joe's death was awful, but what a legacy it is that God took that worst moment in my life to speak to the worst moments of so many others. 

Outside at the end of our church service, we gathered around and sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness as my nephew placed the capsule in the ground. Later that afternoon, my son and his Confirmation Class helped shovel the dirt on top of it, burying all that we had poured into those notes for the next 50 years.

My son and his classmates will be 63 years old.

If I am still alive I will be 95. I thought of this as I looked at the older members of my church and imagined myself in their shoes. I hope my life is held to be even a fraction as faithful and impactful as I have known theirs to be.

The reality is that many members of our current church congregation will have died by the time that capsule is reopened. That's tough to swallow, but if there is any lesson to be taken in from the 300 years of our church's existence, it is that a legacy built on following God endures. Things may look different 50 years from now in ways that we cannot even imagine today, but I believe in God's love and the power of community to meet that moment.

What a special gift it will be for the members of our future church to read the stories of the church of 2023. Fifty years from now, much will likely have faded, but the assurance that God's light is everlasting and that a new generation will be able to have their souls cry out encourages me beyond words.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Three Hundred Years is a Big Cloud of Witnesses

It’s January 21, 2023 and today my church - Kingston Presbyterian - celebrated 300 years as an established faith community. For the last 45 years of those 300, this has been my church community and for the last 100+ years, it has been the church community of my extended family. 

My soul is filled as I think back over all KPC has meant to me and my family over a century of seeking God, doing justice, and loving mercy. It hasn’t always been perfect or happy and there have been plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, but I have learned to love God, love others, and do things I never imagined I could do - all within this small community rooted in God’s love.

So many significant parts of my childhood and teen years reside within and outside the four walls of our church building. There were youth group sleepovers where we played games like hide and seek and capture the flag - and where we rarely ever actually slept. I learned to serve with others at our work camps in Maine and had fun at Vacation Bible School. There were musicals like Jonah and Christmas pageants galore. We grew closer to God and each other through weekend retreats to Lake Champion and camping at the Creation Music Festival. I learned to play hand bells and even found a space in our praise band. Through this faith community, I have made some of my most precious friends.

At KPC, I grew up marking most Easter mornings with a sunrise service at Lake Carnegie in Princeton, a tradition I enjoy now with my own son. For as long as I can remember Christmas Eve has meant the beauty of Silent Night by candlelight and a new ornament for our tree. These special moments and many others like them didn’t just happen spontaneously. They were tended with love by the many faithful witnesses in our congregation - some who are still with us and many more who are not.

KPC was the first true intergenerational community I came to know and a space that has been full of encouragers and role models over the years. It is where I was baptized and then, 32 years later, my own son was baptized. It is where I gained the confidence to speak in public and to take on leadership roles at a young age. It is where I was supported in trying new things and venturing out beyond my comfort zone. What a privilege that I have also been able to witness the same encouragement shown to my son and to so many others over the years.

This church is the community that surrounded me with endless practical support, love, and prayers when our young family experienced the crushing loss of my husband Joe. They wept with us, cared for us, and encouraged me to continue turning to God with all of the pain I held. I am forever grateful for those who shared their own stories of grief, love, and resilience during that time. Miraculously, this church is also where that deep loss has transformed into the ability to support so many other people who are grieving the death of a loved one through our church's now 10 year old GriefShare ministry. 

As we gathered today as a church community, I marveled at the way that we each impact one another, sometimes in ways that we never even understand or could possibly foresee. A gift that I had forgotten about giving holds a place of prominence for the person who received it. The care of a beloved church member in meticulously recording the details of past church events brings joy and laughter even years after her death. The "painting genes" of a great grandparent gently reveal themselves in the effort of her great-grandson.
Celebration Lunch at KPC 1/21/2023

This is the beauty of community - that together we are better and stronger than any one of us separately and that there is tremendous power when we follow those gentle nudgings of God's voice. Today I am thankful for the cloud of witnesses that has made Kingston Presbyterian Church what it is these 300 years later and I am looking forward to a year full of events to both honor that history and love and spur us on to new challenges ahead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Sleeping in the Stars

Last week, as I was driving home from work, a song came on my playlist that almost forced me to the side of the road. It's not a new one, but if I had heard it prior I certainly was not paying attention. From the first two lines, the tears started coming and by the chorus I was full on ugly crying while driving north on 95. 
I've listened to this beautiful song by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill more times than I'd like to admit over the past week. It keeps drawing me in and forms a sort of soundtrack as memories of my life with Joe race through my mind. I realized tonight that it feels especially poignant now with the calendar turning to our son's 12th birthday. With such a big marker approaching, I have no doubt that it's the music video that my mind creates as I listen that has brought me back to listening over and over again.
While I was driving to a meeting tonight, listening to the song and bawling (again) it fully clicked for me. The deep pain I've been feeling this week is a natural extension of being a first hand witness to our incredible son growing up without his dad. It has sucked from the moment Joe died and as Domani creeps closer and closer to adulthood, more and more is revealed of what is missing for both of us, but especially for him. 
There is something about Domani's birthday this year that is hitting different. Looking at him I feel like he has gone from little boy to young man almost overnight. Every 3 months he needs new shoes and I can barely keep up with everything he eats. He can keep up in adult conversations and has taken on new levels of responsibility all around. Sometimes it is awe inspiring, sometimes bittersweet and every once in awhile it is downright gut wrenching. But it is a time that his dad would have loved to be here to walk him through. And Joe would have been so good at it.
Instead, with each year that passes, I work to fill in the gaps - all the while seeing more and more of "Joe" in him. 
His technical know how.
His curiosity. 
His kindness.
His sense of humor. 
His thoughtfulness.
His looks.
His compassion.
His memory.
If you knew Joe, it is impossible to be around Domani and not see "Joe" things pop up in some way.  I have found that the similarities are comforting and painful all at the same time and I have realized that I am grappling with the nuances of that dichotomy on a regular basis.
I more often remember with a smile than tears and I do my best to name for Domani the parts of him that remind me of his dad. I know that is a gift for him - maybe not the kind of gift he expects to receive for his 12th birthday - but a gift nonetheless.
As for  me, I'll probably listen to this song a bunch more times. It's a lovely reminder of the bond the two of us shared and the many ways that Joe is still carried forward in our lives today.

September 2022 in OCNJ

When God calls me homeAnd my soul is laid to restThat won't mean I'm goneDarling heaven knowsI'll love you just the sameSo, don't you feel aloneYou may cry a tear or two and that's okayJust know I'll never be too far away
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars
Some steps that we takeLeave an everlasting markEven death can't take awaySo, if you're missing meJust look inside your heartAnd let the memories play
You may cry a tear or two and that's okayLook up and know I'm not that far away
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the starsEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Happy Birthday to Me...Still Without Him (but with so much else carried forward)

It's been ten years since my first birthday after Joe died. When March 8th rolled around in 2012, it had only been three months since that awful day. My grief overwhelmed every aspect of my life and I felt like no measure of joy would ever return. I had an 18 month old son and was facing the prospect of raising him alone - something that was obviously never the plan. I felt helpless and like no one could possibly understand.  It was the hardest birthday of my life to date. 

Don't get me wrong. I had plenty of family, friends, and co-workers who supported me. There was evidence of the legacy of love that Joe left all around, but I still felt lost and painfully alone. So, I returned to the thing that has often brought me comfort. Unsure of what else to do to work my way out of the grief box I was in, I started writing. This time, though, I didn't take to writing in a private journal as I had done since I was young. I took a leap and started this blog. Unsure if anyone would read it (aside from my own parents and Joe's mom), but sure that I needed it, I wrote my first post with tears in my eyes and a knot in the pit of my stomach. 

In the ten years since, I have written and published 160 posts since that very first one. Each post, whether it was about my grief or not, helped me keep moving forward. Over the years, I've attended (and eventually led) grief support groups. I've consumed media of all kinds from books to music to art and have had countless conversations with friends and strangers alike about life and death. Last year, I completed a certificate class in End of Life care. I've been on a path that I never would have predicted, but one that has both challenged me and brought me peace and comfort.

Last night, I found myself having an intense yet beautiful conversation with my son about death. He had some burning questions on his mind and wanted to talk.

That moment, which could have been extremely awkward and painful, made me thankful for all of the open talks we had about death in my family growing up. For my own father who hasn't shied away from letting us know that he has song and scripture suggestions written in the back of his Bible. For my G-Mom who shared openly with me about her own grieving after my grandfather died and who carefully wrote each of us a heartfelt note which we received after she died. For my good friends who held me accountable for finalizing my own will and life insurance and end of life wishes when no on else our age was even considering such things. 

It doesn't mean that death sucks any less, but at least all of these positive influences and all of this grappling has helped me land in a place where I can acknowledge death as a natural part of life.

It has taken time and a lot of work on my part to find my way out of that painful grief box, but over these last ten years I've seen how grief is indeed a journey and moving forward in it doesn’t mean we forget our people. We find ways to honor them that also honor the continued living of our own lives. We move from painful ambushes of grief to sweet rememberings. We learn how to carry our love with us through the years.
Joe is still present in our lives - in some obvious ways and in some ways that are only visible to those who know Whether it's a song, which at one time brought overwhelming sadness, but now warms my heart and reminds me of my beloved Joe or a son who at 11 years old embodies mannerisms and habits that can only be traced back to his dad, there is progress. It's a progress that likely won't be complete until my own death, but I'm thankful for each step that allows me to breathe a little deeper and live a little more freely.

I expect this year to be a quiet birthday. I'll get up early to take in the sunrise on a walk around my neighborhood. I'll have a full day of work with a scheduled break to enjoy a birthday lunch with my sister. I'll attend some meetings in the evening and then do something fun with my not-so-little-anymore guy. And I'll be thankful that I get to celebrate another birthday - even if it is still without Joe.

From my 30th birthday
One of my favorite birthday photos with Joe

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Mystery of the Christmas Lights

Towards the end of last week I read a book called Words at the Threshold by Lisa Smartt. It's mostly an examination of the words people say as they are nearing death, but there were also some parts that dealt with experiences of family members after the death of their loved one. The timing of reading Smartt's book could not have been more perfect because it had a section titled "Doorbells, Alarms, and Lightbulbs" and I was having some of my own issues with such things in this week leading up to the 10th anniversary of Joe's death. I found that two and a half page section to be speaking directly to me and it was both liberating and heartwarming.

You see, I've been down this road before with things not working as they should. Not long after Joe died Domani and I took a trip down to Washington, DC. We had done the same trip in the same car (the one that belonged to Joe) together as a family the previous fall to watch the Mets play the Nationals. This time though, the car stereo on this not-even-2-year-old SUV decided to completely crap out just as we were ready to leave. I tried everything I could think of to get it working again because the prospect of a 3 hour drive with no music seemed truly awful. I remember talking to Joe, asking him to help me fix it and wondering if this was all just him trying to get my attention.

Then, at some point (I don't remember exactly when) it just started working again. No service required. No rhyme or reason. No obvious intervention on my part. It just started working again. Common sense told me it must have just been a loose wire or a faulty connection that resolved itself when I went over a bump. I'm sure there could be a thousand logical explanations and so I chalked it up to a quirky coincidence even though I knew in my heart it connected me back to Joe.

Then, I started hearing stories from other widows. They shared with me their own interactions with electricity and every day items that require power to run. Clicking off and on. Working and then not working and then working again. All at moments or in ways that had some particular significance. Many of them felt the same presence, the same saying hello as these things happened that I did with the car stereo. I found comfort in those stories and told Joe that I'd listen and pay attention.

Fast forward to now and the story of Joe's little tree and the outdoor Christmas lights.

We have a tree in our home that we call the "Joe Tree". It was the tree that he had in his apartment before we were married. His mother had bought it for him and started him off with a selection of ornaments so that he had some Christmas in his place. I love her for that. It has white lights and a beautiful gold star tree topper that also plugged in and lit up. Our favorite ornament that goes on the "Joe Tree" is a naked Peter from The Family Guy holding a strategically placed present. The tree is both fun and sentimental.

Joe and I continued putting up his little tree in our home after we married and when he died it took on an extra special meaning as Domani and I put it up each year. We add to it ornaments from places that we have visited. It's our way of sharing those adventures with Joe.

This year, we carefully brought the tree down from the attic and set it in its spot in the living room. We plugged it in and enjoyed its lights for a few days before putting on any ornaments. Wouldn't you know it though that just as we were preparing to decorate, the lights stopped working. Domani decided we would replace the white lights that weren't working with new multi-color lights. And then we plugged in the star which was also not working. Obviously it's not unique for lights to stop working. Any of us who have cussed out a strand of lights while trying to decorate can attest to that. It's the timing and 1-2 combo of the lights and the star that caught my attention and once again had me noticing Joe with a smile and a quiet nod. 

However, I was not at all prepared for what happened next.

It was time for the grand finale of "Doorbells, Alarms, and Lightbulbs" - this time with the outdoor Christmas lights. My mom had offered to help me put up the rest of the outdoor lights I hadn't gotten to so they would be up when we held Joe's remembrance yesterday. On Friday afternoon, she came over and put up lights on our trellis, bushes, and along the back fence. When night came and the lights clicked on I noticed there was one strand along the fence that was completely out. I tried adjusting them that night and even took a look the next morning. I just couldn't figure it out and had resigned myself to having one strand out for the Christmas season.

When I told my mom about it she confided that she hadn't tested the lights, just asked Joe for his help in making sure they all worked. She jokingly complained that Joe hadn't done his job and we both got a laugh.

That night I arrived back home to the lights still out. I left the house for all of 2 hours and when I came back the strand was ON! I immediately was thankful to my mom for coming over and fixing the lights. Except that when I asked her about it the next morning, she said it wasn't her. At that point, there was no holding back the tears because we both knew in our hearts what had happened. I'm done trying to find logical explanations for things that are, in fact, liminal in nature. 

There are ways that Joe still says hi even 10 years later and sometimes that way is as simple as turning on the lights.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Lent and Grief and Waiting for Easter

Anyone who knew both Joe and me also knows that he was the neat and organized one who could always put his finger on anything he was looking for and I am the messy one who is always searching for something I put somewhere. So, to say that Joe would have been amused (and thrilled) with my Lenten undertaking this year would be an understatement. For the second time since he died, I decided to embark on the "40 bags in 40 days" idea and ride the wave of cleaning, organizing, and moving things out of my life.

When I completed this in 2014, it was intense. It involved finally eating the two chocolate bears that were in my refrigerator (one with my name and one with Joe's) from three Thanksgivings before and wrestling over and over again with WWJD (in this case, What Would Joe Do?)

Over the past 46 days (Sundays are "little Easters" in Lent for those who don't know), I have cleaned out a wide variety of spaces in every room of my home. For good measure, I even added in some spaces not in my home. I used this opportunity to clean out the car that was Joe's and is now mine and to start throwing away some non-essential items in my office. For the most part though, I was tackling my overrun junk drawers, packed until they burst cabinets, and closets that could have been hiding just about anything.

I shared with a friend early on in the journey that I always feel more connected to Joe when I do things like this because he was the one who would not hold on to things. So, anytime I hit a moment of hesitation, even around things that may *feel* sentimental, I channeled an inner conversation with him and found the resolve to either throw it away or give it away.

Obviously not every item got moved out. During one particular night of work I came across a ticket stub (remember when those were a thing?) to the last concert that Joe and I attended together. We saw Greg Dulli at the Trocadero in Philly. We sat in the balcony because with his colostomy bag and generally weakened state, he wasn't up for standing on the floor - our usual spot at shows. As I looked at that ticket stub and remembered that show it hit me that the Trocadero is now closed. Even before COVID-19, the Troc had closed. At least I have the ticket I thought as I tucked it away in the display on my wall that I have for such things.

Over the course of the last 46 days I have come across so much that reminded me of Joe. It is now almost ten years since he died and after a lot of grief work these remembrances are much more likely to bring smiles than tears for me. I still miss him in a million different ways, but I have learned that processes like this one help me to keep bringing him with me as I move forward in life.

It has been years since I remember having a dream about Joe. But during this process, as I was moving through the spaces of our home and channeling those "inner conversations" I had a dream about him. Even now I get teary thinking about how I felt that morning when I woke up. I don't remember the details of the dream, but the way it made me feel sits deep with me even weeks after it happened. As I found during the first time I spent my Lent cleaning and organizing, there is something profoundly spiritual about making space.

As I made my way through my 40 days I documented each day with a photo. It was pure joy today for me to be able to look back on all of those photos and think about the myriad areas in my life that now have more space. I admit that there have been times that I have opened my drawers just to remind myself that they are not loaded down with things or looked into my bathroom closet just to admire the way that everything has a place. I can feel Joe cheering me on (and also reminding me that there are still random piles of things on the bedroom floor). Perhaps I will get to those too.

I rounded out my 40 bags in 40 days with a Holy Week focused on moving and listening. Each morning no matter the weather I went for a walk (as I have every work day since January 19) and on Good Friday I did something extra special. At the suggestion of a dear friend, I listened to David Suchet read the Gospel of Mark. It took two hours and I listened and walked as the sun came up on Friday morning. 

Throughout that walk there were moments when I stopped to process, to let my tears flow, and to take in all the beauty around me. I was overwhelmed by this story of Jesus that emphasized God's abundance, unconditional love, sacrifice, and even humor. It left me feeling thankful and hopeful, two things I needed at my core.

Tomorrow will be Easter. It will also be Joe's birthday. He would have turned 46. Thanksgiving and hopefulness are two states of being that I crave for myself tomorrow.

Since I found them on my Good Friday walk, it seems fitting that I close out this writing with the photos I took while I was listening to Mark. 

May you encounter the spiritual in a way that leaves you with thanks and hope for the road ahead.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Ten, A Poem




they continue




still more




not quite done because at this moment the final number is


Easy counting

if you're a toddler and don't know

that each one is a minute and a lifetime 

all at the same time.

Two hundred and forty hours of birthdays.

14,400 minutes acknowledging a milestone.

864,000 seconds celebrating without him.

And some of that, 


I spent sleeping.

Please let me wake up and have it be over or maybe let it last forever 

in pregnant expectation of what could be

Each one

Empty and full.

The glass is both.

It's a steady stare at all that's firmly in the past, but also a bright red arrow pointing to what is still in my


Joy and pain living together 

like opposites that attract

and refuse to be pulled apart.

Never completely one thing or another

Always some mix of what's gone and what remains

A decade of birthdays with me

and not him.

Written by Anne Luck-Deak, 3/8/2021

Today, my 43rd birthday, was a good day. I didn't work, spent some time with one of my best girlfriends, and ate so many foods I love. Domani and I took some old gift cards and went shopping at Target, we walked on the towpath at sunset, and then grabbed our favorites from Tortugas Mexican Village for dinner. My order was undoubtedly the same one I got 10 years ago today when Joe and I brought 6-month old Domani there to celebrate my birthday.