Day 300 of Acceptance


Today, December 31, 2014, it has been 300 days since John died.

baby johnI know this has been hard for everyone involved on all different levels but I feel I can truly say I knew him first. 31 years ago I felt his body moving in my body. It was an easy pregnancy. He was an easy going baby. I nourished his body with my own for those nine months and then nursed him for another 6. I have had numerous mothers, both counselors and my GP all tell me that it is always harder for the mom to lose a child.  I believe that Hallmark could sell a lot more cards if, instead of celebrating all mothers in the spring on Mother’s Day, we were to acknowledge mothers on our birthdays. I know this year, on January 17th, his 31st birthday, I am going to be thinking of my part in bringing a wonderful person into the world who will never know the change he has created, both before and after,  the lives  he touched and the personal hurt I feel, as his mom.

My meditation leader gave me the advice to give metta to all  mothers who have lost sons to kayaking accidents as a way of holding them in my heart and sending them loving kindness during my meditation. I don’t believe that they would be able to feel my message and I think part of the practice is to help me to realize that I am not alone on this journey.  I can think of them and their suffering . I often wonder  how they are dealing with their  loss. Are they angry? Do they wish they could talk to their son? Do they wish their son would have seen the danger they put themselves  into?  I wonder if they have the same frustration that I have of wanting to talk to my son, to find my missing son. If they have had a day where you get the same feeling you had when that child would play hide and seek in public and the panic you feel, only to find them and be angry and happy at the same time. Only now, that panic never resolves itself. If they are angry at their son for being arrogant and not recognizing how powerful water can be, thinking they are capable of coming out alive. If they are angry at all those other young men who are still putting their own lives in danger not thinking about the pain and suffering their deaths will create. I think of the mother in WVA who’s son, Chris Schwer died in 2012 and how she is just now reaching her 1000 days. How many more mothers have to do this? We got two more years than she did. Do I want a relationship with her or those other mothers?…

Not one single book that I have read for grieving parents says it gets better. I don’t see how it ever will. I think it will get easier but never better. How can it? I feel my life is now a sandwich that is just bread. And it is that awful white bread that has no taste. There is the first slice of bread that represents everything before John and a slice of bread that represents this new chunk of life without John. The middle 30 years of my life has been removed. Not all of it, but a huge part of it.  Now, I have to find the “meat” to life or the PB&J, as it were. Something to fill the emptiness.

I am learning through reading about mindfulness and meditation that I need to find a way to “awaken” and allow things to be as they are right now. To be grateful. To learn to not judge and to let go. I don’t feel I am getting very far.I am still judging, I am still very upset, I am still frustrated. I have a lot of trouble “letting go.”  I am reading a book by Tara Brach called True RefugeThe book has given me meditations to try to work through my tough days and is something that I am trying to do daily to retrain my brain’s neurons.

Tara says there are  three gateways to finding refuge:

Refuge in the Buddha (an “awakened one” or our own pure awareness)

Refuge in the dharma (the truth of the present moment; the teachings; the way)

Refuge in the sangha (the community of spiritual friends or love)

Together with Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain  and information about our brains and how they work, I am hoping that I can train my brain to deal with all the parts of the process and will hopefully come out the other side a different person.  A better person. One that can live with the constant ache in my heart but realizes that I have to continue. I have no other choice. This is my best plan to cope given that I don’t believe there is any higher power that can help me through this or can make it all make sense. The phrase that is a constant both with Rick and with Tara is that “neurons that fire together wire together” and I am hoping that I can awaken the bad neurons and replace them with better ones that know how to move forward. Giving myself positive affirmations to heal historic wounds that have come along for the ride.

Sometimes grieving my son feels like looking at a webpage. The main body of the page is the grief that Herb and I share. There are many embedded links in that body of grief. Many issues from our collective pasts that influence our sharing of our loss. That part of the page is full in and of itself.  Then it gets even more complicated with the sidebars on the page. Under each of those links are the other persons whose lives have been touched by John. Those links are hard to click on sometimes because, just like a webpage, they take you into places that you didn’t even know existed. Places that don’t add any value to the healing or the “getting easier” part. And just like on the web, places that aren’t even related to the subject but are just distractions.IMG_20141231_101104491

I had a customer stop in who shared that her brother had died in his 20s. Her mother had a hard time the rest of her life. The customer commented that as 20 somethings, they couldn’t understand why their mom still grieved for their brother. They would say to each other, ” she should be past this by now”. But, as they got older and they watched their own kids grow up, only then did they understand their mother’s grief. They couldn’t imagine watching their own child grow into adulthood, be at the start of adult life and then losing that child.

Tomorrow starts 2015. Tomorrow, when I move a pebble, I will be able to look at the calendar and use the day number as my number of pebbles, at least for 31 days on the way to 700 more days to acceptance. Yesterday, I counted the pebbles in my jar. I counted them twice. As with other times of counting, I got to add extra pebbles to the jar. Bonus pebbles. There are 2 pebbles that an acquaintance sent me to add to my jar, (one of John’s college room mate’s mom)  some driftwood and beach pebbles from Whidbey Island when we went to the west coast last summer, and a large pebble that I picked up the day we walked by the Rouge river with John after driving across the country with him. The large Gratitude stone in the photo was given to me by a good friend so that I remember each day to be grateful. Thank you everyone for helping us get through these 300 days. 700 more to go…I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for small things. I am grateful that I had John and that we got to enjoy him for 30 years. I just wish it had been more.




IMG_0771It is coming together. This is the quilt that I am making from the fabric, that my daughter-in-law, Belle, used in the buntings she made for the picnic when she and Thomas got married in 2011. You can read about the quilt idea here…

I have two more of these 4 squares to assemble and add a note from Thomas to Belle and a note from Belle to Thomas. I also have a square with their wedding date on it and a message from Herb and myself.

Hopefully, this will be waiting on them, on the guest bed, when they come home for Thanksgiving.




This slideshow requires JavaScript.





Quilt Fever…

The Poems on My Window

Poem window

the window above my clay wedging table

A Meeting

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.

Wendell Berry

This poem was sent to me by a college friend…April Leidig

In my studio, I have a window that I have collected some items to remember John by. After a while, I will probably take some of them down and move them. I don’t want it to begin to become a shrine. The voodoo doll, he bought the summer he worked at Zion National Park and went to California to see a cousin, who took him to Mexico. The photo of him is when we took him to Oregon, a year ago this week. There is a rock on the shelf that I dated 8-22-2013 Walking with John, Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Tomorrow is the 22nd of August and that rock will go into my jar to add to the 1000 pebbles that I am marking the 1000 days to Acceptance. Today is day 165. The poems that I have taped onto the window have given me words to read to help me through my days. They are positive thoughts. They may go away after a while and I find other positive thoughts to take their place. Some days, I don’t look at them, while other days, I read them all. Today, I thought I would share them with you and to also share some insights from a book that I have been reading. Trying to understand the differences in how I, and others are dealing with our new normal.

Right after John’s death, we received a little over a hundred cards and letters of condolences. Many of them had cliche’ messages, many people didn’t know what to write so they let the card be the message and simply signed their names. Some of the cards were very pointed and told stories that really helped us to feel supported and loved.  One letter we received complimented us on our parenting and that, while they didn’t know John, except to watch him play baseball in high school, they did know us and that if we were any indication, John must have been an incredible young man. Many remembered time spent with John.

1000 pebbles to acceptance

1000 pebbles to acceptance

I have also been reading a book by an Episcopal Bishop, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. As an atheist, I get really frustrated with comments surrounding my son’s death and am trying to find words that will be inspirational to me but will help me to be a critical thinker. This book, written in 1998, discusses all the frustrations that I have had with religion and the superficial aspects of it in terms of today’s society. After, the death of my son, I have struggled with how religion is playing a part in how others are dealing with their grief.  I am trying not to be judgmental about someone else’s grief. Each person has a right to their own belief systems but religion and god have nothing to do with how I am dealing with my grief.

Critical thinking is the basis of this book and Bishop Spong’s advice is to try to find new answers to many of the practices that are out of date from biblical times. He takes the scriptures apart and points out the histories behind them and how the world was very different than what it is today. One of the reviews on the back of the book says that …”he sounds a rousing call for a Christianity based on critical thought rather than blind faith, on love rather than judgement, and that focuses on life more than religion.” I want answers. I don’t want to just think that my son is floating about. With space travel, we now know that the earth is not flat, as what was thought, when the bible was written. Women certainly play a completely different role now than they did in biblical times. Embryology was not even known until the 1700s how a woman’s egg gets fertilized and that during biblical times, she was just property. Men had more than one wife, they had slaves, they were supposedly told by God to go in and kill people. These are just a few of the topics that Bishop Spong addresses.

Prayer is something that he says we need to take a hard look at. How can some prayers be answered while others seem to go unnoticed? Again, critical thinking is something that we need more of. We now have weather radar that can tell us that storms are not part of God sending us signs. We know that space is growing larger and larger with more and more new discoveries. We know that we evolved from a fish. Much of the world was not even know to exist when much of the bible was written. I would highly recommend this book to all christians. I need to point out that Bishop Spong is a believer but calls himself a believer in exile. As an atheist, I respect the christian views to love one another, have respect for all and to care for others who are less fortunate than ourselves, but I think, like Bishop Spong, we need to revisit many of the stories in the bible and add history and realistic science to the stories, putting them into a new perspective to see if they really are words that we want to live by and to understand just how insignificant we really are in the universe. I think that inspiration can come from the beauty in the world around us and from the words that we send and share with each other. I can’t get that inspiration from the Bible and I don’t believe in a supernatural being.  So, below is some of the simple inspirations that I am looking to each day to guide me through my day and to help me resolve my grief.

The 125 cards that we received were all very moving in each of their own ways. The sheer numbers of cards gave us the knowledge that we are loved and are being thought of at this difficult time. In addition to the cards, friends have made us aware that they are there for us, whenever we need them. Some people sent money, not knowing what else to do. That money has been used to put a memorial garden in our yard so we can remember the thoughtfulness of those kind offerings. Being private people, we have accepted some of these invitations and not others. That isn’t to say we don’t appreciate the offers, we just need to deal with small bits of our sadness, sometimes alone.

There is a scholarship fund that is being set up in John’s name through the Shenandoah Community Foundation and when it is complete, I will post about the details so that some other adventurous individual may have the opportunity to experience life fully the way that our son did.

Thank you to each and everyone that has reached out to us.


Inside a card from Walter Elliott: Walter was a friend of a friend who went kayaking several years in the early summer with John, Herb and several other guys. I never met him but I feel this really says that he knew John very well.


I share in the sadness from John’s death. He seemed to enjoy so much. The simple things that others discard or take for granted. Watching him eat leftover food or recycle it into a delicious snack was a pleasure. He made the task of building and tending a campfire into an expression of art. May your grief be lessened by the gifts he gave us in life.

Thinking of you,

Walter Elliott

A poem that my friend Claudia sent me: Claudia sent me this as a way to start my day.

We rise today with,

The light of sun

The radiants of moon

The splendor of fire

The speed of lightning

The swiftness of wind

The depth of ocean 

The stability of earth and the firmness of rock.

Several folks sent this poem but my friend Abbe Kennedy printed it onto a separate sheet of paper:

I don’t think John is in these things but the poem is lovely and the change that I would make to it is that I think John is now stardust rather than the starlight at night. With his ashes being scattered all over the country, I think that stardust is more fitting to his situation.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush, 

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 

I am not there, I do not sleep. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am not there, I did not die!

My friend Mona, sent me a card with a wonderful Thomas Merton quote written inside:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves,

and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves

we find in them.     Thomas Merton

Mona also wrote…. what a great thing that John was his own man!

A poem that I found for myself and sent a copy of it to Erin:

After a While

After a while you learn

The subtle difference between

Holding a hand and chaining a soul

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn

That kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises

And you begin to accept your defeats

With you head up and your eyes ahead

With the grace of a woman

Not the grief of a child.

And you learn

To build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is

Too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way

Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much

So you plant your own garden

And decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting

For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn

That you really can endure

That you are really strong

And you really do have worth

And you learn and you learn

With every good-bye, you learn.

Veronica A. Shoffstall

My Valentine poem from Herb, my wonderful husband:

Valentine for Susie

They’ve got it wrong

It’s not an arrow through the heart,

a fire blazing bright

or even a red, red rose.

Once I thought it was a butterfly’s flight

a chance blessing shared,

Later a puzzle worked and fit seemed right.

But, now I think I know. 

Our love is a quilt, pieced and stitched 

by our life together.

Defying pattern, colors without caution, 

sewn together with thread from our souls.

And finally, something that I have had on my wall for a while that I find inspirational and try to follow it…. I don’t always do this, but can only strive to do these things.


The Four Agreements

Be Impeccable with your Word

  • Speak with integrity
  • Say only what you mean
  • Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love

Don’t Take Anything Personally

  • Nothing others do is because of you
  • What others say and do ias a projection of their own reality, their own dream
  • When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering

Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want
  • Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
  • With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick
  • Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





My Apprentice, Kara Bowman



Kara, working on her dad’s Father’s Day gift.


For the past several months, I have had a wonderful helper to help with all my fairy garden items. Kara Bowman is 14 and will be a freshman at Strasburg High School this fall. Kara loves history and is an avid Disney fan. She also is a crafter of wonderful duct tape items, wallets, flower pens and tri-fold wallets. She lives with her family in Maurertown, VA and lives on the Shenandoah River. Kara LOVES everything JMU (James Madison University) and hopes to attend school there in 2019 studying as a  physician’s assistant. She just finished a medical camp at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital learning CPR, dissecting a human eyeball, and touring the operating room. You can read more about this camp here. Kara loves getting paid with Dairy Queen blizzards but has been a real asset to helping my fairy garden inventory grow.

In the photo above, Kara is decorating a bowl that we made for her dad for Father’s Day. He is a big Baltimore Orioles fan.


I put the above text in my newsletter about Kara but, I want to add a full posting about her in my blog. Kara is a very kind and caring individual and during the past 6 months that I have been dealing with the grief of my son John’s death, she has been a wonderful companion to have and to sit with me in the studio. Kara’s mom, Cathy knew that this would be good for me, and also for Kara, to work with me, as an assistant, of sorts.

Kara is good about doing what I ask of her and is a quick learner and has a good eye for detail. She has really enjoyed doing the butterfly chairs and has looked up wonderful butterflies on her phone to replicate the colors and really enjoyed doing birdbaths. This was her first assignment and was very attentive to the different birds that she could add to the birdbaths. After the birdbaths were done, you could definitely pick out the orioles from the cardinals because she wanted them to look like the real birds.

I have introduced Kara to some new forms of music and movies and she has introduced me to everything Disney…. sometimes a bit too much Disney… but we try to share and enjoy each others tastes.

I would like to personally thank Kara, for being independent enough to be trusted and to know that it is okay to ask for something to eat or drink. I am not sure that she will come away from this experience wanting to pursue a career in ceramics but I hope this has added some depth to her education and the understanding of crafting as a business.

Kara has agreed to help me out with the Empty Bowls this year. I plan on teaching her how to make the frogs so that we can pledge a larger amount of bowls this year. The Alliance for Shelter in Shenandoah County lost a vital piece of their real estate to fire earlier in the Spring and hopefully our bowls that we contribute will help the homeless to have better shelter in the future. Kara has a caring heart and that is an organization that she holds dear so together we will do our part to help others.

1000 Days to Acceptance, Day 122

John when he went to hike Mt. Hood

John, on the West coast.

Today, July 9th, it has been 4 months since we lost our son. I have been told by my grief counselor that certain cultures recognize the passing of certain days after the death of someone as being milestones. The Japanese majority of Indonesia hold a small remembrance ceremony on the following days after the death: the fourth, the fortieth, the one hundred days, the anniversary of, and one-thousandth (1000 days after death), followed by an optional annual remembrance. We have past the fourth, and the fortieth and this is the 122nd day of my son’s untimely death on March 9, 2014. It is my understanding that by 1000 days, I should be able to accept this tragic loss. As a parent, I don’t think I will ever be able to accept this fate we have been dealt. You are not suppose to outlive your children.

In all the books that I have read in the past 4 months, and they are many, trying to cope with the loss, I have all the classic symptoms. Right now the anger comes and goes daily. The feeling of meaninglessness, sadness, irritability in everything, anxiousness, panic attacks, PTSD, helplessness and the list goes on and on. I wonder what is left for me. How will I continue? When is someone going to come and tell me that this horrible thing isn’t true. John was quiet and yet, I desperately want an apology and that wasn’t who he was anyway. Each day is very difficult. Nothing seems to distract my thoughts from it. It is always there. My son is gone. Where is my son? He isn’t coming back. How can this be? I worry about Herb. I worry about everything. Nothing helps. When will I feel normal again? I am lost….

John was 30 years old in January. He had married the love of his life and had a new job, his dream job, in a new state and had everything going his way. To watch your child grow into a responsible young man and embrace life to the fullest is every parents dream. He had finished his master’s degree in Forestry and we helped him move to Oregon with his dog, Jake. Erin, his wife, would soon follow, herself, starting a new job and a new life with my son. Things were perfect for them.

John was strong. He was athletic. He was handsome. He loved his kayak and to kayak in big water. It was incredibly dangerous, but he felt confident that he could stay safe. He was wrong. As a parent, you also watch your children do things that you wish they wouldn’t do and you have fears that they are taking risks. You encourage them to take on the world, even with the risks that are there. But, you hope they will see that their actions are within a safety net that you will not lose them to the forces of nature. Mother Nature swallowed up my son that day. He wasn’t that strong. He didn’t think it would happen. He didn’t mean to hurt us by dying on that cold spring day. But he did.

Now, we are hurting more than we ever have in our lives. Hoping to continue to live, but we wonder, some days, why. Why, are we left to continue and wonder why.  Not believing in a higher power, I think my son is now star dust and is just not here anymore. He is not here to laugh with, to watch him mellow as he ages, in a great marriage, to possibly have a child of his own. And, with a watchful eye, try to expose his own child to the world and the great wonders in it while protecting that child from harm.  We won’t see this happen.

What we did get to experience in the thirty years of his life, was his dry wit, his fun and playful ways, his love of the woods and the earth. He had a laid back style and very frugal ways, understanding that the important things are living a meaningful life and having experiences instead of things. He had a bit of me and a bit of his dad in him but, he was his own man and had a great pride in being a genuinely kind individual to all that knew him. In his short time in Oregon, he managed to plant 70 acres of trees. That is the ultimate in being a steward of the earth. What a legacy and a way to add meaning to the life he had.

I don’t see John living anywhere now but in our hearts. His widow is spreading his ashes in places that he loved the most. High mountains, rivers and trails all across the country.  I am sure John would want that and I think we can all use his example to live life to the maximum and to not take a minute of time for granted. We can try our best to add meaning to the world in ways that are helpful to the planet and to others. We are here for a short time and the impact that we leave on the planet and others lives is all we get. To me there is nothing after this. Nothing to look forward to but the memories we leave in the hearts and minds of others,  giving others an example of a life well lived so that we will be remembered for a while.  We need to be kind to others and have patience. John did this.

I miss him terribly. I can’t bring him back and I will never see or hear him again. I can hear his voice in my head, I can see his smile and I can love him, as best I can, but I can never sit beside him again or feel his presence here with me. It really makes me sad. I can only hope that in 1000 days I can accept that he is gone forever, except in my heart.

I love you, John Duncan Wilburn  

BFF(Baby’s First Frog) Bowls

Last year, Herb had me make some of his teacher friends, who were expecting, a baby’s first bowl as a special gift for their new baby. I had a lot of fun with them and sold all of them as they were a huge hit. So, I decided to have a few of them on hand for the Holiday Open House on Sunday and so I am sharing those with you today. They are really small but really sweet and as the child grows, they can begin as a bowl for cereal and applesauce and evolve into a snack bowl for cheerios or m&ms and raisins or peanuts. I have six of them. We will see how they are received.