The Grief That Keeps On Giving

I have a serious love/hate relationship with my grief. On one hand, my grief is like carrying a sack of bricks, a burden to carry that demands too much of my energy. But on the other hand, my grief has given me me a unique perspective and gifted me in ways I couldn’t have imagined just ten months ago.

My grief has allowed me to prioritize effectively – What’s important? Maybe more imperative, what’s not?

My grief has allowed me to choose to either accept stress or decline. Is this worth my stress and energy? If not, make like Elsa and let. it. go.

My grief has allowed me to cut myself a break. I’m doing the best I can. And if I really am, I rest with that.


We live in a world that screams success and glosses over the fruit of failure and defeat (as dismal and fatiguing as they are). When it feels like sadness and despair are only allowed to be suppressed in shadows rather than be brought to the light, it’s really easy to feel like we are always falling behind (and dragging around big, scary baggage). When my mom died on August 18, my focus became much more inward. I had to focus only what was essential to tackle each day.  Life became about doing only what was necessary only with those it was necessary to be with. There was no room for extra. Eat, sleep, survive were my only daily requirements. Through that trimming process, I’m left with a perspective — not perfect or 100% accurate — but unique to my own story. I couldn’t fuss with the “extra” of life. I couldn’t worry about the frivolous and quickly, most everything felt frivolous.

I have realized in many cases, within the context of death, most things are hardly as important or serious than I had given credit. They’re just not.  I’m running late to a meeting and stuck in traffic again. The grocery store is out of the one item I came in for. It’s raining, canceling my plans for the day. I think to myself who the heck cares? All things that would have lead me to pause before August 18 now are nothing.

Just nothing.

I don’t want to belittle struggle because struggle is struggle is struggle no matter how you define it. It’s a wrestle with endurance and grit that often brings heart-ache in it’s wake. For me, I’ve decided that if a struggle, let-down or inconvenience isn’t going to determine or redirect the trajectory of my life, if I’ll forget it happened by tomorrow (or even in the next hour) my soul doesn’t get to be troubled. If it’s the degree of struggle that isn’t going to end me then it’s allowed to be no more than a mere blip on my radar.

My friends and I joke when something goes “wrong,” deeming the circumstance THE WORST. Imagine us:

We ran out of the hot pink nail polish. THE WORST.

The dishwasher broke again. THE WORST.

After a little reflection and joking aside, we decided to make a chart. The top sliver is allotted for events that are actually THE WORST — tragedy, disaster, loss. Next sliver is MAJOR CONCERN followed by TROUBLING. The majority of the chart is made up of three big letters: NBD. No Big Deal. It’s fun to exaggerate but the very real truth is that after living through trauma and disaster, not much seems important. The important things that are left, are things you know with your whole heart are chief to your existence and therefore, become all you reserve energy and time for.


While at times grief feels like putting on heavy, clunky shoes each morning, I’ve realized that grief keeps me firmly grounded.  I clung to this idea of whistling in the dark. I realized that even in hard, horrible, nightmarish events, there were small glimmers of hope in the world proving that not ALL was totally lost. I learned that even my grief had benefit and purpose despite the darkness and sadness I felt. I started making whistle necklaces for myself and the fierce community that walked through our loss arm in arm. Made from spent bullet casings, these necklaces — someday’s worn as my proverbial armor —  remind me that even out of something deemed spent and painful, a beautiful tune can surely be sung, albeit hushed at times. And even amidst such grief, I’ve been witness to the whole-hearted goodness that DOES exist, even when the darkness seems to prevail.

Simply put, life is a battle. It is a marathon of joy and sadness, satisfaction and discontent. But my grief has taught me we win the battle when we are together.

Even in terrible grief there is still something to be gained.


Whistling at the White House

Last Monday was one of those days where I wondered, “Is this really happening??”

Three weeks ago, I got an email from the White House. And I ignored it. I assumed it was spam, an election spoof or an ad for something entirely unrelated to THE White House. So I went on about my business until later that night when I started going through my email. I saw it again and opened it this time. The email was an invitation to attend South by South Lawn, a White House event for innovators and folks creating social change through positive means.


I went to one of my roommates. “I got this email from the White House. You think it’s legit?” We immediately took to google and twitter and researched the heck out of South by South Lawn (#SXSL). Turns out over 20,000 had been nominated and it was looking more and more likely that Whistling & Co. had been selected to attend.

I was jittery.

I kinda freaked out. ME? At the White House? Is this for real? Turns out, YES.

I showed up (sure that the only way I was getting in the White House would be as a detainee due to the bag of the bullet-casing key chains and necklaces in my purse). After waiting in line, I made my way through the White House and outside to the South Lawn. The afternoon was filled with connecting, observing, listening and taking in the grandeur of the sacred place I got to spend nine hours visiting. The lawn felt electric. After an afternoon of small performances, panel discussions and booths with all kinds of activities, all attendees met in front of the main stage for a performance from the Lumineers, a panel discussion with Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio and the domestic debut of Leo’s new documentary. It was a great day.



I headed home with all the feelings. All of them. Humbled to spend the day with such all-stars. Totally honored to be invited to the White House. Motivated by the conversations. But also feeling a little sad. This community wouldn’t be necessary if sad things didn’t happen all the time. I wouldn’t be at the White House if my mom hadn’t died. I would have loved to call her as I headed home.

I reflected on the event and some of the people I met. So many people at the event had taken an idea and executed it. It was inspiring to speak with folks from all over the country that had overcome something or had set their minds to making change. Often, there was intention and strategy in their undertaking.

Our story is so different. I don’t know when Whistling & Company was ever founded.  This movement was a gradual ticking. An ever so slight increase each day that eventually became unmistakable. I feel like we were founded upon, that an effort became apparent to us. And in a way, that’s just how I prefer it. There is no strategy here. No formula. The first domino fell only to began a reaction that we’d do well to try to keep up with. It can’t be harnessed or predicted.  The community is the power, leadership and momentum. Steadily, we gather more and more Whistlers into our fold.

SXSL.pngThis community is a flower grown from a sorrowful soil.  I’m just jogging along the line of dominoes with you all, just as anxious to see where this may go.

If I’m totally honest, sometimes it’s hard to accept good things happening after someone dies. We feel guilty that good things happen to us or sad that it feels like good things happen because someone died. We want to share stories and life with loved ones who are in places only the angels can reach.  I think I was feeling a little of that too. I think that’s okay.

But the power of community swept in shortly thereafter. I told a friend how visiting the White House is a part of Plan B, a bitter, remote second from Plan A with my mom and my former life. I’d give it all back: The White House, dreamy Leo and the whole nine-hour VIP experience. Oh, how I’d trade the good things just to have her back.

I know that’s not an option.

My friend smiled. “You know, having the White House involved in your not-so-preferable-Plan-B isn’t the absolute worst Plan B.”

And she’s right. I’m so grateful for so much positive. I’d say we’re doing okay. The White House wasn’t horrible.

And Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t the worst cherry on top.

Let’s make a sh!t-ton of lemonade out of Plan B.



Drop-Kick Darkness

If you were picking teams for a fight, I wouldn’t be an obvious pick. I’m the sister that dodged wrestling with my brother when we were younger by slowly approaching him with waving fingers, ready to tickle rather than slug. The song “Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the song my soul sings. I like simple, innocent things. I’m big on compromise and hate conflict.

All that said, I got a little spunk (read: Mary Brown) in me. Two summers ago I was on an indoor soccer team. One of the opponent’s players, Johnny, and I kept going neck and neck during the game defending each other. At one point, we were marking each other and he whispered in my ear:

“Be careful little girl. Don’t hurt yourself.”

OHHHH. My blood boiled.

Immediately, I was ready to GO. Just get me the ball, I thought. I felt a surge of adrenaline met with the absurdity of injustice that I  could hardly harness. I had to take action. Just then, the half-time buzzer went off. I walked off the field, took a swig of water and told the team trust me. I’ve got Johnny. 

The second half began. This time Johnny was in the goal. I was playing forward. IDEAL. I’m a pretty average player but in the moment, I was convinced Johnny was the one that needed to be careful. I hate when boys act like they are better than girls. In a textbook play, my teammate crossed the ball to me and I scored on Johnny’s @$$. He fell to the ground and I just stood over him for a second  and gave him a little wink. “Better be careful,” I said as I walked away.

(My mom happened to be stopping through town and came to the game. I heard her shout “EMILY!” after I scored. Not in a congratulatory way. It was more in a “Don’t hurt him! Walk away! WALK AWAY.” kind of way. But she still gave me a high-five after.)

All that to say, I’m not one to pick a fight but once I’m in, I’m IN. In a way Darkness and all his friends (Sadness, Heartbreak, Discontentment, etc.) are my life’s Johnny. They picked a fight that will last a lifetime. I love how Whistling & Co. defies each. I see each whistle worn, each story shared, each conversation a goal scored against Johnny. Exactly what he didn’t want to happen.

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Megan Kerns Photogaphy

I love when strength comes in unexpected packages. Typically, strength is met with strength. Arguments are met with more arguments. Yelling breeds yelling. But what a feeling when seemingly weak actions totally topple our Johnnys.  It’s like Johnny is quieted by a goal scored rather than harsh words or foul play.

One Tuesday morning, I was driving during rush-hour traffic in DC. I was trying to merge. I had my blinker on. I waited my turn. I looked out my driver-side window and motioned to the driver next to me asking if I could merge in front of him.

He flat out mouthed, “NO.” He said no! Who says no? What ONE one car in front of you is going to make or break if you get to work on time? I wanted to inch my way in any way so as to say, “Don’t mess with this CRV, mister.” I wanted to honk my horn and beat my hands against my steering wheel. Who are you to tell me no?? 

Instead, I just gave him a thumbs up and smiled. “Cool,” I mouthed back. And he ever-so-slightly loosened his grip on the steering wheel. His shoulders, that were once up by his ears, relaxed. He still didn’t let me in but I like to think I started disarming a bomb that morning.

Darkness whispers in our ear and tells us to go looking for a fight. “Be careful little girl.” Other cars on the road are mere machines and we forget a real, live human is inside just trying to get to 5 PM like we are. (I’m so guilty of this.) Darkness wants us to think we are the only ones suffering. Darkness wants us to believe we are solely important. Our stuff is more important than their stuff. Darkness wants to keep us separate.

I say let’s dropkick darkness.

There is no place on this earth where we can allow thinking like this. When we are separate, we loose focus that everyone is hurting. When we are separate, I think “Only I know heartbreak. You have no idea.” When we are separate, we forget to help others. When we are separate, my situation is worse than yours.

The stakes are high. Depression runs rampant when we are separate. General feelings of discontentment, lethargy and inadequacy dance when darkness is abundant. Looking out for Number One only strengthens the very opponent we are battling.

The natural reaction to darkness is to only bolster ourselves up. We build up our wall just big enough for ourselves. We use all of our strength to protect us, only playing into his game. Darkness loves this. Only room for me and him. He whispers. I believe. Nobody is around to remind me not to.

The most unnatural reaction to darkness is to talk about him. He’s like a pansy that shrivels in sunlight. We don’t talk about him but know he’s there. Bring him into the light and his nocturnal power diminishes. This means we speak up when we know Darkness is close. This means we ask other people how they are and stick around long enough for a real, honest answer. This means we keep asking questions. Just because we checked on a friend 5 weeks ago does not mean we excused from ever checking in again.

Be diligent. Be vocal. Be ready to battle with unnatural means. Darkness sure is.

If darkness is going to take my mom, he sure as hell isn’t going to dictate my life. I don’t know the end of my story but I don’t want to make it easy for Darkness to call the shots. There are periods of time I forget all of this just as sure as I can write about it. But I know when I’m together with others, darkness is only pushed further away. I can’t control what has happened but I can absolutely fight back.  One way to do that is to talk about him. Expose his tendencies. And keep talking about him. He’s a serious opponent, not to be taken lightly but is destructed with means well within our collective power.

Who’s with me? Let’s drop-kick darkness.


It All Started With A Whistle

I used to be a change-resister. I liked my routine. I liked knowing what was coming so I could mentally prepare. I like Familiar, remember? This past year has taught me better than to use energy to fight the inevitable. I don’t face change in a blasé manner, just letting it steamroll me — well, okay, sometimes I do. But I try to reframe it more as an uncharted adventure. Mostly terrifying, kinda exciting. I just let change do it’s thing. Sometimes I still try to resist or hold on to familiar things but I’ve learned to pick my battles. I’d rather be on the same team as change. He’s no fun to oppose. I’ve learned, that often change isn’t the opponent I think he is.

I started this little blog 10 months ago. I sat in my bedroom as I hit “publish” and remember thinking “publish to who?” I wanted a place to record the lessons I had begun collecting. I wanted to document the “now” because I believed and hoped and prayed that someday’s “now” would be easier. I knew what I was living through was unique. I wanted to look back and say I survived the horrible worst this world could have given me. I wanted proof that life would be okay again. So I began writing because it helped me and documented our journey. I’m an external processor. If I’m thinking about something, it has to come out of me. Believe me, it was to the benefit of many friends and family that I had a screen to quietly expel my thoughts on to rather than on to them. So I wrote. In measured amounts, I began talking more about my grief and began listening to the stories of others. Lessons turned into blog posts which spurred more and more conversations. I learned that so many of us could connect over these stories. I told my story as an invitation to hear yours. Every life, every story is important.

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Megan Kerns Photography

At the same time, I was taking Organic Chemistry. I had big dreams to attend grad school this fall to get my Masters in Public Health as well as become a Registered Dietitian. By the end of the semester, I knew that there was no part of the promise of public health and dietetics that could keep me interested in class. It was as if I had emerged a different person. Things I had loved before, no longer held my interest. Things I didn’t enjoy, now were my jam. I knew I was headed for something else. I walked out of my final exam in December and knew I’d be dropping my spring semester classes.

Last September, my aunt had shared a book with me that had the quote “even in the dark we have the power to whistle.” I decided I wanted to be a whistler. I wanted to look back on this year and say I beautifully and honestly muddled through. I wanted to seek the good because it defied darkness like a big ol’ slap in the face. I didn’t want to bathe in my own tears. I didn’t want to be sad all the time. So in between work and naps and chemistry class, I began ordering supplies and hunkering down in my basement to see what I could come up with that might resemble a whistle. Inspired by another necklace a friend gave me, I toyed around with jewelry. I’d carelessly breeze through my Organic Chemistry homework and start working on this little project. I began feeling useful again, not just like a bump on a log that needed extra long hugs and just wallowed around. The first whistle necklaces were laughable. One day, I even bought a purple soldering kit from Michaels to see if I could get the whistle to actually whistle. That was the first and last day the kit was used. Through executive order, it was deemed the whistles would be symbolic.  After many trips to Home Depot and countless youtube videos paired with serious trial and error, the product started to maybe look like something wearable.

So I stared giving them out. I wanted to make gifts for the friends and family that had so faithfully stood by me. These were people that proved relationships are built out of endurance. How do you thank people for sticking by your side when you feel like you require the energy of a thousand horses to keep up with the world? I wasn’t sure but I loved the idea of whistles so I tinkered. Meanwhile, I kept record of our stories and conversations on the blog.

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Fast forward a few months and a friend asks if she could “commission me” to make a whistle necklace for a friend going through a tough time. “What do you mean, commission?” I asked. Change was upon us and I started a little Etsy shop to better manage the “commissions.” We experienced change again as sales started to pick up. People started to talk about us in churches, over meals, during phone calls, in letters.

A few months ago, a friend asked how I was feeling about it all. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t feeling pressure to write just the right thing or try to fix irreparable brokenness or take care of people while neglecting my own care. She said I could stop blogging whenever it wasn’t good for me anymore. I assured her, no, no. The blog is good for me. I love it. What would we be without the blog?

And now, months later, I still wonder what all we can be — not in the absence of the blog but as an extension of it. We are more than a blog. We are more than an Etsy shop. We are facilitating connection one necklace and story at a time. Through your participation in this, folks are reminded that they are not alone. People are reminded that with the whistle they wear or carry with them, they are a part of a unique community that is committed to staring darkness to the little corner it is destined to be confined to. Each whistle comes with a side of YOU GOT THIS and LET’S KICK THE SH*T out of darkness. I love that.

In my short time meeting with you all somewhat-regularly here, you have taught me so much. I’ve talked with strangers about their shared experiences and it’s been the most sincere honor. Your heartbreak is my heartbreak. Through our shared care for each other we have a beautiful network of connections. I’ve learned that though every struggle is different and unique, it seems most of us feel just a bit better when we know we aren’t alone. I think we want to be connected. I’ve learned sometimes we don’t want to admit that. Sometimes the whistles are just an excuse to talk to someone. I’ll be just an excuse all day long. Meaningful things happen when we get over having a reason to talk and then just do real, honest talking.

I think change is in the air for us. I wish I knew exactly where and what and how only because I want to be doing it now. I think of the famous line in When Harry Met Sally. (Spoiler ahead. Although, you’ve had 25 whole years to watch this…) Harry finally realizes he wants to be with Sally. Sally finally admits she loves Harry. Harry runs to Sally and says “when you know you want to be with someone for the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to start right now.”

A major life change in the loss of my mom totally dropped me out of my orbit. I had plans! I was knocking out Organic Chemistry! I had applied to grad school! I was going to get out of this city that I can love and hate in the span of a minute!

And then change.

A change I couldn’t escape. And while many parts of this change have beaten me down, so many parts of it have shaped me and made me a better Emily. I never would have asked for this. My mom’s death opened my eyes to the hurt and pain that was running rampant in the world. I just hadn’t stopped to see it. And now I can’t un-see, un-hear or un-carry the stories I’ve heard. Rather than bog me down though, I open my arms and smile. “You’re one of us.” One of the beautifully, broken, worn down, accepted and loved members of the community I’ve so needed. I can’t fix it but you won’t go it alone. Change brought us together.

So like Harry, when you know what you love and care about you just want to be loving and caring about it as soon as possible for as long as possible. For however long we are able to meet here, pour ourselves some proverbial coffee and just hang out, it’s what I want to be doing. I think what change has brought us in this little space is sacred and life-changing.

Part of me believes a larger plan is afoot. We could make necklaces and blog and that’s great. We could also be something more. Who knows!

As we evolve (and maybe even grow!), here’s what you can expect: 1. We’ll be here. I’ll be making whistle necklaces until kingdom come, if need be. Take that to the bank; 2. We’ll be in touch. I love this little blog. I imagine the topics might shift a little. After a year of writing about grief and loss, I feel okay talking more about general life. I love my mom always and forever but I may not write as much about how I miss her. I think at this point that’s just given. 3. We’ll be creating. Behind the scenes we’re dreaming and scheming of ways we can create pathways to connection. We want to make hope seem as obvious and sure as the sun. We want to be the reason and excuse you need to talk about tough stuff, knowing we’re always in your corner.

In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment and let us know why you’re here. Let us know what’s helpful for you. Let us know why Whistling & Co. might be meaningful for you. That feedback will only shape and mold this project. Each of you plays such an awesome, important role in this. Thanks so much for being a part of it!



Rinse, Repeat

I felt like time accelerated as we approached August 18th. I had a heightened awareness of how quickly the day was approaching and my feeling of entrapment in its imminence. I’ve learned to stop trying to anticipate how I’ll feel on particular milestones. Some days I anticipate with anxiety and a knot in my stomach, come and go with little fanfare. Other days I expect to pass by easily, rock me to my knees. So I’ve stopped expending energy trying to guess how I may feel. Friends will kindly ask, “How are you feeling about X event coming up with your mom?” I say, ” I don’t know.” Not to evade a question but because honestly, your guess is as good as mine. This is the first time I’m dealing with this. And each year will be different because a whole year’s worth of experiences will shape how I feel and react. (Yay. Grief.) I can hardly tell you the mix of emotions I’m feeling in any given moment, let alone try to predict it. So I’ve stopped trying. August 18th was one of those days where I just didn’t know what to expect.

Leading up to August 18th, I quietly passed a few more milestones.

August 16th: The last time my mom and I spoke.

August 17th: The last time I heard my mom’s voicemail and left her a message never to be returned.

I went to bed on the 17th with a similar level of anticipation a kid might have on Christmas Eve. Or maybe, Y2K. I really wasn’t sure what the next day would bring. Do we actually live beyond and outside the one-year mark? Will the clocks actually turn?

I’ve been hearing about the illustrious, seductive One Year Anniversary for 365 days. I’ve heard rumors that after One Year things get easier, pain dissipates. As nice as that sounds, I’ve always wanted to keep my distance from the One Year Anniversary. I feel like I’ve felt every minute of each day of this whole year. I’ve spent a whole year of feeling every step a little heavier. One year of missing. One year “spending time” with my mom only through photos, old videos and letters. But I’ve dreaded the day that separates me from my mom by such large margins, only to get larger and larger. I remember when I would think to myself just make it an hour or just make it to lunch or just make it home and you can cry all you want. I remember how hard it was to say that my mom died a month ago. I felt so distant from her. Once we flipped the calendar to January 1, 2016  I remember thinking that I’d have to say my mom died last year. My mom never knew 2016.

So I hardly slept, holding on to my mom and wishing time could progress no more.

But the damn sun rose. And marked one year since my mom died.

I used to wake up and my first thought would be an abrupt thought that mom is gone. Now, I wake up and my body just knows. She’s hardly far from my thoughts if she isn’t the first thing I think about but now I just feel it. A part of me is gone, dimmed and I don’t mind that part because that’s where I feel my mom and am reminded that I’m affected by loss. That dimmed part of my heart keeps me humble. It’s a reminder that this world is a tough place. It’s a reminder of perspective. It’s not an immediate blow, more so like a little limp I’ll always walk with. It’s a reminder of my reliance and need of friends and outside strength.

I laid in bed waiting to feel different. Maybe it will hurt a little less? Maybe this year has been a joke and my mom comes back? But nothing. No magic. No instant relief. I don’t miss her any less.

I’ve continued to learn so much about my mom this past year. I’ve heard stories from people tell me how my mom either in her life or death have changed their lives. And maybe as much as time has felt like the enemy, maybe just maybe, time has been a friend. Compared to this day a year ago, I am much more at peace, I function a little easier on a day-to-day basis. Anyone I just happen to meet, wouldn’t know of my great loss. Maybe time has softened the edges of a sharp grief.

We’re gonna keep going. Because the damn sun will rise and we have another year to tackle.

I woke up on Aug 19th: Day 1


Facing The Elephant

I’ve wondered what I would write this anniversary week for months. At first a post with only pictures of my mom with her typical, bright smile on her face seemed best. I figured I’d let the photos do all the talking and emoting to express all that words and tears cannot. A post about how much I miss her? A post about how hard and simultaneously beautiful this year has been? I could do any of this and it would be right and appropriate. I hope that many of these themes have been subtly woven in the blog from entry to entry.

Instead, I’m writing about a topic I knew very little about a year ago and even still feel like so much of it is a mystery. A topic I never thought would personally intersect with my story, redirecting my trajectory forever. I’m talking about suicide, a topic that has not been addressed here outright but all along existed as an ever-present undertone. It’s The Elephant in the room that’s due for an introduction only because once it’s acknowledged, it’s no longer a stranger quietly demanding our time and thought.  My instinct is to avoid exchanging pleasantries with this Elephant, scruff him up by the collar and toss him out on the concrete. But that would be avoiding him and overlooking a very significant part of this story.

If this is a topic, you would rather not discuss or might be a trigger for you, by all means, skip this one and join us next time or join us tomorrow for Whistling Day!


I’ve learned lessons upon lessons upon lessons in this last year.

I’ve learned the difficulty and importance of telling the truth even when the truth is painful to relay. Through plenty of stumbles, I’ve learned that for me, no matter what, when I decide to speak about my mom’s story, I speak honestly. My mom took her own life. She battled clinical depression and ended her life on August 18, 2015. It took me a long time to be able to say the word “suicide.” It’s a loaded, scary word but when paired with “commit,” to me, it’s associated with committing a crime, committing adultery, committing fraud. All things that reflect a person’s character, dignity and morality. Depression is no more a reflection of a person’s character or love of others than a box of Cheerios might be.  I had to find my own words. As a matter of personal preference, I usually say my mom took her own life. It feels a little more tender and gentle.

I’ve learned that if the stigma of mental health is going to meet it’s own demise, I have to be verbal about my story. Once I learned the words I was comfortable using, I strung them together and mumbled them. I practiced and said it slowly. “My mom took her own life.” It’s a life I never would have dreamed of and while I know is not inherently my responsibility, it is a story I am not ashamed to share. I quickly realized that many would be learning along with us as we were asked just days after my mom passed away, “How did you manage to have Mary’s funeral in a church, a Catholic church no less?” Implying that lives taken by suicide were no longer worthy to be celebrated in a church. It is a story that I am willing to share, especially if my sharing creates a space where others feel safe sharing and learning with us. I think the more familiar we are to hearing these words and speaking up, the less power stigma has and the more power those living with mental illness have.

I’ve learned we all experience struggle. We’ve all got our own Elephants that we just can’t kick out of the room. In this year I’ve felt like a magnet to heart-breaking stories. I’ve talked to long-time friends who’ve shared stories of their own depression or loss. I’ve heard stories of babies lost, jobs that abruptly end, bankruptcy, cancer diagnosis, loved ones gone too soon. I feel like these are my people. We all know about struggle and sadness.

I’ve learned there is no preferred way to lose a loved one. Watching a loved one slowly pass before your eyes, or getting the never-in-a-million-years expected phone call that forever changes your world, is devastating. One is not preferred over the other, rather as I heard one author describe it, are “variations of the same degree of hell.”

I’ve learned that there is no shame in suicide, only sadness. I think this goes for any life struggle. For example, folks who are diagnosed with a clinical mental illness are no less deserving of care, attention and medical help. We wouldn’t tell someone with a terminal illness, “you just need to perk up!” or “stop being so sick.” Both things, I’m sure I hinted to my mom if I didn’t say them outright.  I talk about my mom’s illness as if it were any other horrible disease. Not because any other disease would be easier, but because all diseases and illnesses are serious and implore professional help. There is only sorrow in her death and any death at the hands of any disease, accident or cause. There is no shame in suicide.

I’ve learned that my mom’s actions that Tuesday morning are only a reflection of her disease. Not her character, her heart, her bravery, or her love of so many family members and friends. Rather than cowardice, the act of suicide is harrowing and often done to be less of a perceived burden on those left behind. (I’d venture to guess that many of us left behind would argue that going through something tough with someone is much more of a privilege than a burden.) Those succumbing to suicide, in the way a tumor could rupture in the brain as a natural progression of a serious disease, do it because the certainty of death sounds more peaceful than their horrific discomfort in life. I cannot imagine the circumstances and thoughts that might make death seem like a haven, a respite or a refuge. Death is the escape from a pain that is darker, heavier, and more disparaging than the prospect of living. At times, it may feel like heroic strength is required to live one day more.

I knew very little about depression and suicide as my mom struggled and fought. Even now, I feel so inadequate in my understanding.

But I do know my mom.

Mom and Dad

Like the rest of us, she was not perfect but I know the very real, clear ways she deeply cared for so many. She tossed sincere love and acceptance around like she was tossing candy from a parade float, available to anyone. I know how she so valued life. I know all of these things like I know my eyes are blue and that my heart is beating and that my parents named me Emily. I know these elements of my being with absolute certainty, as fact and not theory.

A dear family friend passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack just five weeks before my mom took her own life. My mom began mailing his spouse a card each week after his death. A few days after my mom died we found a stack of pre-written cards for his spouse, ready to be mailed. We gave them to her and no words were spoken. Only tears could communicate the nearness of despair for my mom and this unrelenting love of hers that could not be suppressed by her disease. Even in her distress, she went to great lengths to love.

I will never get over the loss of my mom. In many ways, I feel like my life is a poorly produced sequel to an all-star movie. Many mornings, still, I think to myself How is this my life? In my disbelief I remind myself, she’s gone, she’s gone. Remember? She’s gone. But there is no lack of dignity, no lack of love.

And while she is not here, her love, her character could not — will not — be damaged by her illness. Her love gets me out of bed in the morning. Her love brings about friendships even still. Her lessons and advice endure.

Early on after my mom passed away, I spoke with a family member who felt bad for telling me they were struggling with my mom’s death. I thanked him for telling me. After he shared — and following his example — I felt the freedom and safety to share that life was hard for me too. I told him that if we all pretend that we are fine, that the world is not caving in on us then we haven’t learned anything from my mom. Her depression was her secret and greatest burden. It was so much for her that she thought even the littlest lean on another person might be too much. I say: Call for help. Sound the alarms. Blow your whistle. Grab a lantern, a few trusted friends and meet The Elephant. Tell a trusted few that you may need a little extra love and support.

Every life is worth facing our Elephants.

If you are in the fight of your life, struggling in any circumstance, know I am so pulling for you and want the world for you. If you have a story you think the world needs to hear, know this: It’s okay to speak your truth. Likely it’s a truth you never would want to have lived through but that is your story and it’s okay to share it. We need to hear it.

I pray for people and communities in our lives that we can mutually lean on and eventually support as well.* I hope even in some small way, Whistling & Company can be that for you.

I know little for certain but I whole-heartedly believe this:

Life is full of struggle.

There is no shame in struggle or your story.

We get through it together.

I am with you all the way.


It’s time to meet The Elephant.

*Be sure to check out the Resources tab if you or someone you know are struggling. Help is real and available. To Write Love On Her Arms has great resources, as well. Let us know if you know of any other helpful resources and I’ll add it to the page.

Unleash the Green Seal

Last week, something pretty cool happened at the new gym I joined. I was sweating away on the StairMaster. I had my headphones in and watched the time slowly decrease on the machine’s clock. I looked up and saw the instructor that had been teaching the spin class start walking around the cardio machine area. She started handing something to anyone that was exercising. I’m new to this gym so thought nothing of it, assuming she just knew everyone. But then she started walking toward me. I took one ear bud out and smiled, grateful for a distraction form the fire burning in my quads.

“I see you over here,” she said. “Take a green seal.”

Sure enough, she handed me a small green seal. It was the same size and color of G. I. Joe. Then she walked away.

Green seal

(Photographing your own hand is weird and cumbersome. FYI.)

I gave the seal a quick once-over and started laughing thinking What the heck?

But as I thought more and more about it (I had time since I was trapped on the StairMaster) the more I loved it. The seal could have been anything: a penny, a high-five, it doesn’t matter. The message it sent was the important part.

In not so many words, the seal said that another person sees me. It says that not only do they see me but that what they see is good and worth encouraging. It says use this as a reminder that a person saw you, acknowledged you and that you should keep doing whatever you are doing. A lot for just one seal, I know. Maybe a stretch? Quite possibly, yes.


In an attempt to say “Hey, we see you. Keep it up. Here’s a green seal.” to those of our company that may need a little boost this coming week especially as many of us remember my mom on Thursday, marking one year since she left us, we’re going to try something.

It’s kind of fitting that the mystery woman gave me the green seal while I was on the StairMaster. The StairMaster is my least favorite thing to do. For me, the only trick I’ve found to getting through the StairMaster is get on and start stepping my little heart out. There is no magic. No podcast, no song that would make me love the StairMaster. I just have to get through it (especially since the treadmill and I have a troubled past).

This next week, there will be no song, gift or sure-fire way to not miss my mom a little more or to be reminded of her disease and all the emotions we felt just a year ago. The only thing I’ve found that has helped me is people (ahem, you all) that remind me that the world is simultaneously as hard as it can be beautiful. On Thursday, we are going to start stepping our little hearts out. We are going to go out of our way to make sure encouragement — “green seals” — rain down in abundance.

To do this, we need your help. Take this PDF (or feel free to make your own) and complete the sentence “I whistle…” For instance:

I whistle in honor of my mom.
I whistle because I believe Light will always demolish Dark.
(Some days it’s just “I whistle because I added an extra scoop of ice cream on my sundae.”)

Then we sing it out for the world to hear. And by sing, I mean take a picture of your Whistle poster and share it on your preferred social media (or email it to me at and I’ll post for you!). 

On the 18th, we’re going to band together and share our whistles so that anyone who needs a reason to hope does not have to look very far. Be sure to tag us on Facebook or Instagram.

You in??!


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