a collage of characters, drawn by a child.


By Betsy Fisher

Wading into all the “firsts” I never wanted to see.
On the first anniversary, I invited people who would understand – friends who knew Marshal’s love of art, and his creative spirit. They all came.

I had copied several of Marshal’s doodles of incomplete characters and creatures, with some finished for the kids to color. I eagerly watched to see which doodle or drawing each person chose.

“Hey! That looks like Abraham Lincoln! I want to finish that one.”
“Cool…look at this giraffe! I want to color this one!”
“Whoa, what a cool monster!”
“What is this one?! I think it’s some kind of frog.”

The children sat in the kitchen table or on the porch, clutching crayons with great care and the grownups chose doodles and pieces of something larger, saying, “Oh, yes, Marshal would have loved this.”

People smiled as they drew or colored. I found myself smiling, too, even laughing now and then. I walked among them and as I watched them, I felt things I had not felt before, things I could not name.

I had stressed over “what to do” to mark this date, one year later, where ending and beginning would meet. Marshal took ordinary, simple things, and created magic.

Among the many doodles was one of a man-eating plant. A Venus Flytrap like the one from “Little Shop of Horrors” but with a face and personality of its own. It is stretching over and about to swallow up a stick figure. “Oh snap!” says the figure. “Why me?!”

An 8-year-old boy chose that drawing to color. The little hero had miraculously survived cancer as a toddler, and now he was a full-on, healthy, nothing-but-smiling little boy. We met him, and his mother, at Shands, and we grew to know and love them well in the years to follow.

He remembers Marshal a little – his famous fart sounds, character voices, and artistic creations. Their shared love of Mario. He carries his lunch to school today in Marshal’s Mario backpack. He was so excited to get started.

His picture was so colorful and he showed it to me with such pride. I told him more than once just how much Marshal would have liked what he had done with it.

They all seemed to know how important it was to me. They seemed to know Marshal would be there, too. And he was.

As I took it all in, Marshal seemed so strangely present. I felt a different “alive” than I had felt in that first terrible year of grief. He was my smile, the lump in my throat with every hello and goodbye. He was the twinkle in my eye as I saw their love, as I immersed myself in this afternoon.
I hadn’t been sure I could handle the laughter, or making this saddest of days a happy one, somehow. But I could, and it was.

Many of them left their doodles for me to keep or sent pictures after finishing them at home. A friend took them all and made a simple collage, now in my room.

It is love carrying on. It is my proof. Living proof that just as more can be made from these incredible beginnings of doodles and sketches, more can be made from my story with Marshal. Maybe I can move forward, bringing him along with me.

Legacy. Life. Continuity. Connection.
Always and every day.

If you’d like to draw and color with Marshal’s doodles, email Betsy at marshalsdoodles@gmail.com.

christmas decorations

Healing Through the Holidays

by Lisa Hepner

The holidays can be hard if you’ve lost a loved one. But the holidays can also be a time to honour your loved one and heal. Here are a handful of things that may help you move through grief, and even find some joy, during the holiday season.

Decorate for Christmas. I know this can be hard. The first year after losing my mom I didn’t want to decorate. Heck, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. But I forced myself to decorate and once I started, I got into it and went all out. I know my mom would have wanted me to decorate. Christmas was her favourite time of year. So, I honoured her by decorating. And once the decorations were up, the beauty of the twinkle lights brought me joy. I also ordered a special memorial ornament for my mom and hung it up on the Christmas tree. That made me feel better. Like she was with me. But, if you’re not in the mood to decorate, that’s also okay. It’s important to honour where you’re at but maybe you can start with something small like some lights around a window or setting out a snow globe?

Every morning upon waking, state one thing you’re thankful for. When you’re grieving it’s hard to feel thankful. We often think about what we lost and not about what we have. But by acknowledging the good in your life, you attract more of it and you see more of it. You’ll soon realize that you have a lot to be thankful for, including the time that you did get to spend with your loved one and the memories that you have.

Volunteer for a cause. It could be for a one-time event or something that involves a regular commitment. I remember reading a quote by Richard Paul Evans that went something like, the best cure for a broken heart is to use it. This formed the premise a Christmas checklist that I made for myself and also wrote a book about. I love animals so I became a foster parent. If you love animals but can’t be a foster, you can volunteer to be a dog walker or a cat petter. The unconditional love of animals certainly made me feel better. Maybe you’d like to help feed the homeless? Donate to a women’s shelter? Read to kids? Volunteering, or giving, takes us outside of our own pain and drama and helps us feel like part of a solution. It feels good to give.

Find love. I know this may seem like a strange one but it’s based on a principle that says whatever you seek, you shall find. When a loved one dies, it’s hard to feel and see love. I thought when my mom died that the love we shared died as well, but it did NOT. That love will always be there. I started looking around for all the love I had in my life; the love from my husband, pets, brother, etc. The love and kindness of a neighbor or a stranger. Love is all around us, we just have to notice it.

If you’d like more suggestions, go to www.thechristmaschecklist.com for a free list of 12 things you can do to help you move through grief. But also know that you need to honor wherever you’re at. If you feel like lying in bed and crying, you must allow space for that as well. And it’s okay to seek help from a counselor or support group too (I did both). Hopefully, despite your loss, you will be able to experience some joy over the holiday season.

a rocky beach with a small, green sprout popping through the rocks. You can see the gentle waves of the lake in the background of the image.

When Death Feels like a Thief

By Amanda Sebastian-Carrier.

Amanda Sebastian-Carrier is a communications professional who writes about her grief journey as a form of healing.


Oh, how loudly I’d yell the words, shaking my fist at its back as it ran from me through the crowded bazaar. You would find me, soaked in tears, panting and crying and trying to explain that something very precious had been taken from me by that, that, THAT THIEF!

In the heart of my grief, at my frailest, all I could see was what was no more. I grieved all that was stolen from me by death; love, security and even my very self. Had I known the value of having every pocket of who I was, picked bare by grief, I would not have fought so hard to hold onto it all. I’d have let that cutpurse have it all without raising an alarm. That egg, it could take the golden globs of joy, the silvery wisps of laughter and the precious stones of delight that once filled my world and sell them all to the highest bidder. How could I have seen the faceless bidder, behind their paddle, was me. Grief, that panderer, was only taking from me what I could not currently carry and would sell it back, piece by piece, as the currency of healing was paid.

If only I’d had a clue that the larceny committed by grief was not the crime I was reporting, I’d have stopped much earlier. Before death, I had no idea that the theft of all you knew and love and the process of reclaiming your sense of security and self were a process that had the ability to change your life forever, but not how you might think. Grief and mourning can lead to healing if you do the work. If you don’t waste time filing reports to the universe about the misappropriation of your loved one. If you immerse yourself in the process of mourning, instead of decrying the looting of your life. If you truly, honestly, and mindfully, say goodbye instead of trying to hold on. If you can do all that, the only thing that grief is able to steal is your pain. You just have to be willing to give it up, let it be taken.

It’s only now, after I have made my peace with the plundering pirates of grief that I can see what I saw as theft, was actually a gift. The thief that is grief was not stealing all that was happy and good in my life, it was stealing my pain. Grief sat on me, taking all the things I didn’t know how to process, and filtered them through different lenses. It sat with me, taking from me each tear that fell, each shaky breath and each battered heartbeat. Grief took all I had, each story, each memory, and each emotion from me until I began to have room to process life again. Grief took, not a life in the way death had, but death; out of the way of life. Death stole life and grief; grief gave it back.