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Fear the Walking Dead Fear the Walking Dead already has me addicted.

You may find that surprising, since I’m that person who never wanted to watch The Walking Dead (TWD if you’re a follower)…that is not until my college-age son suggested it.  Eager to bond more with him, I figured it was something we could do together.

We watched a few episodes and it wasn’t long before I was watching older episodes on my own, catching up on everything I’d missed before he shared the show with me.  Then, when new seasons started, it was killing me to wait until he was home between semesters away at college, so that we could continue to watch together.

Now, I’m the one telling him to watch Fear the Walking Dead.  It’s less action-packed so far, with a different kind of drama (at this point at least).  But I think he’ll still like the concept.

We talked about this new series coming out and I told him I probably wasn’t going to watch the premier.  After all, I pretty much adore Rick and Darryl (my favorite characters from TWD) and didn’t need one more TV series taking up my time. But I couldn’t do it.

I managed to not watch on Sunday night, but I thought about it several times Monday and by Tuesday, was pulling it up On Demand.  I HAD to see how this new show compared to my beloved TWD and I have to say, the first episode already has me eagerly waiting the next one.  Off went the text to my son telling him to go ahead and watch, too, and let me know his thoughts.

And now, I’m wondering if any of the cast from Fear the Walking Dead will end up at the annual Walker Stalker Con in Atlanta this year.    Never heard of it?  Well, if you’re a Walking Dead fan, or zombie fan, it’s a must-not-miss event.  Similar to Comic Con or Dragon Con, it’s an event held for TWD freaks (said with all kinds of love since I am one) to find out more about their favorite series, to connect with the stars and sit in on panels where you can learn more about the actors and what happens on set.

And it’s not just about The Walking Dead.  There are also stars from Breaking Bad, The Vampire Diaries, Boondog Saints, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Gremlins.

walker stalker guests

This year’s guests include Andrew Lincoln (Sheriff Rick), Norman Reedus (Darryl), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Melissa McBride (Carol), Michael Cudlitz (Abraham), Ross Marquand (Aaron), Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), even Jay Bonansinga, the author of The Walking Dead.  There are many, many more listed on their site at http://walkerstalkercon.com/atlanta/guests/.

It’s being held in Atlanta from October 30th through November 1st this year and the venue is moved to the Georgia World Congress Center.  There are other Walker Stalker Cons in other cities throughout the year.  Check the dates for those here: http://walkerstalkercon.com/

Tickets are available on the site, but there are some deals promoted out there on Living Social and Goldstar.

See you there!

The last time I attended this event, I was blown away by the quality of the event, especially the panels where the crowd could get pretty intimate with Andrew Lincoln.  You can see multiple videos about that in this link. http://stressfreebaby.com/2013/11/walker-stalker-con-gives-fans-fill-walking-dead/ WSC_newlogo_atlanta

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University of Florida memorial wall

I still sleep with the scuba knife I kept under my pillow my final semester at UF.

Yes, 25 years later, that knife that gave me the little bit of security that I was so desperate for during the serial murders, still brings me comfort for the ‘just in case’ fears that sometimes still grab me at night.

Two of my kids are in college now, but I still feel like that young student when I drive by Gainesville, despite the fact that I’m now in my mid-40’s.  I try to stop by the wall on my visits.  The wall of graffiti where, instead of declarations of love, back in 1990, the names of the five murdered students were painted, a memorial of sorts.  It helps my heart to see that mural is still there, and there’s a group of people who volunteer their time to keep painting over whatever else is put there by people who most likely weren’t around when the murders took place, who most likely have no idea what it did to our tight-knit community.

August 26, 1990, was the night the first two bodies were discovered.  Christa Leigh Hoyt and Sonja Larson.  New students who had just moved into their apartment off campus, coincidentally the same apartment complex I had moved out of just that summer.  I was a journalism student at the time, and happened to be working in the college newsroom on that Sunday night when I heard word of the deaths cross the scanner.  I called my News Director, grabbed some gear, and headed over to the crime scene.  We didn’t know then that these were students who had been killed.  But it was a safe assumption.

Standing there that night, gathering information from the officials on the scene, it was clear this was a murder.  Details were shared that we kept confidential, with hopes that the investigators would use them later to catch the killer.  But those details haunted me for the next several days, years, and even decades.  And not just the details.  I remember the sounds, too.  The sounds of the body bags being slid into the back of the medical examiner’s vehicle…a truck of sorts.  I don’t remember now what kind of truck it was, but I remember that haunting, sliding sound.

The next day there was another death discovered.  This time, a Santa Fe Community College student, Christina Powell.  Were they connected?  We all were hopeful they weren’t, but again, the details at the crime scene said otherwise.

And then, two days later, when the next two victims were found, Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, it was clear these murders were all connected.  There was a serial murderer who no longer was just preying on women.

The entire campus filled with fear.  The state did, to be honest.  Parents demanded the students, their children, return home, at least until there was an arrest.  Those of us who stayed did so knowing we needed to be careful.  Extra cautious.  We had no way of knowing who was behind the killings.  Rumors ran wild.  A pizza guy.  A maintenance man.  Maybe someone with medical experience, based on what was happening to the bodies.

And as the campus emptied, those left behind tried to look out for each other.  I remember rolling the dice when it came to my neighbors.  My two guy roommates had gone home, so when I got back to my apartment each night, after covering the latest on the crimes for our college TV station, I was terrified to be alone.  So, I introduced myself to the four guys who had just moved in next door, taking a leap of faith that they weren’t the killers.  They didn’t fit the profile the investigators told me about, and I had to trust someone to walk through the apartment with me each night, making sure the madman wasn’t hiding behind a door, or in a closet, waiting to surprise me.  This is where covering the cases added to my paranoia.  I knew that was his MO and my response was to take all the doors in the apartment—except the exterior door—off the hinges.  The closet doors, too.

They’d walk me cautiously, slowly, through the apartment’s three bedrooms, praying we wouldn’t find anyone, and make sure I was safe to lock the door behind me for the night.

And that’s where I’d stay, with my scuba knife under my pillow, ready to grab in case someone did make it into my apartment, before I made it to morning.

Yes, 25 years have now passed since those frightening days in Gainesville.  But I still think of the victims, and their families, and my precious university.  Those crimes changed all of us forever.  And a few things remain as constant reminders of that time.  The memorial wall.  And for me, a scuba knife under my pillow.

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I felt ridiculous burying a blanket, but my therapist told me it would help, so I did it.  And it did help.  That blanket symbolized the baby I was supposed to be having, the baby who died before birth, too small still for me to ever hold.  Burying that blanket still left me brokenhearted, shattered by broken dreams, dreams of a child who I had yet to even name, but the therapist made it clear I needed to honor the child, to find some kind of closure.  That was many years ago, but the hurt comes roaring back like it was yesterday when I allow myself to think about it again.

When you endure a stillbirth or miscarriage, you immediately feel very alone, or at least I did when it happened to me.  But the more I shared what happened to me, then and now, the more I heard from other women that they’d also lost a child before birth.  It’s just not something people talk about—until it happens to us—until we find another who suffered a similar fate.  But it turns out more of us suffer this fate than most people realize.  I was stunned to find one in four pregnancies ends in a loss.  One in four!  Yet, we suffer quietly through our loss and when we do talk about it, few others know what to say or how to help.  But Kiley Hanish is hoping to change that.

She went through a stillbirth at 35 weeks.  She got to hold her child for a brief moment, but will spend the rest of her life feeling the loss.

Her pain led her to a deep depression.  Eventually, she was able to share her story and it was adapted into a Lifetime Television movie starring Minnie Driver called “Return to Zero.”

The film, created by Hanish and her husband Sean, takes viewers through the couple’s emotional ordeal and their eventual recovery.  “Return to Zero” became more than a movie, though, leading them to launch a grassroots movement that has reached across continents.  She created ReturntoZeroHealingCenter.coma leading online resource for families coping with the tragic and unexpected loss of a baby.  It is a place to find educational information, important advice from health practitioners as well as helpful links to numerous organizations. The website supports parents no matter where they are in their grieving process. Hanish is also working to develop programming for hospitals on how to provide support to couples who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.

And now, she’s offering solace and relief during retreats meant to help heal.

Over the past year, Kiley has launched Healing Retreats that, in her words, “provide an opportunity for women to shut out the world for a brief time, connect with their child, nurture themselves, and engage with others who are walking a similar path”. The 2015 Return to Zero Healing Retreats are filled to capacity, and so she is now organizing 2016 retreats in Ojai, Calif.,  New South Wales, Australia and Asheville, North Carolina, and Kiley now plans to expand the program by hosting numerous other retreats across the country on an on-going basis.

These retreats sound like such an amazing way to heal…to know you are not alone…to work your way through agonizing grief.  I wish they’d been around when I needed it most.

So, I commend Kily for creating them, but knowing the retreats for this year are pretty much full (note—I’m told here are a few spots available for one in LA this October), I asked her for help for any reader who may be experiencing a miscarriage now.  My questions and her answers are below.

SFB: You explained that your efforts now are helping you heal and transforming your grief. Tell me about the path to getting to this place.  At what point did you realize this would be helpful to you and others?

KH: For the first eight years following my loss, I did not talk about my grief. I was traumatized by my experience and stuffed my feelings deep down inside of me. Part of this was my own coping mechanism, but society’s inability to deal with death, especially an out of order death, also played a part in my silence.

During the process of getting the movie out into the world, people began to ask me about my perspective. Slowly, I began to share my story and feelings surrounding our loss. I am a very private person, so opening up so publicly was scary for me, however it was essential in my own healing process. Isn’t it always what is most difficult that is most rewarding? I can now see that it was by taking the risk to be open with others that I was able to heal my wounded heart. 

At about the same time that I was opening up, I was inspired by the idea of creating a retreat for women who had experienced the death of their baby – I wanted them to be nurtured and cared for and have the opportunity to connect with other moms. It was instrumental in my own healing to listen to others sharing their story – because by doing so, my own feelings were validated and I didn’t feel crazy.

Being able to help others in their healing journey is the highest honor and also transformative in my own healing. It’s a sense of belonging, feeling heard, finding the “new normal”.

SFB: I can imagine some people would see these gatherings as very depressing, but I don’t think that’s the message you’d want people to take away.  What is that message you want shared about your events?

KH: Yes, some people might think the retreats are depressing, but they are actually the opposite of that. We try to create an opportunity for women to be their authentic selves. At the retreat, they don’t have to appear like everything is “okay” to set others at ease. Rather, by being allowed to express how they truly feel, there is the possibility for them to connect back to their true self, find that part of them that they thought they lost, and as a result there is laughter, so much laughter. At our past Australia retreat, one woman told us that she hadn’t laughed so hard since before her baby died. Of course, there are intense moments and sad times, but we focus on self-care, hope for the future, and finding joy and meaning in life after this type of loss.

SFB: The events are great, but with the 2015 events already full and 2016 events a good while away, where do you send people who could really use this kind of community now?

KH: I do have a day retreat in October in Los Angeles that still has spaces open, so that is one option. However, the first thing I recommend people doing is finding a support group in their local community. Social support has been found to be extremely beneficial following the death of a baby.

There are also a lot of online resources, including support groups and events. I have compiled quite a few of resources on my website, www.returntozerohealingcenter.com

SFB: What advice do you have for others who hear about a loved one’s miscarriage…what are the magic words they should say to offer comfort?

KH: The death of a baby is unlike any other. We are often at a loss for words and actions and believe that it’s better to not say anything in the case we may upset someone. However, this seems to have the opposite effect, isolating the parents even more in their grief.

Something like “I am so sorry for your loss”, “I am so sorry your baby died”, “I am at a loss for words”, or “There is a connection between you as a mother and your baby that you carried that can never be broken and you will love him/her forever” are good phrases to show your support. It’s nice to ask the parents – very important to refer to them as parents – if they named the baby, to see a photo of the baby, and ask about their experience of parenting the baby in the short time they had him or her. Make sure to remember, ask about, and care for the father, as he is also grieving. 

It can be helpful are to arrange for meal delivery, meal gift cards, or grocery gift cards (2-4 weeks after the baby’s death is most critical). If they have living children, offer to take the children for outings and let the parents have time to grieve alone or together.

Most importantly, be present, listen, and sit with them. Ask what would feel healing or helpful.

Birthdays, anniversaries (death, due date, etc.) and holidays are especially difficult. Let the parents know that you are thinking of them and their baby on these special days by practicing thoughtfulness (i.e., card, flowers, small gift, cake, balloons, candle). Be open and accepting of however they choose to celebrate these holidays. The grieving process is never over and parents are always grateful for your thoughtfulness. Months after the baby has passed away, it can be helpful to continue to send “thinking of you” cards or thoughtful gifts.

If you’d like to know more, go to her site:

The list of 2016 retreats is below.

2016 Retreats

Ojai, CA

January 14 – 17, 2016

Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss – Women’s Healing Retreat

 

New South Wales, AU

March 3 – 7, 2016

Australia Women’s Healing Retreat – Nurturing – Healing – Transforming 

 

Asheville, NC

June 2 – 5, 2016

Asheville Women’s Holistic Healing Retreat 

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Celebrating My Birthday, Five Years Later

by Desiree Miller on August 21, 2015

birthday card envelope

I think I’ve held this envelope in my hands at least a hundred times during the last five years.

I kept it posted to my bulletin board in my office for a while.

But then it hurt to see it each day, so I put it away in a file where I knew I wouldn’t lose it, but wouldn’t be reminded on a daily basis of what was gone.

My dad.

This was a birthday card that my mom picked up and had my dad sign, as she’d done for decades of my life.  But this time, my dad died before it was given to me.

He took his last breath four days before my birthday.

When my birthday rolled around, I begged my mom not to plan any celebrations.  I didn’t want any recognition of something that was supposed to be happy when we were all consumed with such sadness.

She ignored my request.

We were gathered at my sister’s house when the cake came out and the singing started.  Along with the tears.  So many tears.

I pulled it together as much as I could.  After all, my daughter, then barely five, was sitting on my lap.  She wanted to see me smile.  I pulled a pitiful looking happy face from deep within my grief.  I faked my way though the singing for my daughter.  For my mom.  For anyone who needed to see I wasn’t going to totally lose it when they were trying so hard to make me happy.

But there was no way I was opening that card.

I looked at my mom and asked right on the spot.

‘Daddy signed this, didn’t he?’

She nodded her head in affirmation.

Well, that pretty much made this a card a priceless treasure…something that kept my dad alive in my mind.  Something I wanted to keep sealed and secure as long as possible.  I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to open that envelope.

Knowing this was the last gift I had from my father…the last loving action he took for me…well, that was something I wanted to hold on to forever.

But now, five years later, I have accepted that my father is gone.   I still hurt… a lot…when I think of the hole in my heart since his death, but I’ve learned to live with the ache.

I finally remember him again as the strong, smart, loving man who could build a set of bunk beds for me and my sisters without a template of any kind.  And he could make them better than any bunk bed you could buy.  His had a ladder made out of carved-out hearts in the wood.  His had arches on the ends.  His were ten times better than any store-bought version because, well, they were made with love.

I remember him as the guy who worked nonstop every day of his life, on-call on his job pretty much around the clock, and often called out for an emergency just as he sat down at the dinner table.   I remember him as the guy who always wanted to learn more, who didn’t want to miss the evening news each night, who poured through the pages of books quicker than we could buy the next one.  I remember him again as the guy who rivaled MacGyver with his ability to fix anything with a roll of duct tape and a piece of chewing gum.  It’s taken a while to remember THAT guy, instead of the man who suffered through unbearable pain in his final days, holding on to hope that he’d somehow survive.

My older sister recently pointed out that my dad would not want me in tears, but instead, would want me smiling when I think of him.  He used to say birthdays were ‘just another day’, nothing to fuss over, but my mom tells me he was just saying that…that birthdays were a big deal to him after all.

I think my father would be very disappointed that I haven’t celebrated my birthday since he died.

Five years now.

And the last thing I ever wanted to do –then or now—was to disappoint my dad.

So, this year, I’m opening that card.

I’m unsealing the last thing I have of him that feels alive, even though I know it’s not.

Because in the end, he remains alive within me, my siblings, our children.  And he always will be, on my birthday and beyond.

 

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Don’t Cry Baby, A Tribute to the Strong

by Desiree Miller on August 14, 2015

waters edge

People see me as strong. Tough. A survivor.

Well, I’ve had to be that person all my life.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t cry sometimes.  And it doesn’t mean I don’t hurt.

 

I’ll work my butt off every single day, but it doesn’t mean I don’t get tired.

And it doesn’t mean the world gets to dump more on me because it’s assumed I can handle it.

Just because I try to find the beauty in each day doesn’t mean I should get a double serving of ugly.

And just because I don’t play the damsel in distress on a daily basis doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a helping hand every now and then.

 

I was raised to work hard. Be good. Do good.  And good things would come back to me.

Well, after forty something years of experience, I have to call BS on that promise.

I see lots of really mean, horrible people getting handed the good things, while really great people still struggle.

I see the people who deserve the least given the most, while those working the hardest still go to bed worried about making the rent.

And it makes me mad.

It’s not fair and I’m tired of things not being fair.

I would love to believe it’ll all balance out in the end, but I’m not seeing that happening.

 

My dad worked every day of his life from the age of 13, and probably before that, from sun up ‘til sun down.  And he still died struggling.

Sure, he found happiness along the way, but life was never easy.

I know I got a lot of my grit from him, and I’m certain he gave me that hard-worker gene.  And I’m grateful for both.

But you know what?  It would have been sweet to see him be able to relax a little in his older age.  To not have to work so hard, or to be so tough.

 

And I’d like to not have to be so tough, either.

Because here’s the thing.

Even when you’re strong, when life drags you down, you want to fall apart.

You want to be able to cry on someone’s shoulder.

You want them to whisper in your ear, ‘Don’t cry baby’, and kiss those tears away.

You want someone there to make it better.  To make it easier, to let you let your guard down for a minute or two, or hour if that’s what it takes.

 

So, when you look at me, sure, see me as strong.  But also know that just because I CAN do for myself, it doesn’t mean I want to.  Just because I CAN fight for what’s right, it doesn’t mean I should have to step into the ring for every little thing each day.  And just because I don’t NEED help, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate it.

Even the strong cry sometimes, we just don’t let you see it.

Even the strong need to rest.

It doesn’t make us weak.  It just makes us human.

 

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Tips for Road Trips with Teens and Older: Our Expedition in an Expedition

August 7, 2015

We recently piled our crew—and a few others—into a Ford Expedition for an expedition of our own…destination: Diagon Alley, Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida. These kids grew up reading the Wizarding World of Harry Potter series and they wanted to celebrate a certain 21st birthday looking back a bit on the magic of it all. And just as Harry learned a thing or two at Hogwarts, we learned some valuable lessons about road tripping with teens on this journey.   I figured this may help you on your next trip with […]

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Share a Travel Photo for Chance to Win Motorola Droid Turbo (#VZWBuzz)

August 7, 2015

I have a collection of some of my favorite photos from my travels through the years.  Sometimes, I pose in the picture. More often, I don’t.  I like to take a photograph and let other people soak up the scenery, imagining themselves standing where I was when I snapped the shot. Sometimes, I use my ‘good’ camera, the Canon 60D, but that can get heavy and I don’t always want to lug it around when I’m on the go, so I resort to my cell phone, an iPhone 6.  It […]

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Your Favorite Teacher, Staples, Think it Up and How You Can Help

August 6, 2015

  Can you remember your favorite teacher?  I have a few from my past, but it was Mrs. Kauffman, or ‘Kauf’ as we lovingly called her, who first made me think I could be a writer.  I’ll always remember her with gratitude. A recent Staples survey found 79% of parents had a teacher who inspired them greatly. Odds are you did, too. Yet, teachers don’t often get the recognition—or help—they so deserve, but Staples is out to help change that. Many don’t have the supplies or resources they need in […]

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Back to School with @Macy’s: You’re Invited

August 4, 2015

(Note to Readers: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. #ad) It took more than an hour for my daughter to pick out her outfit for the first day of school this year.  An hour! That didn’t happen last year and I can tell you why. That’s because we made a point of taking a trip to Macy’s while we were in New York City…we were determined to […]

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Free Concussion Baseline Testing Offered by Gwinnett Medical Center (#ConcussionSafety)

July 31, 2015

(Note to readers: Gwinnett Medical Center has provided me with compensation for this post. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.) As our children head back to school for yet another year of learning, they’ll also be heading back into school sports teams and events that often bring potential for injury along with the fun. Whether it’s a block on the football field, a fall in a cheer stunt, a trip on the tennis court or a header during soccer, I know it could only take […]

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