Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Storms brewing ahead


Today I took the dog for a walk at a local park. The clouds were heavy, dark, and hanging low over the fields and ponds. I felt melancholy and I wondered why.

And then I remembered.

The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.

The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.

It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.

But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.

It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.

Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.

But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.

Wish us luck.


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On loss and spring


I’ve been to a lot of funerals held in winter and I used to think the hardest thing in the world was to walk away after a winter graveside ceremony, bowed with grief, huddled in a coat against the wind and rain or snow. Though you knew your loved one couldn’t feel the cold it was just so hard to leave them there in the darkening light of a winter day.

I used to think that was the worst.

But yesterday, when a local family had to leave their young man behind in the cemetery, the sun was shining and the bright blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. It was a perfect spring day.

And now I wonder. Maybe losing a young life in the midst of the hope that is spring is the worst.

Yesterday a family had to come to grips with a life ended way too soon. I don’t know them, or the young man gone, but I understand their shock. Accidents happen, but never to your family. Never to someone with an infant and a wife and loving parents and a huge extended family.

Never just as spring is blooming with promise.

How can someone just be gone when so much around us is bursting into life? How does a young wife with an infant son survive without the loving husband, the doting father, at her side?

How does a family walk away from a new grave, bowed with grief, when bright blue skies are smiling down? It just seems wrong. Certainly the sky should be crying too.

But this young wife is strong, and she has a strong family to help her. She has good friends to listen and provide support. They know that sometimes the road takes an unexpected turn; they know how to navigate grief. They’ve been there before.

She’ll be OK eventually. And her son will grow up surrounded by people who will tell him about his daddy. How he loved his family. How he will always be there in their hearts.

It takes family and friends to get through grief filled but beautiful spring days when life is bursting from every tree and shrub, every bulb and seed, but tears are hiding behind every eyelid.

May the beauty of spring moving on into summer give some comfort to a family whose hearts have been broken once again.

And may that tiny little boy know that he is truly loved.


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“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”

I’ve had a good winter off, playing on the beach, watching light move across water, sleeping in, napping mid-afternoon. But it’s time to get back to work.

Work!??? You’re right; I’m retired. So what work am I talking about?

There are many of you new here at Change is Hard. You probably haven’t heard me talk about trucks and safety and my family’s story. You probably think my life is all about photography and travel and a special little dog. And sometimes it is.

“You can turn grief into action.”

But sometimes it’s about grief and loss and preventable crashes. And honoring the memory of my dad who was killed in December of 2004 by a tired semi driver who fell asleep at the wheel while going 65 miles per hour on a freeway in the early morning hours. A driver who failed to see the lights of emergency vehicles up ahead, the people working to clear a minor crash that had occurred earlier. A driver that didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him. Didn’t see my dad in his little red car until it was too late.

My dad was a guy who lived by safe rules. He had retired ten years earlier from a career managing chemical plants, inherently dangerous places. He made us all wear our life jackets in the boat when we were kids. He drove with us around and around the neighborhood when he taught us how to drive a stick shift car, until he was satisfied we could operate it safely. He helped my sister build her house in Tennessee, complete with extra roof brackets to hold the roof down in a tornado. Just in case. He carried an emergency contact list in his wallet, listing the four kids and spouses with work and home phone numbers. That’s how they knew where to find us after the crash.

“Hope in the face of difficulty.”

So after we got through the initial days filled with disbelief and unbearable grief, when we were moving into sad confusion buffeted by unrelenting grief, we began to ask questions. How did the driver not see all that traffic ahead? Not see all the emergency lights? The road was straight. The sight lines clear. We searched the internet looking for anything about truck crashes.

And we found the Truck Safety Coalition.

It’s an organization made up of the families of people who have been killed or injured in preventable truck crashes. It provides support to families and it works to change the way things are done in the trucking industry. Sometimes that means working to change regulations and laws. Sometimes that means working to change perceptions among people that drive trucks. Sometimes it’s about educating people that drive cars. Sometimes it means meeting with legislators and staff, or truck company executives, or members of other safety groups. Always it means honoring the memories of those we’ve lost, honoring the lives that have been changed forever of those who were injured.

It means trying to save lives

Every other year the families meet in Washington DC for a few days. We tell our stories, we sadly welcome the new families — those whose losses are recent, we talk about issues, resolutions, how to make a difference. And we go to the Hill and talk to everyone we can. Legislators, Regulators, the Press. Everyone. Sometimes they call us the ‘crazy truck people.’ That’s OK with us. Whatever gives attention to our issues.

“Even when you’re 100% right getting things done requires compromise.”

The conference is coming up next month. I can feel the tension escalating among my Truck Safety “family” already. Facebook is abuzz with truck issues. People are becoming stressed. Or depressed. Or hopeful. Or everything all rolled into one. Attending the conference brings it all back again for us. Yet it’s hard to stay away. “It’s like attending the funeral all over again.” says one mother who has been fighting for truck safety for more than twenty-five years.

The title of this post, and the quotes interspersed throughout, are from former President Obama’s July 2016 speech. I wrote a few things he said down on a random piece of paper way back then and that paper has found it’s way back to me this week. As I gear up for a difficult few days in Washington I thought they were appropriate. Hopeful. Democrat, Republican or Independent, the world would be a better place if we could learn to compromise. I’m hoping we find a bit of that during our conference this year.

It’s probably the most I can expect.


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WordPress Photo Challenge: Wish

Tonight as I sit out on the deck of the lake house, watching the moon rise, I wish everyone had such a warm, beautiful and safe place to relax.

I wish upon a moon.

I know that many of my friends ‘up north’ are facing their third night of no electricity following a major wind event. I know the temperatures are heading down toward 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.77 C) tonight.

I wish that spring could come early for them. That I could somehow share the warmth and color and contentment surrounding me here.

I wish they could all just come down here and soak up the sun. Or sit with me under the moon listening to the waves gently lap against the shore

I wish, not upon a star, but upon the bright moon, that the warmth from here in the South could find it’s way up to the dark and frozen North.


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Reflections

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Sitting here in the house that dad built I can’t help but keep one eye, sometimes both eyes, on the water.

Sure the lake level is low, as it is every winter, making it difficult to enjoy this huge lake, but just our little part right here is beautiful.

And it’s always changing. The light moves and twinkles and shifts and the water ruffles and calms.

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I have lots of time to sit and reflect as the sun goes down and the shadows lengthen across the slew.

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I wish my parents were here. But the house is still filled with their presence. Not the same of course, as having them physically here.

But not as sad as it was in the beginning.

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Lots of good memories flit through my mind as I watch the water shift in the changing light.

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We’re lucky they left us this place. I think they’re glad we come to visit.

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But I bet they miss us all too.

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I fall over when I put on my socks

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I don’t know how many of you have hit milestone birthdays. You know…the big three oh. Or forty when things on your body start moving south. Perhaps fifty, which they say is the new forty. Or…oh no….sixty?!

I was good up till this year, never really felt old. Thought I had escaped all those ‘old people’ ailments. Thought I was different, maybe had better genes.

Or something.

But last spring I turned sixty. That seems like a really big number. I remember my parents when they were sixty and they were old. And now I feel old too, because all sorts of things are happening to me.

I used to be able to stand up and get dressed. I stood on one foot regularly, putting on pants or socks. Now I sway precariously as I try to get a sock on my foot and I don’t even try putting on pants the old way. I sit first.

I used to be able to read signs way down the road. Now I need to wear my glasses to see the television across the room. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have to wear glasses to pass the DMV eye test next time I need to renew my drivers license.

I used to run marathons. Not fast, but I got five of them done. Now I have trouble running for more than a couple minutes at a time. On a treadmill.

And apparently I have an impinged rotator cuff. I don’t know what I did to impinge it but I went to four weeks of physical therapy to make my shoulder stronger. It’s stronger but still impinged, which I am reminded of every night when I reach back to pull the blanket over me as I settle into bed.

I used to cross country ski to get through the winters. Now I hope to head somewhere warmer for the worst of the cold season. I guess that makes me a snowbird wanna be.

And surely that makes me old.

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Respect

Life in the woods goes on undeterred by politics.

Life in the woods goes on undeterred by politics.


Four years ago, or was it eight, I had lunch with a good friend. We’ve known each other for more than 40 years, adventured together decades ago, worked together, grieved together, laughed a lot. That kind of friend. But at that lunch we learned our politics were light years apart. I was surprised. So was she. By the end of lunch we had silently agreed to leave the politics out of our friendship, and it’s never come up again.

My philosophy, which I voiced then, was that you didn’t have to like the person, but you had to respect the office.

I had lots to reflect on.

There’s a lot to reflect on.

Yesterday the United States peacefully transferred power and, though I still believe in respecting the office, I’m having a hard time this time. I needed to settle, so instead of watching the inauguration I left home for the day and went to a place where I’ve always found peace.

Kensington Metro Park.

The world feels colorless.

The world feels colorless.

It was a dreary, soggy, grey day and few people were braving the raindrops and cold. I should have worn warmer and dryer shoes. And a hat. Still, the birds, always eager to great me, made me smile.

Thanks for coming by lady!

Thanks for coming by lady!

And there was color to be found if you looked for it.

Love the blues and greens.

Blue and green living together in harmony.

Even when the fog began to drift in and the cold made it’s way into my bones I didn’t leave. So much on my mind, I debated both sides of the argument I’ve watched unfold in the news and in my friends.

Only time will tell.

Only time will tell.

Can a man who has spoken such vile things, a man who apologizes for none of it, a man who essentially uses his wealth and celebrity to bully, can such a man lead the free world? Can he be my president?

Can't we learn to get along?

Can’t we learn to get along?

You don’t have to like the person, but you have to respect the office. Somehow that’s harder to do when your candidate didn’t win. I’m reminded by my more conservative friends that they quietly accepted a candidate they didn’t support for the past eight years.

Can I trust you lady?

Can I trust you lady?

Still…this president scares me.

On the other hand….respect the office.

I am more liberal than many of my friends and family, more conservative than others. Yet we all care about each other and I hope that will continue far into the future, beyond the term(s) of this president, beyond the terms of presidents to come.

Looking for a treat.

Looking for some resolution.

Today I will respect the office, but am mindful that there must be accountability. It’s early yet, but I reserve my right to respectfully, peacefully but loudly protest any actions that take away benefits and rights from members of my family, my friends, and even strangers that deserve the same respect I give the office.

I’ll respect the office Mr. President. But I think we all expect some respect in return.

Change is hard.

Thanks lady!

Thanks lady!


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Early morning grocery musings

imported-photos-00000When you use the last bit of milk on your cereal as your spouse is still asleep you realize you’ve put off grocery shopping one day too long. Glancing around the kitchen you recognize you’re out of a lot of staples. Plus you have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner. Though if you got really creative you could probably put together a meal out of whatever is left in the back of the pantry.

Maybe best not to go there.

So you gather your gloves and dog hair encrusted coat, shove your bare feet into worn running shoes and head out over icy rutted dirt roads in search of food and inspiration. You haven’t showered and you’re still wearing the shirt you slept in. But you figure you won’t see anyone you know and even if you did what does it matter really?

At the store you peruse the produce and note that wherever you move there is a woman choosing much the same stuff. Checking out the bananas, picking the perfect tomato. Potatoes. You wait patiently, pretending to inspect the pears while she checks out all the bags of potatoes. It’s a potato. Choose one. But she lingers over her decision.

Though you might have the same eating habits, she and you are nothing alike.

Her hair is clean and bouncy and shiny, cut in a perfect bob. You haven’t looked at yours yet this morning but it definitely isn’t clean. She has managed to wriggle her tiny little behind into her skinny jeans. You’re wearing the same sweats you slept in. She’s pushing a huge designer bag in the front seat of her cart. You aren’t.

She’s perky. You appear to have left your perk at home. Under a pile of laundry in the deep reaches of an overwhelmed laundry room.

You begin to feel bad about yourself only when you realize a purple doggie poop bag (thankfully empty) is trailing out of your right pocket. You check your left pocket and are relieved to find that the cough drops are safely pushed down to the bottom, unlikely to make an appearance unless you pull your keys out from among the used tissues.

You and she move to the dried bean aisle. She makes several selections. You head in the other direction and skip an aisle just to avoid her. As you gather the rest of your necessities you only run into her on occasion, she smiling cheerily, sipping her designer coffee, you mumbling under your breath like the bag lady you obviously are.

As you approach the lone open register, grateful to have this task finished, not even looking at your list because you don’t want to know what you forgot in your rush to get out of the store, you almost crash into another frazzled middle-aged shopper with one of those small carts carrying only a few items.

You take a moment and breath, then smile and nod at her to go ahead. She smiles back and life shifts to normal. So we’re not perky and put together. So what. Everybody got their shopping out of the way before most of the world was awake.

And that makes us all winners.

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Doing the best we can

I’ve alluded to stressful times around here recently. We’ve had lots of unexpected and unplanned things to deal with lately. I guess I shouldn’t have expected that retirement would be all golden beaches, blue skies and fruity drinks.

This morning I left early, heading over to my physical therapy appointment a couple of towns to the west. The sky was pretty, big clouds with purple bottoms piling up. I wished I was out with the camera instead of going to PT.

Once that appointment was over, my shoulder iced (which is the best part of my day) I head over to my gym, a couple of towns to the east, intent on getting some cardio in. The sky is filled with more beautiful clouds. I consider heading home for my camera, skipping the gym and the visit to the nursing home.

I debate doing something I want to do v.s. doing the thing I should do.

At the gym I walk three minutes, run one minute, repeat about 11 times on one of the treadmills. It’s an attempt to get back to running after many years of slothful living. But one minute is about all I can run without my heart rate soaring above it’s max rate. Still, I’m pleased I stuck to the plan.

Sweaty I headed to the locker room and dress in layers to head back outside into the 10 degree day. The blast of cold air actually feels good pulling at my sweat soaked hair. It’s afternoon now and I’m hungry. I could stop by MacDonalds….but I only spent 340 calories in my three mile walk/run, and I could waste that in an instant if I’m not careful.

I buy a cup of chicken noodle soup (130 calories) there, and sip it in the parking lot of the nursing home. I burn my tongue, as I always do when I’m trying to hurry.

Inside I visit with Aunt Vi who at 101 is not happy to have given up her own home. She says she’s doing worse today than yesterday, but to me she seems pretty good, though confused about tests she’s having done. More family members arrive, and we spend a bit of time talking, even laughing, but receive no explanation to the pain she’s experiencing.

It’s frustrating.

Glancing at my watch I realize time has flown and I must fly too in order to get dinner into the oven at home. As I prepare the meal I update the husband on the aunt’s status. It’s so hard to know what to do. Everyone wants the best for her, but it’s hard to find that within the health care system.

And then I notice the headlines rolling across the television across the room. The sound is down and I’ve been talking about our daily stresses, not paying attention.

Five dead in the Fort Lauderdale airport. Another shooting. More terror, more grief, more confusion, more debate. I note that the radio playing during my drive home hadn’t mentioned it. The stock market didn’t blink and Wall Street analysts don’t mention the tragedy. They’re talking about the agony of the Dow being within .37 of 20,000.

We have become immune.

My day, filled with stress, seems pretty straight forward now, and in fact quite good. My shoulder didn’t hurt. I got my workout in. Aunt Vi spent some time laughing.

And I recognize I should be grateful.

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PS: The latest test shows she might have a gall bladder problem. We and she are headed to the hospital now. Still, we’re grateful for an answer.


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Imagine

Imagine you’ve lived on your own for over 100 years. Sure the only reason you could is because people helped along the way, but you had your own space. You had your own things around you, things that reminded you of places and people you’ve loved.

And then imagine the day comes that you can’t live alone anymore and you find yourself in a cramped and overheated space with strange sounds and sights, strangers in and out of your small space, other people determining when you sleep and when you are awake, what you eat, when you shower.

You are depressed.

Your things are gone, your space is gone, your pet is gone, your friends are far away. Only your family and your memories remain.

Your family tries to make it better but there is no better here. They remind you to get out of bed and move your feet and legs but you don’t want to. They try to entertain you when they visit but the visits are never frequent enough even when they occur every day. And they can’t change the reality.

You are tired.

You can’t see very much, can’t hear anything when your hearing aid is away being repaired. Your roommates change but are similarly confused and wandering.

You are scared.

There are noises in the hall that you can’t identify. You can’t tell when people are headed into your room or when they are just passing by.

You are dependent on strangers.

You used to be independent. You like to tell people that you always did things for yourself. You tell people you don’t like to be a burden. That you like to make your own decisions.

But you are allowed so few decisions now.

You recognize that your time is short. And you’re not sure if that isn’t a good thing. Because you can’t imagine your life moving forward like this forever.

You never imagined life ending this way. Or that the gift of living to be 101 could be so hard.

Just never imagined.