Our Keepsake Journal is Here! 🎉

“You gotta get out!” my tenant’s friend said over the phone. “The whole mountain’s on fire!”
 
Gene wandered outside, smelled smoke but saw no evidence of flames. He meandered inside, decided to put his shoes on, and then slipped out again to take another look. “Holy crap!”
 
He searched frantically for LittleBoy, his favorite ferrel cat. LittleBoy was lost.
 
Gene jumped in his car and raced down the long winding driveway. Across the way, the neighbor’s house was already engulfed in flames; the street was a hallway on fire.
 
“I drove through a hailstorm of embers,” Gene told me later. At a parking lot at the end of the road, he pulled over with a huddle of people standing in shock. 
 
“Dude, your car’s on fire!” one of them yelled. Someone grabbed a fire extinguisher. 
 
In the midst of the chaos, a stranger pointed at Gene’s shoes. “Your socks don’t match.” Just then another guy ran to the group, barefoot and shirtless. He couldn’t make it to his car and escaped on foot.
 
Now that the fire is over, people, mostly like Gene, wander into the laundromat I own with my  husband. The lucky ones are washing clothes, blankets, curtains, and linens that all smell like smoke. The ones who aren’t so lucky need information, a hot cup of coffee and everything else.
 
Pat Hoffman and his wife, Barbie, decided to make our laundromat a soft place for these people to land.
 
Back when I was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago, my husband reached out to Pat for help. “I can’t manage this business anymore and take care of Nancy too,” Gary said. For twenty years, our businesses have shared a wall. Pat owns Sonoma Taekwandoo, and we’ve watched each other and our community of customers grow up. 
 
Like all small business owners I know, he’s busy. We hated to ask for help, but we were panicking, wondering how in the hell we would make ends meet as self employed people in a nation that hasn’t figured out that part of the health care system.
 
In a couple of days, with the ease of seasoned dealmakers and trusted friends, we agreed to a plan that works for everyone. Pat stepped in and still runs our laundromat as if it were his own.
 
When the fires torched our beloved mountains and vineyards, all of us could see that our community was suffering. People like Gene, like my sister Jane and her husband Dave, like so many of our friends and neighbors – had no place to go. 
 
Information was spotty and often inaccurate. People needed a place to connect.
 
Pat and his wife, Barbie, moved a row of video games out of the laundromat and into their own storage space, and they put up a bulletin board where neighbors and organizations could post vital information. Then they bought donuts, lots of donuts, but they made coffee too and bought cases of water.
 
“We’ll wash their blankets, give them coffee, and do whatever we can to help,” Barbie said. La Luz de Sonoma, a local organization, delivered lunches to the laundromat so people could eat. 
 
“This is what it means to be part of a community,” Pat says. 
 
Without completing a single form, without assessing liabilities or conducting a cost benefit analysis study, help showed up. It fed the hungry, it clothed the naked, it comforted the afflicted. There was no army of government employees or trailers full of computers and copy machines. It was just Pat, a laundromat and donuts.
 
No one got a tax increase. No one had to show ID or proof of income. But people came together anyway and offered help. Those who needed it were grateful; those who served were blessed.
 
That’s the power of small business. Small entities doing great things. And it happens everyday in communities all across the nation. It’s just that most of the time, nobody notices.
 
 

Nancy Brier

Nancy Brier is regrowing her hair with her balding husband in Palm Desert, California where they recently relocated. They have an 12-year-old daughter whose hair is perfect. For more of Nancy’s work, please visit http://www.nancybrier.com/

The Ravages of Schizophrenia: A Mother’s Perspective

In: Grief, Grown Children, Living, Loss, Motherhood
Hands holding dandelion fluff

Our bright, beautiful, beloved son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late 20s. Although the manifestation of his illness surfaced in his late teens, it took an excruciating 10 years to receive a formal, medical diagnosis. As a child, Mike was a delight. He was a popular kid who loved his family, his friends, wrestling, and basketball. He giggled sometimes and acted silly, which just made him more endearing. His life was filled with joy, happiness, and promise. After Mike’s 17th birthday, behavioral changes began to surface. He smoked marijuana. He drank alcohol to excess. His friends disappeared, one by...

Keep Reading

To the Miscarriage Mom with a Broken Heart on Mother’s Day

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Woman holding single pink daisy

Dear Mama, I want you to know—you aren’t alone. Not even by a little bit. Not ever, but especially not today. There are hearts like yours breaking all over the world today. Whether you are grieving one loss or multiple. Whether you already have a healthy family or this would have been your firstborn. Whether you were family planning the natural way or needed a little help from science. Planned, unplanned. Chemical pregnancy, missed miscarriage, late-term loss. Those details don’t matter today. Today, all our hearts hurt the same. We are all part of the same club we never asked...

Keep Reading

Call Your Mom for Those of Us Who Can’t

In: Grief, Loss
Sunset over water, color photo

I never pictured myself without my mama at only 26 years old. I never saw a life when I couldn’t just pick up my phone to call you after the worst day at work. I never thought I would be crying over one of your recipes at Christmas time because I just can’t make it taste like you did. I never thought I would be jealous when I heard my friends talk about meeting up with their mom for a girl’s day. Here’s the thing, yes I knew it would eventually happen, but I pictured the both of us a...

Keep Reading

Dear Cancer, I Thought We Paid Our Dues

In: Grief, Living, Loss
Mother and grown daughter, smiling, color pboto

This is not how it was supposed to be. I am most certainly not made for this. God, why are you forcing me to travel this road again? When my father died after a long, grueling battle with Stage 4 base of the tongue cancer, I very naively thought, bye cancer. Our family paid our dues, and cancer was never to be seen again. I put on a brave face and began to write about my dad’s cancer journey. I believed the more I poured my heart onto a piece of paper the more cancer would stay away for good....

Keep Reading

A Grandmother’s Legacy Never Dies

In: Grief, Loss
A group of kids, old color photo

My grandmother was a Christian puppeteer. She would play the parts of brother and sister, Wilbur and Willette, race their dog King back and forth, and yell in their mother’s scratchy voice from “off stage,” all from behind her big blue curtain while my aunt talked to the puppets and sang from center stage. Sometimes I’d sit on a folding chair behind the curtain with her. Sometimes I’d watch from the audience. From churches to the Iowa State Fair to summer camps, I witnessed hundreds of children give their lives to Jesus. She wasn’t just my grandmother, she was a...

Keep Reading

Losing a Brother, Understanding My Mother

In: Grief, Loss
Sad woman looking out rainy window

At the end of his life, I didn’t like my brother. That feels awful to say. It probably is awful. My brother died at 35 years old of liver failure. It was a long, ugly death full of prolonged hospital stays and frustration. Even before he was relegated to life support and dialysis, the disease changed him. Maybe he knew what was coming, I don’t know. When he did talk, he was rude or short or full of insults. He had withered into a mean, isolated version of himself. Mostly, I was angry at him for refusing to change. I was...

Keep Reading

A Funeral, a Baby, and Whispers of Love

In: Grief, Loss
Newborn baby next to a purple onesie about a grandma in heaven

I woke up and saw a missed call from the hospital. I called her room, no answer. I  called the front desk and was immediately transferred to the doctor on rotation. My mother had crashed and was in the ICU. He asked if I wanted CPR if she coded. I needed to make a decision and come into the hospital as soon as possible. It was the wee hours of the morning, and I made it to the hospital fairly quickly. I grabbed my mother’s hand—it was ice cold. The nurses were talking to me, but I had tuned out,...

Keep Reading

The Last Text I Sent Said “I Love You”

In: Friendship, Grief, Living
Soldier in dress uniform, color photo

I’ve been saying “I love you” a lot recently. Not because I have been swept off my feet. Rather, out of a deep appreciation for the people in my life. My children, their significant others, and friends near and far. I have been blessed to keep many faithful friendships, despite the transitions we all experience throughout our lives.  Those from childhood, reunited high school classmates, children of my parent’s friends (who became like family), and those I met at college, through work and shared activities. While physical distance has challenged many of these relationships, cell phones, and Facebook have made...

Keep Reading

I Obsessed over Her Heartbeat Because She’s My Rainbow Baby

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Mother and teen daughter with ice cream cones, color photo

I delivered a stillborn sleeping baby boy five years before my rainbow baby. I carried this sweet baby boy for seven whole months with no indication that he wouldn’t live. Listening to his heartbeat at each prenatal visit until one day there was no heartbeat to hear. It crushed me. ”I’m sorry but your baby is dead,” are words I’ll never be able to unhear. And because of these words, I had no words. For what felt like weeks, I spoke only in tears as they streamed down my cheeks. But I know it couldn’t have been that long. Because...

Keep Reading

We’re Walking the Road of Twin Loss Together

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Mother and son walk along beach holding hands

He climbed into our bed last week, holding the teddy bear that came home in his twin brother’s hospital grief box almost 10 years earlier. “Mom, I really miss my brother. And do you see that picture of me over there with you, me and his picture in your belly? It makes me really, really sad when I look at it.” A week later, he was having a bad day and said, “I wish I could trade places with my brother.” No, he’s not disturbed or mentally ill. He’s a happy-go-lucky little boy who is grieving the brother who grew...

Keep Reading