Keepin On.

When death hits, time seems to stop in accordance with that person’s life. And the realization sets in at some point, that life, the earth’s rotation, and the act of living and the busyness of society around us – it has all kept going. All of time didn’t literally stop when your loved one’s heart did, but it sure feels like it.

Today is my aunt’s celebration of life and burial of her body at it’s final resting place. Our family has all come together to work towards this day, this finality of the tasks that must be carried out after the passing. Except even in the finality of the goodbye, there is awareness that life will go on. And there will be more tasks to be done, some harder than this, and some easier due to the passing of time.

Last night was the first part of the “visitation” or wake or viewing – however it’s referred to in your vernacular. It began at 5 and ended at 8, and that entire three hours there was a constant line of people that wrapped around the entire auditorium, of people waiting to pay their respects not only to and for Aunt Beth, but to the family that remained. As I sat and watched these people standing there for hours, and how many hundreds of people there must have been, i was overwhelmed again at the amazing impact this woman had with her life. And i felt so honored to have been able to be in the path of her hurricane of love during my life.

My cousin wrote this morning that she hoped she would be able to carry on that hurricane type of love in her mom’s honor throughout the rest of her life, and i thought – “me too.”

How often I take the people around me that I love for granted. How often I get wrapped up in the stresses of my day-to-day existence and i don’t take the time to just LOVE.

But this was one of the lasting gifts Aunt Beth gave us.

Scan 1 She brought my extended family together in one place where we all have had to “do life” together, there in her kitchen and her living room. Oh I know she’s probably so sad she had to miss it but I know she was laughing down on all of us, laughing that amazing laugh as we reminisced, shared pictures and memories, and even made new ones. It has been an amazing time, and I know that there is no way I could ever thank the people who are the unsung heroes of allowing me, and allowing all of us, this time together. My family at home, holding things together and doing all the busy crazy things that make up our life, even without me there to keep all those balls juggling. The amazing neighbors and church members of my aunt and uncle who have kept food flowing into that house in a steady stream, the people who think of details like paper plates and plastic cutlery and extra coffee and just – stuff.

I have witnessed the true outpouring of love and humanity this week in a way that so often gets taken for granted in our every day existence, and this too is a gift. It has allowed me to see that there is never anything too small to be given or done out of love. It assures me that friendships and those strong unbreakable bonds we form with the ones we love are exactly what will hold us up in the hard times.

So today we will say our “see you later’s” as we celebrate the amazing life of Aunt Beth. It will be hard because it will seem so final. It will break my heart to watch my beautiful cousins say goodbye to their mama. But it will remind me to tell my own mama i love her that much more. It will remind me to take the time to hug my own babies a little tighter.

And in this way, we will keep on keepin on. I say it a lot here and i say it even more on Kendall’s page. Keep on…. Keep pushing, keep enduring, keep doing that hard thing and keep doing the right thing and keep doing what you’re doing because it always makes a difference.

Keep choosing love. Love like a hurricane as much as you can and if some days you only love like a drizzle, that’s ok too. But always choose love. Choose to throw your head back in laughter and choose to have a dance party in your kitchen and choose to smile even when you feel like you have nothing to smile about.

These are the beautiful lessons I have learned from my amazing auntie and the ones I will take with me for the rest of my days.


Rest in peace, Aunt Beth.

Oh who am I kidding – we all know you’re up there starting a party!

Love you forever.



A Life Well Lived

This post will be maybe one of the rawest things i’ve ever written. Here’s a warning:

Death is not pretty.

It is not easy, or flowery, or anything remotely resembling anything you will ever watch on TV or a movie.

Scan 2


Yesterday, October 30th, was one of the most emotionally tough days I have ever lived through.

My beautiful amazing aunt Beth died yesterday. She fought this amazing battle against uterine cancer for three years, and received her miraculous healing in heaven. And that is about where the flowery Hallmark euphemisms end. I asked my uncle for his permission to blog the happenings of yesterday as part of the story of her amazing life, and he graciously gave his permission.

And the part of the story I wanted to tell was that even in the midst of the deepest grief, there can be the brightest hope.

True confession: I have been “around” death, but I have never walked through that dark valley myself, for someone so close to me. I have been witness to the shutting down of a body as I have watched Kendall’s body ravaged by septic shock, but I have never been present with someone as their body lost the battle of life.

Cancer is a horrible killer. I could wax poetic about all the things it is not, but I will tell you what it is.

It is an up and down, back and forth battle. It is false starts and false hope and in the end, it is tumors that have overtaken the body, visible through the fluid-overloaded skin. It is pain that cannot be touched by a PCA pump of narcotics, and it is watching your loved one’s organ systems shut down, agonizingly slowly, but oh so surely. It is a catheter-drainage bag full of blood poisoned by chemotherapy and eaten through by cancer cells. It is the gray coloring of skin so sallow and sunken, the body following it’s most basic instinct to breathe in, and let it out. And breathe in, and let it out. Heart beating systolic and diastolic. These are the first functions of life at conception and these are the last functions of life at death.

And it is agonizing. I will never use that word loosely again. Agonizing. Say it slowly, let the weight of it roll around your tongue for a minute. Think of what it means, to be in AGONY.  Aunt Beth was brought home on hospice on Friday, October 23rd. And she took her last breath on Friday, October 30th. And on some level you think “only a week? that’s so quick.” And to those who were going about their lives like usual this past week, it probably was quick. But to those who are watching their loved one pass through their final days on earth, time slows to a near stop. This past week for my uncle and my two gorgeous cousins, time was agonizing. They both wanted to capture every single second here on earth with their momma, and towards the end, when her breathing had slowed and the “death rattle” had set in, they wanted her to be at peace quickly. We all did.

The real testament here is how she loved everyone around her, and how she then was surrounded by love as she left her human body behind. The house has been full all week of family, friends, neighbors, all wanting to express their love and gratefulness to Beth for the example she provided of a life well lived. I said in the last post how she loved like a hurricane, and seeing the far reaching impact this woman’s life had, I hold even more firmly to that sentiment. Those people agonized with her as her functions of life began to slowly shut down. As she was unable to any longer take in any food, and stopped being able to process her own body fluids. As her breathing became a conscious effort she had to make, and then as all the fluid in her body began to infiltrate her lungs. For five days past the time when anyone thought she would still be alive, this amazing, strong, fierce fighter held on. Calling the family in every once in a while to sing hymns over her, people filtering in and out as they needed to, to just sit with her, next to her, tell her how much she was loved and just soak up the love still emanating from her body.
My sister and I did not think she would survive til we got here –not that she needed to hang on for us. But we landed late Thursday night in Philadelphia, and went to get a few hours of sleep at the hotel before coming to the house on Friday morning. And we made it. We were able to lay on either side of her body and hold her puffy hands and tell her how much we loved her. I kissed her forehead and told her how proud I was of how hard she fought and how honored I was to know her and how very very much i loved her. I held her hand and I listened to one of the hardest noises I have ever in my life heard, the raspy, gargly breathing of a body no longer able to properly filter fluids, and as I held her hand my thumb left an indent in the boggy, slippery skin because her body was shutting down operations to its periphery and was focused solely on the vital organs of her brain and her heart. The PCA pump was slowly dripping the pain-relieving medication into her heart and this seemed to be part of what was keeping her going – the stimulation of that slow drip triggering the heart to beat and the brain to inhale and exhale, inhale, exhale…. Slow, agonizing, near torturous to watch, harder even to hear. Everyone had told her it was ok to go home, to fly to heaven. And we knew she had been seeing glimpses of the eternal glory that awaited her. She was able to form words a few days ago still and was expressing things that made us all believe she was comforted by what she was seeing. So we sang her more hymns, and we watched her turning grayer, and felt her hands and feet getting colder.
At one point late in the afternoon her breathing changed, and the hospice nurse was called in to come check on things and change out the medicine cartridge on the pump. And it was as if we all knew this was it. We gathered in the room, her daughters on either side of her laying their heads on her chest where they had lain countless other days for their whole lives, the place where they always found the most comfort and love, a place they knew was not going to be there for much longer. So the hospice nurse disconnected the pump and the second her heart was not receiving that input to keep beating, it stopped.

And the heartbreaking sounds of grief flooded the air. A husband losing the love of his life. Daughters losing their mama. A mama losing her daughter. All of us losing one of the most loving and precious people we have ever had the honor of knowing. Her absence was palpable in that room as the realization hit us that all that was left was a shell of a human and her spirit had passed into eternity. I watched those of us left behind process the sudden onset of grief in our own ways. I watched my cousinsThe Wheeler Family -15 kiss their mommy one last time before retreating to a quiet place to sob together, their loss so deep that none of us could even hope to be of comfort. I watched my uncle throw his body onto that of his beautiful bride, sobs racking his body as the emotion flowed through him. I watched the hospice nurse, a friend and neighbor of the family, shake with sorrow as she put stethoscope to chest, listening intently for any sign of heart rhythm, heard the tremor in her voice as she whispered more to herself than any of us ‘’she’s gone”. And for whatever reason, maybe respect for the body, or maybe the nurse asked us all to, we filtered out. The body was left taking “agonal breaths” – the reflex of inhale/exhale still flickering across a brain whose sole purpose in life was to stay alive, to be a mom, to be a wife. This is what death does. It is cruel and horrible. It makes a mom who labored over bringing her daughter to life and hearing that first breath, refuse to believe that that same daughter had just taken her last breath, but that that breath was not “life”.

So we all left that room, and the hospice nurse was left to clean the body, to honor the passing from this life into the next. It is methodical and clinical and i cannot imagine how hard it was to do that for a friend who has passed. Until she reached that point where she needed physical help to move the body and finish her tasks. And I watched my dad, one of the strongest men I know, the only one of us who could have possibly endured under that task, go into the room with the nurse, and deal with the horribly unspeakable things that happen to a body once it is no longer sustaining life. Then we called the funeral home so the mortician could come get the body. And we called the DME (medical equipment company) to come and get the medical equipment, and we called the church and family and everyone else who needed to know, and  somehow, real life resumed. Except it was different. She was gone, and we all felt it. It was both peaceful and sad. As Christians, we rejoiced that she was in heaven, restored to a perfect painfree existence as the amazing soul she has always been. I could almost hear her beautiful giggle as she went running into the arms of Jesus….or at least that’s how it is in my mind.

The Wheeler Family -32 The realization struck me at some point that my uncle would need to go back into that room that he has shared with his bride, and she would not be there. And the smell that death leaves in it’s wake was permeating that room. My dad was still dutifully helping walk my uncle through the steps of “now what”, numbed as he was in his utter despairing grief, but he came in, and my mom did, and my sister did, and we moved as a unit. Shutting the door and starting the task of cleaning out the death, while honoring and keeping her LIFE presence there. We stripped the bed and we took apart the mattress and we vacuumed and swept and deodorized. We moved all of the “medical stuff” to a part of the bathroom where it can be dealt with at another time, and we set to work restoring the room to what it looked like as if it was just waiting for her to come home from a trip and crawl into her side of the bed again. And it was hard. It is not something you are trained to do or prepared for in any way. But you just do it. You do it because you know there is no way you want your cousins or uncle to have to deal with it. You do it because it is the right thing to do and it is something to do, some palpable way of being helpful. But if I never have to do that in my life ever again, it will be too soon.

Death is a brutal and terrible ending of life. But it awakens you to what Life really is. And for this final lesson from Aunt Beth, I am so very grateful.
There are not enough words in my vocabulary to fully capture the depth of the feelings we are all feeling. Nor are there enough to capture the gratitude I feel for being able to be here, in these tough times, with my family. I miss my own babies, but I know they are in good hands with Ben. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here sharing our favorite memories, reliving the times we all spent laughing and making memories. Scan 1
I have cried some of the hardest, deepest tears I have ever cried in my life, and I have laughed deeply and goodly.

And now the hard part comes. We are planning a celebration of her life and the burial and all the details that go along with that. I am honored to be able to help in any way with these tasks. Your prayers are so appreciated. Not for me, but for those she leaves behind here. Her husband who is going to have to figure out how to make himself breakfast without also making a plate and a cup of coffee for his wife. For the daughters who will pick up the phone to call their mommy to share good news and realize that she cannot answer, will not answer again. For all the days between now and the time they themselves enter heaven when they will have to go on without their mommy. My heart breaks for them and I hate when I don’t have words to give to them but I can just hold them in my arms and smooth their hair back and tell them how much i love them. For the grandsons who hardly understand why their “Gam” isn’t here anymore and won’t be here ever again.

But this is how life goes on. It’s unfair and it hurts and we don’t understand why.

But we have hope that we will be reunited in heaven again someday. So we are happy that she is free from pain, that she is in her eternal Home, laughing that infectious laugh, and showering her hurricane love down on all of us in her own beautiful way.


The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Beth Wheeler can be made to the Hope For Kendall Kendall Quinn Medical Fund at any BMO Harris Bank by requesting to make a donation/deposit into the

kendall quinn medical fund account c/o Terra Atkinson

(ph. 630.226.5330)

Checks can be mailed to:
Hope For Kendall/KQMF
1587 Manhattan St
Bolingbrook IL 60490

Or online using a debit/credit card at

Or at


So I figured I should get at least one blog post up in October.

Here you go.


I’m not entirely sure why today is the day I have been spurred to finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were). There have been many other days where my emotional state led me to believe that blogging and purging my feelings would make me feel better.  (Did I just say blog and purge? Like this is some kind of word-bulimia? Yes. I did. I’m copyrighting that.  Wordimia.)
Someday I am sure that the entire story of what I have been enduring the last few months (years) will be told. In fact, in the book I have been encouraged to write but have yet to start will include all of that story.
To say that my personal fortitude has been tested would be an understatement.

But today, for some reason, the dam holding back my feelings is near breaking. And what broke it was a phone call from my dad who is with my mom at my aunt’s house as she endures her final days on earth, surrounded by the love of family and friends. She has fought fiercely against aggressive ovarian cancer. But her body is wearing out. Her spirit sure isn’t. As my dad told me of her wishes to be buried in her pajamas and fuzzy slippers, I laughed even as the tears rolled down my face, knowing that that is EXACTLY what I would picture her being buried in. Of course she’d want to go to heaven wearing what she felt most at home in! And i realized that even though the death of a loved one is so hard for those they leave behind, the glory that those who are going on are passing into will be amazing. But oh my heart aches for those she will be leaving behind her. Her laugh is one of those amazing infectious laughs that they should make soundtracks out of because if you hear it you just cannot help but laugh yourself, even if you have no idea what is so funny! She loves like a hurricane, it hits everyone around her all at once and she is just one of the most amazing women i have had the joy of being surrounded by in my life.

And so…I decided today was the day I was going to stop being dictated by my circumstances. I am stressed and I am sad and I am sore and I am a hundred different feelings and things but at the top of that list is this:






So I will LIVE in the best way I know how. I will embrace the stuff of life, the good, the bad, the painful, the beautiful, the hard, the awesome.

I will enjoy the food, and I will breathe the air and I will feel the feelings. I will love more fiercely and laugh more often.

And I want to encourage you to do the same.

Let go of the small petty stuff. Let go of some of the big petty stuff too.

I try so hard to keep the thousand balls in my life juggling in the air the best way I know how but you know what? Sometimes I’m just going to drop some. And that’s ok. I’ll pick them all back up in the morning and start over.

This life, it’s a gift. It’s not guaranteed or promised.

While I was on the phone with my dad this morning, there were helicopters hovering overhead as they had been for a few hours. There was a shooting, some kind of murder/suicide thing at an office park less than 2 miles from my house. Life is not a guarantee. But it sure is awesome while it’s here.


This is what is on my mind today, and has been kind of brewing for a while.
I’m not sure what else I have to say about it all right now so i’ll wrap this one up.

I have a lot of other things I need and want to blog about. Some are silly – like my new plannner i’m working with or the awesome table makeover i did at the beginning of summer and forgot to blog about. Some are probably more serious but those are the hard ones to get out. Things with kendall are trucking along. She’s not able to attend school full time and that is a hard, but not shocking, realization for me to come to. She was officially diagnosed with ADHD and we are learning to try to handle that better in the midst of “mito crashes”. If you’re wondering how an energy deficient kid looks with ADHD, imagine a gremlin high on weed. It’s interesting. She’s also probably going to be put into a special ed class at school instead of mainstreaming. I don’t even know which way to fight for her on that – because she is struggling SO hard to keep up, and yet she starts behind the 8-ball with all that it takes just to get out of bed and into the building every day. I don’t know. I don’t know where that line is between advocating FOR her and protecting her in the best way I know how. It wears me out and it stresses me out and it’s added to the stress of Karissa and her school struggles for similar reasons and most of the time I just feel like this huge failure at most of my life and yet….I’m living it. I’m here. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and keepin on.

So that’s that.

I’ve missed blogging. Now that I’ve begun my wordimia i am sure there will be much more to follow.

Thanks for those of you who stick around and visit faithfully, hoping i’ve made a new post. Here you go. This one’s for you.

I hope it’s been a good monday for all of you.

I hope you take a few deep breaths of outside air and realize how amazing it is that your lungs work and your brain works and all of you just WORKS. Don’t take it for granted.

Keep on keepin on, party people.





Things you Learn.

I don’t know why I decided today was the day I was going to share this. But I just wanted to.

Maybe because these times with Kendall in the ICU are some of the “dark times” i reference in the vlog I’m inserting below. Or maybe just because i’m sleep deprived and there is no rhyme or reason to anything i’m doing right now.

Anyways –

as a quick Kendall update (and if you want more up to the minute ones – be sure you have “liked” her page on facebook – there’s a link over to the right in the sidebar if you’re on a computer and on your mobile, scroll down below this post –

She is not septic – and that’s a very good thing! That’s what usually makes her go tumbling downhill head over heels and end up intubated and on all the pressers, etc.  She does have bugs growing out of the blood we take from her central line – but not out of her peripheral veins – so that means she is not even bacteremic (blood infection) – which is what the suspicion was yesterday. And to look at her – she is definitely holding her own.  But even with all this “good” news, and a pretty happy Kendall, it still just wasn’t adding up to me.  Something wasn’t quite right.  Out of that weird sense moms have, I asked them to please run a urine culture. I was met with resistance and all kinds of reasons we didn’t need to do that – but I asked if they would please just do it to shut me up.

And whaddya know??? She sure enough has a nasty UTI as well. And THAT makes much more sense to how she is acting and how/why she got so sick so fast. So now we are working on chasing that information and getting the right antibiotics for that bug also. Overall she still remains in good spirits and is not currently trying to pull any scary stuff.  I am VERY grateful for that. 
I am grateful for a lot of things – some of them are harder to put into words than others.  I am grateful for the love and support from so many friends and family who lift me and my family up during these times when our lives are thrown upside down.  I am grateful for the relaxation and peace of my trip last week and that Kendall waited until after I was home to pull this craziness! I am grateful for every breath of life I am blessed to live and I am grateful for the hard lessons I have learned this past year.

So …

there’s that.  I realize it probably doesn’t make sense, and honestly i  haven’t re-watched it since i made it so it probably REALLY doesn’t make sense.

But that’s what was on my mind today. There might be more later. You never know. So check back often.

And if you want me to talk more about the swimming in the bat cave experience, let me know!

Peace out party people. I’ll try to have a more make sense blog post later.


Monday mania.

Ohhhh monday….so cruel with your 6 am wakeup calls and freezing cold weather.

I’m not ready for fall, not ready for these dark morning and dark evenings, not ready for the cold!

But i AM ready for this week, I think.


Last week was a not so fun week. Just too many frustrations and too much going on and not nearly enough sleep for me to be able to handle it all. It had it’s great moments too – like being on the radio with our Special Spaces friends (twice even!), and taking the big girls to Fright Fest at Great America, and having good consistent nursing coverage, and beautiful weather for most of the week.
But overall – i’m glad last week is gone.

Our car was in the shop for almost two full weeks. Ben had to take his car so he could do his travelling for work. THANK GOD for putting good people and good friends in my life who have extra cars so I can use their mini-van to schlep my offspring around in. I mean, really, who does that? Let’s someone have their car for two weeks? I’ll tell you who – my best good friend does. There aren’t enough words to thank her. There MIGHT be enough chocolate bars to thank her if i raid five stores around me. So as much as i want to complain about the fact that the stupid shop ordered or received the wrong stupid part and still couldn’t manage to find us a loaner vehicle for TWO WEEKS – I really have nothing to complain about. By some creative bill juggling and good timing with paycheck time, we were able to pay for the repair to our car. God is good, all of the time. And all of the time, God is good.

I do not say those words lightly.

It is very very very hard sometimes to say those words. It is hard to sit in church and actually sing some of the songs we sing. It is hard to listen to Christian music on the radio because sometimes it seems so darn fluffy.  and sometimes i want to scream. It is not so easy to actually sing “take everything Jesus” because trust me when Jesus decides to take everything you will find ways to take those words back in a heartbeat. I’m digressing. (And for the record – i do still sing those songs, but it’s usually with tears streaming down my face because i KNOW how hard this is, this letting go and letting God and meaning it.)


But God IS good. I don’t take any of our blessings for granted. and we ARE blessed.

this is losing focus real fast….actually i’m not sure it ever had much focus.

Ok – i was talking about how last week was a crazy blend of crappy and awesome. More polarized than typical.  I’m glad it’s over. I am ready to take THIS week by the horns and make it good. i started this post this morning, full of vim and vigor. And i did get a lot done today. But then my stupid eye started doing it’s thing where it tries to take over control of my brain and they fight and it hurts and i look like rocky balboa after three rounds with the russian dude on steroids. And it totally sucked my will to live. And then I started telling Ben about all we have to do this week while he is gone for work and he asks me if i’ve ever thought about slowing down……

Of course i have! i think about it all the time! Slow down….psssshhhhtttt.

someday i’ll slow down. when i’m 89.

til then, we have eye dr appointments and school conference meetings and dance practices and planning for two day trips up to milwaukee for dr appointments and a child who requires roughly 8 hours of direct, hands-on, highly skilled medical care a day. Rest is for wimps – look out I have a world to conquer!!!!!

But really – in between all the running, there is a lot on my mind. During our radio interviews this week with the endearing and loveable Frank Fontana, i had a lot of time to think back on our journey with Kendall. And what a journey it has been. We will be celebrating her journey with an AMAZING day of celebrations on October 19th. I will put up an entire blog post related to that event at some point this week, because we would LOVE to see you there. this will be kendall’s “birthday party” that we typically have at a large venue around her birthday every year and invite everyone to. I could not think of a place large enough to rent out that wouldn’t break the bank – and this event just seems like the perfect time/place to celebrate HER.


Anyways – lots coming up this week – hoping I have time to update throughout! tomorrow Karissa has an eye doctor appointment to make sure that her sudden regression in reading abilities isn’t due to worsening eye problems. she already wears bifocals/progressive lenses so we don’t “think” that’s the issue, but before we go down a long and wearied path with the school, we may as well make sure it isn’t something “easy”. And who knows, we could be surprised! Before i pick her up though, I have to a.) somehow get my own contacts in my eyes since i cannot drive in my glasses very safely, and b.) go help out in Kaylen’s classroom for an hour or so.


did you make it this far??? you should win a prize if you did. Oh – speaking of prizes – we will be having a cute halloween costume photo contest on Kendall’s page soon! Keep your eye out for that because I think it’s going to be lots of fun!

ok now i’m going to sleep.

peace out party people.


love and hugs~


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