4th Angelversary.

Mom articulated way better than anyone else could:

Here we go again. Thrown into a day of memories that we still can’t believe ever happened but it did so we have to cope. I still relive every minute of your sickness and especially this day. Even tho the days and years are flying by, we all still struggle with this life without you. Standing at your gravesite is still surreal. Seeing your name on that headstone is awful. I still just struggle to think I’ll never hear your voice and laughter again or hold you in my arms. I jump at the chance to watch any video of you. It makes my heart sing just watching and hearing you, especially the ones with Olivia. We’re trying not dwell on all the sadness and focus on our blessings as best as we can.

So much has happened this last year but the best was the birth of the Mel and Adam’s twins. If you were here, you and Olivia would be with Mel everyday going crazy over them just like all of us are attempting. Olivia is mad that Nori gets two babies when she wants one for herself so bad, so she begs us to take her there as much as possible. She’s really cute with them. They are the happiest babies I’ve ever been around. They look so much alike that I’m sure they’re going to mess with us as they get older. Some of us can tell the difference now but Mel still paints Ezra’s toenails blue on one foot to make sure who’s who!!! Nori is the perfect big sister and helps a lot. I spend lots of time there not only to help Mel but to help myself. Their smiles can pull me out of a funk instantly. Sending them to us I’m sure was God’s way of helping all of us mentally and keeping the sadness at a distance. It truly helps but He knows you can’t take a baby from a mom and dad and ever expect them to get over it. It doesn’t get easier and you don’t get over it. A piece of my heart is missing. I depend on your signs to let me know you’re still right next to me and that is definitely what helps me deal everyday. I thank God for allowing all of these signs.

This time of year is when you would be decorating the whole house and loving dressing up for Halloween. All of the Thanksgiving and Christmas things would be right behind. Ben’s not into any of the decorating so Olivia loves coming to our house to see a whole house full of every holiday’s decor. She is showing signs of being more like you when it comes to that and doing crafts. She is definitely an artist. She can’t get enough of painting and is always drawing everyone pictures. Jaclyn still remains such a blessing being her nanny. She does everything you would be doing with her everyday. Olivia is a really good girl and so sweet. Ben continues to do a great job raising her. If my voice even cracks a little when I start to talk about you, Olivia and Nori run to me and throw their arms around me and lay their heads on my chest. They don’t speak, they just hold me. They are both so sensitive.

We’re truly blessed with all eight grand babies. Life gets very busy with all of the sports and dancing and school functions. Your sisters struggle without you and your loss has brought them even closer. When the guys join us and we’re all together, we have so much fun. Ben has brought Lesley and Kaizer into our lives now as he is moving on trying to bring some joy back into his life. How unreal is it that Mike had to join you above to bring them both together. It helps that we’ve known her and Mike since you met Ben and that we all liked her a lot. She fits right in with us. They are very happy and Olivia and Kaizer get along great so that helps a lot too. I know this makes you happy since you told me so many times how you wanted him to move on if anything happened to you. But still sad that He took Mike away from Lesley to allow this to happen.

It’s so weird how life moves on and it changes constantly. The famous saying that ‘time heals everything’ isn’t true tho. You will never be gone from any of our lives. Silently always there. I can’t imagine it any other way. We all love and miss you so much. As I’m typing this on your FB page, I can see the videos and pictures that you posted. I’m smiling as tears are streaming down my face. I’m sad but so blessed that God let us share all the years with our crazy, fun and happy Ali that did so much for this world in such a short period of time. How fortunate that every life you touched was able to benefit in your life. Your whole XU crowd got together on Sunday and celebrated you. It’s extremely hard on all of them after losing you and now having Lisa dealing with cancer too. Be next to her always, Ali, holding her tight. Also let each of the girls feel you next to them helping them cope. So horrible that all of them are so young and they’re having to deal with this all over again.

Your Rock Pink 4 Ali Fund is going strong and I will be mailing another check today to a library in your memory helping so many people. This one to your school’s library in Pawtucket where you taught. They will be so surprised to receive it. Books keep coming in and I’m trying to get them out to all of the local schools in need. More then half of them have been distributed. We’ve had books for all ages donated. What an awesome tribute to you. We are so proud that you have made such an impact on this world involving literacy.

So we all will struggle to make it through this day but we will make it. You are with us always and never ever to be forgotten. I’ll be with the kids today so that will help make the day more bearable. We all love you and will laugh as we can’t think about you without remembering all the fun and goofy things that you made each of us do. Your crazy personality was contagious and that’s what we will try to focus on today. Looking forward to hearing about all the signs everyone receives today too. Never leave our sides, Ali Burger. Your bud, Bro Bob became Fr. Bob last month and he just messaged us that he is saying a mass in your honor. Awesome, huh?!!! Love you sweetie.💖mom


How about some Halloween fun to bring some smiles back on our faces. 🙂

ali001 ali002 ali003 ali004 ali005And to show we are still trucking on as a family sticking together, here’s some from this yr.


I guess I should share what already happened to me first thing this morning! My life long friend, Heather, is a teacher. The last 4 yrs she has discussed my sister to her 3rd grade class and how they should strive to be a stand up individual like Ali and leave such an everlasting impact on the world. Then the students draw and write pink letters about Ali to our family. Heather sweetly delivers them to me each yr and last night she gave them to me in a pink gift bag. I set it in the center of my island just before bed after reading through them again with Nori. I woke up really early today to work and as I sneaked downstairs to grab my computer, I walked through the kitchen. A step or two before I was parallel with the pink bag, it fell over on its side, then onto the floor directly in my path. I literally exclaimed, “You gotta be kidding me?! Good morning, Ali, so glad you loved the letters too!!” Sigh, she truly is always right there. So amazing.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support over the years. We appreciate it more than you know. We love hearing her name and talking about her as much as possible. <3

Miss and love you Ali!


Gate 11.

Gate 11.

The Austin, Texas airport has been the setting for most of my adult emotion. So I thought it fitting if I sat here to write what’s been circling my brain for the last few years.

It was at a brunch with our families that my best childhood and lifelong friend let me know that her sister was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t even the first topic we covered. In fact, I think we were close to the check at that point. Not that this is surprising. She was pregnant, we both had two-year olds, and she also had a four-year old. Managing to get everyone pancakes, seated, and calm were our clear priorities. And cancer isn’t a topic you drop in at the first sight of coffee, knowing the wait staff is bound to interrupt at any moment. I remember how steeped in denial I was then. “She’s going to be okay, right?” How could she not be? She’s a healthy 31-year old. Maybe just 30 at that very moment. We should be talking about her new adorable daughter, not a mass in her lungs.

Reality started to seep in over the next few months. Frightening words like ‘Stage Four,’ and ‘drug trials.’ As you do, we started fundraising, buying t-shirts, going to events, posting pictures of ourselves wearing her favorite color on Facebook. Some of us wrote to the CEO of Pfizer to push for Ali’s acceptance into the drug trial that might shrink the tumors. It’s kind of a blur looking back, but as positive as we all were on the surface, I had a growing uneasiness that this could go in a very dark direction.

At the same time, the rest of my life had never been better; but also had never been more complicated. I had accepted a role as a Creative Director on an innovative mobile educational program, that had me leading a team and pushing myself to do market-leading design work. Balancing that with the demands of a two-year old, my husband’s critically important work as an environmental scientist, and the overall role I take as Manager of Family and Friend Relationships, I was feeling in over my head.

I was in Austin working with a team of genius developers and designers when I noticed that my phone had been buzzing…often enough that I knew I needed to step out. Today was the day. Ali had pneumonia and would not make it.

This is the moment in my life when I knew I had crossed over from being an adolescent to being a full-fledged adult. Not because of my age. Because of how I handled the following 12 hours.

I excused myself, I found a private office. I let the tears fall. I called my parents. I called my husband. I took ten deep yoga breaths. I did an inversion to change my energy. Then I did the strangest thing. I went back to the meeting. I contributed. I compartmentalized. I drew on the whiteboard. I made sense. At the end of the day, I got in a cab, I went through security. Then, knowing what was going on in a hospital room many states away, I called my friend to leave her a message of support.

She picked up the phone.

“She’s gone.”

Just like in the movies, my legs went out from under me and I had to stumble to the nearest seat. I didn’t know that really happened until that moment. I don’t know what else Brittany and I said to each other during the next five or so minutes. It really didn’t matter. We cried together. Not a tear or two, a gut-wrenching collective sob while she eeked out words like, “peaceful transition.”

Naturally, my flight was delayed.

There I sat, at Gate 11. Sitting in the reality that a kid that I grew up with didn’t get to see her daughter grow to the age of two. Worried for Brittany and her three little girls. How does one move on from this? The tears kept coming. It was the place of my heartbreak.

As luck would have it, Gate 11 is directly across from Security, which means that any time you fly into or out of Austin, you cannot avoid it.

And since that team of geniuses was the vendor for my program, there were many more trips to Austin. I shuddered whenever I passed it.

About a year later, things were okay. I could still cry on command any time I allowed myself to think about Ali. (Let’s be honest, that is still the case.) But those closest to Ali had survived the darkest days of their grief. No small feat, and I realize I will never know entirely what courage and strength that took.

I was headed back to Austin for another business trip, and had scheduled my six-week pregnancy visit for that morning before I left. My husband didn’t accompany me because this was our second, I would grab the ultra sound picture and show him when I returned from my trip. But there was no heartbeat. And now it would be several days before I got to be comforted from that loss by my husband and son. Seeing Gate 11 that day made me angry. Why is it always here? Why do I have to go through the hardest parts alone, and so often in Texas?

I made it through that day, with more deep breathing and inversions.

I am having another tough week in Austin. I needed to leave my little one with her daycare overnight in order to make this trip and enforce some tough decisions that will affect people’s lives and well-being. And now I sit at Gate 11, waiting on my boss and our shared rental car. At first, I couldn’t bear to imagine staying longer in this godforsaken airport than absolutely necessary. But then I realized, this is what grit is. This is what perseverance looks like. This is being an adult. This is being a professional.

But under all of that, isn’t every human an ocean of emotion, sentimentality and connections? The reason I’m writing this is because it’s critical to be both, and what we must teach our children is when each is appropriate, and to find the outlet that allows both to live in us.

I know now that I can do what’s required this week, to present these decision calmly and emotion-free. Before I left, I was feeling the emotions rise up. Frustration, anger, sadness that I had to leave my little girl. And a song came on the radio. Anyone who knows me knows that I believe you hear the songs you need to hear when you need to hear them. Anyone who knows Ali knows her love of Bob Marley. Anyone who knows Brittany knows she doesn’t even LIKE Bob Marley. (Still the case, Britt?) So you’ll know why my Gate 11 tears came as Bob sang, “every little thing is going to be alright.”

I am trying my best to make Gate 11 hallowed ground. The place where I remember that to be human, to truly value this amazing gift that is life is to be your authentic self, which can be both sappy and strong, not always at the same time.



Dear Ali (the Nanny Edition)

First let me start by saying what an amazing family you and Ben have. They have welcomed me with open arms and treated me like family from day one. I love getting to spend time with them because I enjoy hearing stories about you since I never had the opportunity to meet you in person. I’ll never forget how this job came together for me. I had been searching for over a year for a Nanny job because kids are truly my passion. By that point I had been a blog follower for sometime, but didn’t “know” any of your family. So it was a surprise when I reached out to Melanie and she mentioned Ben needing a nanny. I think I read her fb message 20 times before I could actually process what it said. Ben needed a nanny? I couldn’t believe that the family I’d been reading and supporting from afar could possibly need ME for a nanny. Long story short, Ben and I connected and sorted through all the details and I still remember his phone call telling me “I’d love to hire you and have you as our Nanny!” I was elated and overcome with gratitude for God providing such an amazing opportunity for me. It is TRULY a blessing that I got connected to your family. So funny how God works. Thank you for looking out for us all and helping to guide Ben in his decision.
Your daughter is absolutely beautiful (Not that it’s a surprise because YOU are so gorgeous) but a lot of your family says she looks more like Ben. She definitely has your eyes. Every time I look at her I feel like it’s you staring back at me. I love that though. I hope it comforts your family and Ben and they always know you’re close by when she looks at them. I know how important it is that Olivia spend time with her family and cousins. We see Nori and Nico often and she is crazy about those twin babies. She’s always wanting a baby in her lap but hasn’t quite grasped how to hold them just yet. Oh- and thank you for keeping those twin babies safe. When Olivia heard of them going into the NICU because they were sick she told me several times that she knew you would keep them safe.

I hope you are happy with the way I am caring for her. So many times I wonder what you would do in a certain situation. How would you dress her? Do her hair? I still remember the first time I helped Ben pack her bag for Disney. I was so nervous. I think I got every outfit she had in her closet and laid it on the bed. I matched bows and shoes and still panicked that it wasn’t good enough. Dressing your little girl is a lot of pressure. I remember reading about how much you loved dressing up on a daily basis and how you wanted to be able to do that with Olivia, so I had to get it right!  We are working on a chore chart right now. She’s getting really good at it but sometimes she will look at me and say “I don’t feel like doing chores today, Soooo I’m not going to” I’m always wondering who’s personality is coming out… You? Ben? Where does she get her silly humor? We take at least a weekly trip to target (it feels like daily) and she talks me into buying her something every time. I’ve been learning to say no to her because I know she can’t have everything, but it’s so hard. I know if you were here these are things you would be doing with her and I want her to still have that. It’s frustrating for me when I take her to the Disney store. When we are there I think of how much you would love to take her in that store, it’s such a mother/daughter store. I hope it makes you happy that we listen to KLOVE in the car every time we go somewhere. I love looking in the rearview mirror and watch her sing along to songs about God’s love for us.

One of the things that has been the most challenging for me is the guilt I feel on a daily basis. I think of all the things I’m doing with her that YOU should be. Like potty training, working on manners, working on letters, numbers, shapes, reading books at the library, fixing her hair, and getting her all ready for her first dance class. Last year we joined Mel’s homeschool group once a week and it was such good exposure to get Olivia ready for preschool, but something you would’ve loved to be part of. The moment that got to me the most was her first little field trip at preschool.  All the moms were there snapping pictures of their kids walking through the fire station. Of course I tried to make it as “normal” (whatever that means) as possible for Olivia, but my heart was literally breaking for her. Guilt is definitely a daily battle for me. I manage and push through it though, because this job is such a blessing to me and I know God and you brought all of this together. I absolutely LOVE my job and I don’t want to waste this beautiful time that has been given to me by constantly feeling bad. (I even feel guilty writing that sentence, see? Gah)

I hope you’re proud and honored that we talk about you so often. Did you feel loved when we came to visit your place of rest with our 3 pink balloons? I decked her out in as much pink as I could find since that was your favorite color. Thanks for all those silly pics of you dressings up, Olivia sees them and thinks their hilarious. Pictures are all around the house. Olivia loves looking at them and sometimes even makes up stories about something “you and daddy” did. Even though we never met, I feel like I knew you because of your family and Mel’s blog. I can promise you that not one day goes by when you are not talked about. I have all kinds of pictures and videos from your family that Olivia looks at daily. I love her so much and I promise for as long as I get to spend my days with her, we will always talk about you. The past several months have been a wave of emotions for her. As she gets older I see it becoming more of a struggle for her that you are not here. She hits me with questions that take my breath away especially when she remembers a memory of you that makes her cry because “you are in heaven” now. But, we are thankful for every feather you send from above to let her know she is wrapped in your love. You already know this, but we pray every single day at nap time for you to visit her in her dreams. She has told me a few times that she plays with you. I hope so dearly that you do. I hope she is filled with peace and love when she closes her eyes and you are there playing with her. She loves you so much Ali.

I look forward to many more days of silly dancing with your sweet girl and I hope that your spirit is dancing with us.


Jaclyn Kennedy

3rd Angelversary

Mom wrote a sweet letter to Ali today for her 3rd Angelversary. 3yrs..can’t even wrap my brain around that. Well written, Nonni!


Here we are again revisiting a day that changed all of our lives so drastically. Speaking solely for myself…life will never be the same…tears will always be a part of it now. Yet as I am on the receiving end of so many daily signs that you are next to me, I sometimes have to pause and laugh to tell you that “I get it” and “you can let up a little after 4 times in one day”! You promised if God allowed that you would inundate me with them so I would never be without you. Oh what a blessing and comfort they are but that hole in my heart is never to be healed, Allison. Would I ever dream of questioning the Good Lord???…never. He has His plan. We discussed that many times. We are here to do His work only and to go Home to Him and rejoice. I believe we are on loan to our families on earth. Could I ever believe that someone would want to come back here from Paradise?…never. But it is soooo hard without you. I just miss you soooo much. I sat and watched a courageous 19 year old today help change the world through her gift of sports and bring more people to The Lord. And the tears flowed. She reminded me so much of you, Ali. She also has an elevator waiting for her when she passes soon. Please be there to greet her and ask the Lord to wrap Himself tightly around her family, they have no idea how much harder it will become. I feel so totally blessed here with all our family around me, especially all the grandbabies, but heaven is enviable. Life isn’t easy. The kids keep me hopping and I truly love all the time spent with them. ( You better be there lots when those twin boys arrive tho!!!) While Olivia was with us this weekend I just watched her and saw how much she really is like you. She can’t help me enough and loves doing all the artsy/craftsy stuff too. She’s very sensitive and plays quietly by herself just like you used to and loves reading her books to me and vice-versa. Her dolls are her world too, changing outfits ten times an hour! You would absolutely love being with her, she such a girly-girl. One big difference is that she stands still while I’m doing the creative hairdos…never to move at all when a curling iron is near!!!! If I remember correctly, I wasn’t even allowed to get near you with a brush for one whole year, hence those great photographs that remain!!!! Olivia and Ben have such a great relationship and he has been bitten by your clothes buying bug so she will always be in style. I know you had your hand in his hiring Jaclyn too. What a gem nanny she is and how she loves O. She is doing everything that you talked of doing with Olivia as she grew up. Olivia loves her so much and all of us as well. Your daughter talks of you constantly and we share stories about you every chance we get. A day doesn’t go by that you are not mentioned. I promised you that and I can’t imagine how it could. I have to say tho that I still see her looking like Ben and his family but the words out of her mouth are yours. And the dramatic body and hand motions are definitely you too. Guess we’re going to be sitting as her audience soon watching her plays and dance steps too. She soooo inherited your love of dancing and she already has the moves! Ben started her in ballet classes so recitals are in the near future too. Yes, all of life keeps us busy and I haven’t changed in that department, but you are the missing link in all of our lives. I see something and my mind throws me back to when you did that, or how you did that…from a baby on to motherhood. It’s etched in my head. My memories are so clear that I think that you’re really being gone is impossible. How can it be three years already? When all of us are together we each secretly still wait for you to arrive, allowing us the moments to have a little peace of mind. But then that damn reality hits again. If it’s not me then someone has to bring your name up. We can’t exist without you, Allison. Then the funny stories begin to make us all laugh. I know that’s what you want us to do, laugh not cry. Just keep staying next to all of us and all of the signs help so much. Besides each of the family now, your friends can’t wait to tell us what happened to them. I don’t understand how some people can’t see what is put infront of them. I am so proud of you and God sure blessed me when He allowed me to carry you to birth. I have to keep concentrating on the fact that I will see you again someday because I sure miss seeing that beautiful face of yours daily. I find respite in all of the pictures and videos of you but the most peace is felt knowing that you are with God. No harm, no pain, no sadness and only paradise is yours. Thank you Lord. I love you Ali Burger.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 8.23.43 AM

Dear Ali

Ali B-

Let’s start with I think about you every day.

It has been a long journey and I knew for a very long time that Scott was the one. And in many ways I know that you had a hand in making sure that he was my future.

It was March of 2011 and you were too sick with the “Flu” to celebrate Birthday Week. I still have a copy of the email that you sent to plan part of the festivities….

“So either we can go out on Friday and act our age (not 21) and go to fine dining brunch the next day
We can do shots, dance on bars, serve behind bars, make out w random boys and puke. And then crave greasy $1 menu food and fountain sodas..

Up to u Lisa, what kind of Bday are u looking for?”

It was after March that we understood the magnitude of your illness. I cherished my weeknights spending time with you and helping Olivia. I would share my crazy weekend adventures and always made you laugh. One Tuesday night it happened to be my night at the Nunery’s.  I told you the story of how I confessed to Scott that “ I liked him more than everyone else, and I am not sure what to do with that…”. And, that I had canceled dinner with him to spend time you. You scolded me for skipping a date to do your dishes. But deep down I knew that with you was exactly where I needed to be.

I knew then how serious this was and spending time with you was the most important thing to me. I cherish every minute.
Scott didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation. I didn’t do a great job of communicating to anyone but the Xavier girls at that time,  and our friendship suffered.

I stood in church where you and Ben were married as we prepared to lay you to rest. As I listened to Ben’s words, I selfishly thought to myself that you would never be here to celebrate in my wedding.

Later that month, Scott and I were able to work on friendship, and that turned into a relationship. The next year we were engaged. On April 12th, I married my best friend.

From the time Scott proposed and everyday of planning I thought…”what would Ali do, what would Ali wear, how would you decorate this?” You class and style have had an influence every step of that way. The church’s pink Easter flowers were a surprise decoration.

Thank you for letting me borrow your bracelet. I know that it was a favorite. The pearls and bling matched my dress perfectly. Shan, Kerry, Mart and Jack thank you too. (You know we had to buy Shan’s shoes for her).

You proved me wrong and I am so very thankful that you were part of Scott and my day in ways we could have never imagined.

With Love~

~aka  Mrs. Holland 🙂



Thanks for writing that, Lisa. So very sweet.:) I just posted Lisa’s wedding pics on my photo blog. You can see them HERE.


A Year Without You.


God, has it really been a year? I think back over the last 12 months and I can barely remember what Iʼve done. It feels like a blur, like a strange dream that I canʼt wake up from. There was a time when i didnʼt think I could make it to the next day and here we are a year later. And as weʼve been approaching your anniversary, I canʼt help but think about all the details of those final days. Most of it is torture to think about. Making those final decisions about your care and watching you in so much pain and listening to you calling out my name and looking into your eyes and holding you as you left this world. Itʼs too hard to think about and lately I canʼt stop. The one thing I try to focus on is our last night together before you went into the ICU. I was considering going home for the night and letting your mom stay at the hospital, but for some reason I felt like I needed to be there. I didnʼt think much of it, since spending the night in the hospital with you had become the new normal for me. We talked and laughed and laid on your hospital bed together and snuggled. It was our last night on this earth together and I remember how pleasant it was. We had a little movie night in the hospital room and you fell asleep looking very comfortable and pain free, which was a rare treat. We said “I love you” to each other that night before bed and had I known it was for the last time I would have said a lot more, but I take comfort in knowing that you went to sleep that night knowing that I loved you. Itʼs my last good memory of you.

The last time I wrote you a letter it was a few days after you left us and I was preparing a eulogy for your funeral. Then, just like now, I was alone in the dark letting the words pour out, trying not to let the tears get in my keyboard and for some reason, just like then, I felt like writing you a letter was the only way to tell you how I feel. Iʼve mostly kept my feelings and thoughts private throughout the year, but for some reason I feel an urge to post to the blog. Itʼs something I intended to do regularly but for some reason it just never felt right. You used to want me to write you love letters because you loved the way I write and if I had the chance, again, I would write you love letters every day of your life.

In some respects itʼs been a long year of regrets, thinking back on our life together and everything that I should have done. But, mostly Iʼve looked back on our life together and I wouldnʼt change a thing. Even knowing the indescribable pain that I would eventually go through, I wouldnʼt change any of it. I am who I am because of you. You entered my life and changed me forever. You made me a better person, a better man, a better father, a better everything. I spent most of my single years believing that there was a girl out there for me that was meant only for me and I only for her. I knew in my heart that she was out there and that we were meant to be together. And I found her. And she found me. And I believe it stronger now more than ever that I was meant to be with you, if only for a short time. And in that short time you loved me and changed me in profound ways. . .ways that will stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter what lies ahead. And you have given me the most amazing gift that I could have ever received. Olivia is a true gift and there is no doubt in my mind that she saved my life and continues to push me forward in times when I didnʼt feel like I could keep going. She is the driving force in my life and the love I feel for her is matched only by the love I felt and still feel for you. Thank you, Ali. Thank you for giving me that sweet little girl. I know that you are helping me with her every day and I know that you are guiding both of us.

Olivia is getting so big and so smart. You would be so proud of her. And I think you would be proud of me too. Iʼve learned so much over the past year. . .things that I thought I would never know and things I thought I would never have to do. I remember the first time I tried to do some clothes shopping for her and I was so scared and nervous. I had no idea what I was doing and I just knew that you were watching and cringing at the stuff I was picking out. Those first few times were difficult but now Iʼve got the hang of it and I love shopping for her. . . a little too much I think. I especially like the looks that I get from mothers that are surprised to see a 33 year old man putting together cute outfits in the girl toddler section at Target. Iʼm definitely not on your level, yet, but Iʼm getting there. I think Iʼm surprising a lot of people with Oliviaʼs wardrobe. Of course, we still have all the clothes that you were buying online when you were in the hospital. Iʼm so glad you did that. I remember when you were starting to get sicker and sicker and I finally gave in and gave you the go-ahead to buy whatever you wanted and how happy that made you (not that you wanted or needed my permission). If I could do it again, I would have taken out all the credit I could to give you an unlimited shopping spree on zulilly.com. It would have been worth every penny.

She is doing so many new things. I wish the past year wasnʼt such a blur and I could remember everything. Sometimes I think about all the things I would tell you if I was able to see you again or even talk to you on the phone. Every now and then when something funny happens or I need some advice, I pull my phone out and start to call you. Even now, a year later, I still do it. I would tell you so many things. How Olivia loves little baby dolls and how she loves to go shopping. She is so smart and so advanced. Even Dr. W has been shocked at how far ahead she is. She is talking like crazy now and even talks about you a lot. She loves riding in your car because itʼs “Mommyʼs car!”. She points you out in pictures and constantly wants to grab my phone, which she can navigate perfectly, so she can look at pictures of Mommy. I sing “Three Little Birds” to her every night so she will grow up loving Bob Marley just like you. And she knows all the words. Sometimes when I put her in bed I tell her to say hi to Mommy for me in her dreams. I hope you visit her in her dreams and I hope you have fun times together. Everyone is so amazed at how well she sleeps and Iʼm convinced itʼs because you watch over her at night. . . and hopefully to take care of me too and let me get good sleep. We are potty training and sheʼs getting really good. Weʼre not quite there, yet, but sheʼs getting better and better. It makes me sad to think about all the things that you would be teaching her and showing her. You and I felt so strongly about keeping you home to raise our kids and my heart breaks every time I think about what life would be like with you being at home and greeting me every day after work. I can just picture you and Olivia playing dress up and having tea parties and reading all of your favorite childrenʼs books. She still goes to Library every Monday so hopefully she will have the same love for reading as you had. Maybe when she grows up she will even give me a hard time for buying books instead of checking them out just like you did. Weʼve been on several trips this year. I even took her on a plane by myself, which was an adventure to say the least. Planes and airports and connections and checked car seats and rental cars and strollers in the security check points. . . we went through it all. It was tough, but it was worth it. Even then I knew you were taking care of us. It had to be you when I got to the gate for our first flight and I was so scared and then our friend, Becca, appeared out of nowhere and just happened to have a stand by ticket for that flight. And when she made it on the flight, she got sat directly across the aisle from us and the only empty seat on the flight was right in between us. She was so helpful on that flight and I knew it was you helping me out.

There are so many other things. I guess when I think about it, life is going on. Olivia and I are moving forward and beginning to make it through life together on our own. Iʼm trying so hard and Olivia is such a good sport and makes things easier on me when she can and I hope you see all of it and are proud of us. I know there are times when Iʼm doing something that you would do differently, but I hope, for the most part, Iʼm doing a good job raising our daughter. Itʼs the most difficult thing Iʼve ever done and I have the most wonderful support system and I hope that you continue to guide me and teach me how to be a better father. And some day I hope you can give me the words to explain to Olivia how much her mother loved her and how hard you fought in your final months and weeks and days. I am crushed every time I think about her not knowing you as she gets older, but I also know that there are lots of people out there that will never let her grow up without knowing all the little stories about you. Thatʼs the beautiful thing about you, Ali. You had an impact on so many people and changed so many lives. Itʼs incalculable. And Olivia will know that.

Iʼm not sure what lies ahead in the next year or the next 10 years or 20 years, but I know that I miss you like crazy, every second of every day. Itʼs impossible for me to describe how much I miss you. The only comfort I have is that you are watching over us and guiding us just as you did when you were here in the flesh. I love you so much and I always will. Your leaving has left such a massive hole and has crushed the ones that love you in such monumental ways. . . but we are all pulling together and pushing forward. We are surviving and I know you are watching us with a smile on your face and we all know that some day we will see you again. Some day Olivia and I will be able to hug you and kiss you and tell you all about the life weʼve led after you left us. Until then, keep watching and know that I, and all of us, miss you and love you with all our hearts.


**To see the rest of the pics of Olivia and Ben click HERE.

Happy 1st Angelversary, Sister.

To Ali, our Angel,

In this blur of a year I have learned so much. I learned that “God’s will be done,” is no joke. Just as mom says, “He will find a way”. I’ve accepted that all the “what ifs” don’t matter. I learned that in order for this crazy pink community to come together He had to take you. People needed to learn about your story in order to gain perspective in their lives. Your short life started the ball rolling for so many other lives in ministry, service, and forgiveness. Look how many kids/adults we have made smile through book and tutu donations. I still regularly receive messages from strangers saying how much you have changed their lives. Even ones who are facing the cancer battle, but you have helped prepare and give them courage to fight. Most days I think, “well, life must go on.” But truly, it’s going on much differently since.

Your baby girl is not so much a baby anymore. She’s TWO! And just like the rest of the girls in our family, she’s strong willed and feisty! She’s finally starting to look a lot more like you as she gets taller and thinner. Her eyes look just like yours when you were little. I hope as she grows, your looks will become more apparent in her. She’s talking like crazy. She tells us what to do and isn’t afraid to tell us NO. EVER. She has your gentle nature and of course, obsessed with babies. She and Nori like to love on them a liiiiittle too much. She can’t leave Nico alone, she has to be in his face or squeezing him. In a 30 minute time frame when the girls are together, they will kiss and hug no less than 10 times, pull each other’s hair, shove to the ground and then sit and play with their babies like they are real. They act more like sisters than cousins. When you ask either of them who is your bestfriend, they will respond with the other’s name. Hilarious. We all try and talk about you as often as possible to Olivia. When I was at your house last, she picked up the pic of you and her off her on your nightstand and hugged it while shouting “MY MOMMY!!” Just last night I was flipping through your FB images for her and she loved it.   She has all sorts of videos she can watch of you but I’m also so glad you recorded that audio book for her. When mom found that, we were beyond thrilled because no one knew you did it. It’s apparently evident how hard it was for you to record and I just can’t bring myself to listen to it. I’m still healing.

When we hear of someone else going through something awful, we can’t imagine ourselves to be in their shoes. We shudder to process the thought of experiencing the loss or pain. Is it strange that I still can’t imagine what it’d be like to stand next to your bedside, waiting for your final breath? Yet somehow, I have already experienced it? How? How did I get through that? When I think of how I frantically raced to my neighbors, barely dressed, hugely pregnant, knocking and leaving Nori with no explanation in her arms. Speeding to the hospital barely able to focus through the tears. Throwing up immediately upon seeing you in the state you were in. Praying you “through.” Kissing you goodbye? That was ME? How did I do all that? Through our faith, is the only obvious answer. I know it had to be me. I had the nightmares for the first 6 months to prove it. I’d wake in a heart racing panic, dreaming about your bald head. Your pink pajamas. Long, gasping breaths. The machines beeping. Your eyes that wouldn’t open no matter how desperately we wanted them too. And then they did, and I wish they wouldn’t have. I imagined your fear of letting go, penetrated deep in my soul and I will never forget it. It was burned in my brain for so long I thought I would never remember what you looked like before those final hours. It took a long time to be at peace with the fact you indeed are finally out of pain. I know those memories are worthless. It’s my emotional pain, you feel none of it anymore. In fact, even on that day, it likely hurt us more than it even hurt you. But I still occasionally wake up shaking in the middle of the night feeling your cold skin in my hand. Seeing you after. HOWEVER, more often I see you in my dreams happy. I see the Ali i knew for 27 years before you were sick. Sometimes that torture is even worse because it’s not my reality either. I try and close my eyes and drift back into sleep to see you again and it’s always nearly impossible. Some nights I try and focus on you just before I fall asleep hoping you will visit me in my dreams. I wonder if it’s really you visiting my subconscious. I wonder if the dreams I have where you tell me “souls are destined to be together” will really come true. Even in the last day or two I have had a rush of jittery anxiety and fear. The exact feelings I had when you went into the ICU the day before. I thought I could avoid it, but it’s happening against my power to stop it. People texting/sending things/emails are all very sweet and thoughtful. I am very happy to have those people, but it also serves as a reminder opening a scabbed over wound. I’m back to where I was one year ago. Raw.

You know, almost as soon as everything happened I had this careless feeling wash over me. It still comes and goes but mostly I feel invincible. It’s a funny feeling and maybe those who have lost a loved one can better explain it than me. Some times I have so little worries because I know you are protecting me. It’s like I’m so confident you are with me, I imagine you wrapping us in this large protective bubble. Maybe I sound so silly for being naive, but I assure myself all the time that you got my back. Mom says the same thing.

(Literally, just moments ago, you made yourself known. I was sitting here reading over this letter to publish and I looked down to see no diamond in my engagement ring. WTFFFF. Rewind to this morning when I happened to look at it and remember I forgot to clean and tighten on my anniversary like I always do. So to see those prongs EMPTY, I immediately panicked and started to well up. With a “HOLY F*CK, Ali, PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY DIAMOND PLEEEASE.” I got on my hands and knees and crawled from living room to bathroom to bedroom. Within seconds of pleading to you, I found it hardly glistening (Eww soap scum) between the wall and Lilo’s water bowl. Seriously? And I find myself questioning if you are with me. In less that one minute. ONE MINUTE. That diamond could have been anywhere. I’ve been up for hours already, inside/outside/shower, ANYWHERE. And there it was. Thank you, sister. And of course, ::fist punch:: my bro JC.)

Since I can’t understand the “afterlife” and when you are and aren’t with me, it took me a long time to get over the thought you *could* always be in the room with me. I mean, I want you close to me, BUT I also felt like every thought, every action, I am being judged. When I drag Nori to the corner I see you shaking your head, “just have more patience with her.” When I let Nico cry so I could just lay in bed a little bit longer after minimal sleep, “Go get him! You don’t know what I’d give to hold Olivia in the night when she cries!”  When I’d think something hateful about someone, “That’s not very nice, you are a better person than that.” When Adam and I…ya…that took some real getting used to. I can only assume you can be anywhere and see everything you want. I guess the feeling of being judged is silly, but it does in the end make me strive to be a better person. I don’t want you to be disappointed in me more now than ever.

Though the dirt is all settled, monument supposedly there, I’ve yet to go back to your place of rest. Forgive me? I’m sure I would be fine, but it just seems like it would be too much torture and really, what’s the point? Some people find peace at cemeteries, I however can’t separate myself from your earthly body being below me. I can talk to you anywhere and I know for certain I will feel no more peace standing above you than I would sitting in my living room. Maybe that’s an excuse? I don’t know, but I know I have zero desire to go back.

So this is it. Our first year is in the books. We’ve made it. I can only speak for myself, but I know I am healing. Slowly. It’s very strange to think a full year has passed since I last heard your voice. Heard your laugh. Waited an extraordinary length to receive a reply to my text. Though some days it’s been terribly hard for me to find the time or desire to keep up with this blog, I’m so glad I have. Lots of memories I have preserved for myself and for Olivia. A place for your friends to write about you as well. Memories will fade and slip from my mind as years pass and I don’t want to forgot all the funny shit you did. We will continue to carry on your legacy and our hopes are that one day everyone knows who you are. I hope you are proud of what we’ve done here.

Happy first Angelversary, seester. For now I must say, when the time is right, I will see you again. Not too soon though, I have so much more learning to do and things to look forward to here! But I have to tell you, my thirst for Paradise has never been stronger.

Love, Smelli.

 I’m getting closer to forgetting you in your frail, sick state…

…and only thinking of you as the bubbly blonde you always were.THIS is Ali.

These are my sisters.





Saint Ali

Brother “Bro” Bob was a dear friend of Ali’s through Purcell Marian. She would always tell me about the ridiculous things she got him to do and through this entry, he will confirm that. Thanks for sharing Bro! I’m sure you miss her dearly. I love what you had to say and that wig pic of you two is by far my fav! You are such a good sport! Love, Mel.


Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints.  As we know, there are thousands of saints officially canonized in the Church…St. Francis of Assisi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, insert-your-favorite-saint here.  They have special days appointed to them, and here in Rome you can even sometimes see their bodies (that might be more appropriate for the eve of All Saints Day – Halloween!)  But today and its accompanying feast tomorrow (All Soul’s Day) always turn my thoughts to those “other saints,” those who have not been (and probably never will be) officially recognized by the Church.  And yet, by knowing them, they have helped me and continue to help me on my journey towards holiness by the witness of their lives and the lessons they have taught me.

In a special way this year, my attention has turned to one of these “saints,” my dear friend Ali Nunery.  I first met Ali when I was working in Cincinnati.  Near this time last year, she lost her short but heroic battle with a rare form of lung cancer.  Today’s feast seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect on her life and some of the lessons she taught me.

My first real encounter with Ali was when I asked if she would be interested in taking a group of students to work in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Without hesitating, she said “Yes.”  I thought this is something we would think about and decide on later.  But, I quickly learned that we were going to make the trip, there wasn’t any hesitation.  I’m also not sure if the word “No” was a part of Ali’s vocabulary.  She would often come to my classroom to propose an idea that I thought was ludicrous – a luau in the library or taking students to Disney Land or donning a Santa suit.  My initial protestations were always met with Ali standing in the doorway looking at me until I gave in (and I always gave in.)
This was so typical of Ali’s constant “Yes” to life.  It is a “yes’ to the possibilities that are offered and a “yes” to embracing whatever (good and bad) is set in your path.  While in New Orleans, she was the constant cheer leader when the students were tired after a long day of difficult and hot work.  She was a positive and encouraging voice while we had to deal with a difficult student.  (Particularly, she promised a round of beers if I was the one to call the parents at midnight!)  She was able to organize a drive-through order at McDonald’s for 20 people without batting an eye.
In one of the last times I visited Ali, she was given picture of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Dayton.  Ali commented that during her illness, Mary kept “coming up” and she had developed a deep relationship with the Mother of Jesus.  This didn’t come to a surprise to me since Mary is the woman who made that first “Yes” for the life of the world.
As I got to know Ali better, she continually taught me to find joy in life, particularly in unexpected ways.  On the trip to New Orleans, we weren’t even out of the Cincinnati metro area and we were playing car-bingo.  When we finally found our winning piece (a corvette) you would have thought she had just won the lottery.  And then there were the countless dress-up days that she loved and in which she made me participate.  There was a group of teachers who all wore Santa suits the day before Christmas break.  (There was no need to ask why she had four Santa suits, it was just Ali.)  There is the famous walk-a-thon day when we promoted the Disney trip by dressing up as characters, and then sat in the dunk tank dressed in flippers and a life-vest.  When I finally went into the water, Ali couldn’t stop laughing because the black dye she had put in my hair for the Aladdin costume was running all over me.
All these things brought so much joy and happiness to her life, and she showed all those around her how to find this same joy, even when we hesitated.  Looking back now, I can only imagine that she was prophetically showing us a bit of the joy that she now experiences with all the saints.
Finally, Ali reminded me that we are never alone and never forgotten.  She had a way of bringing people together – after-school faculty get-togethers in the library (yes, we had a luau) and Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria.  When I moved to San Antonio, she would send me a thematic tie each month – among them are a turkey tie, an Easter Bunny tie, and of course a Jesus tie.  When Ali and our two friends Jen and Shannon were supposed to visit me in San Antonio, they made shirts that said “I’m with Bob” and of course I had one that said “I’m Bob.”   Ali understood what community was all about.
It was fitting, then, that perhaps the greatest lesson I have ever learned about community came from Ali.  At the end of her funeral liturgy, I noticed that a few friends of mine had come to the mass.  It struck me as being odd because I don’t think they really knew Ali at all.  They had only heard about her through me or through other mutual friends.  When I asked one why she had come, her response was simply, “To be with you.”  At the end of the Gospels, this is the promise that Jesus leaves with his disciples, and Ali continually reminds us that it is so very true in many unexpected ways.
We are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses,” and our faith reminds us (as difficult as it can be to believe some days) that for those who have gone before us “life is changed, not ended.”  In their own, unique ways, these saints continue to be present to us, just in new ways as we keep their memories alive and allow them to continue to walk with us on our own pilgrimages.  For my friend, Ali, this is so very true.  Let us, today, give thanks for the saints in our lives who continue to show us the joy of the resurrection and remind us that we are not alone.  And let us, ourselves, strive to become a great “spectacle of a people of saints.”
Saint Ali, pray for us.

“You’ll be a great nurse, Shannon.”

Ali and I worked together for five years at Purcell Marian High School.  One of my favorite years there was the last year that the Four Musketeers were all there together – Ali, Jen, Bob, and me.  We did pretty much everything together.  And if one of us was planning something, then it was expected that the rest of us would help out in some way – i.e. Turkey Bowl, Food and Clothing Drive, Kairos, Shantytown (sleeping outside to raise awareness for homelessness) – the list goes on and on.  We did our share of service projects together and, because of Ali, we made sure it was never dull when doing it.

In fact, that reminds me, no holiday went uncelebrated, no staff birthday unrecognized during Ali’s time at PM.  The library was always decorated for the seasons, which employed the free labor of students to pack and unpack her many containers of decorations.  And we always participated in the dress-up days (and she usually got others to do it too, just because she’s Ali).  I think my favorite dress-up outfit is a tie between our 80s wear and Disney outfits.  We were serious when it came to dressing up.  We searched Goodwills and local thrift stores together just to make sure we were the best dressed.  The year we took students to Disney World for Intersession (and yes, it was educational), we decided it would be fun to dress up as Disney characters for our station at the annual Purcell Marian Walk.  Yep, at the intersection of Erie and Marburg Aves, four adults dressed up to cheer on the students.  We got lots of stares, a lot of honks, and lots of people took our picture too.

After that year, Bob and Jen moved on to new adventures and Ali and I returned to PM the next year.  Things were different after that.  I had a baby boy over the summer and returned after maternity leave.  It was a difficult transition for me.  Coming to work with less than four hours of sleep wasn’t compatible with 7:50am homeroom.  Ali was also known for her tardiness to school – she just wasn’t a morning person.  During that year, there were actually several days when she made it to school before I did.  Somedays we both would be sprinting from our cars at 7:48am to make it before the bell.  Ok, I was the one sprinting, Ali was just walking briskly because she didn’t sprint or run or anything like that.  And I knew it was bad if I pulled into the parking lot and her car was there before me.

As many of us can attest, Ali was especially great at two things – celebrating birthdays and taking care of babies.  Since Jen and I both had a birthday in March, Ali would insist on making dinner for all of us to celebrate.  When Ali was in the hospital in March right after her cancer diagnosis, Jen and I decided that we still needed to celebrate our birthdays as we had done for years so we brought the cake to Ali’s room with candles (that we couldn’t light because of the fire hazard-oops).  It was difficult to celebrate considering the news we were all trying to grasp, but Ali didn’t allow her fear or pain ruin the moment.  And I witnessed her live that way into the fall.

Ali’s ability to take care of babies still amazes me.  My son, Liam, came to school with me on several occasions in that first year.  As soon as Ali found out that Liam was in the building, she would summon me to the library, which I gladly obliged.  It was hard for me to get any work done when he was there.  I just didn’t have the knack for typing with one hand and a baby in the other arm.  Whenever Ali cradled Liam in her arm, he would fall fast asleep.  Two hours later I’d receive a call from her saying I needed to send up a diaper and wipes and that he might be hungry too.  And can someone please tell me how she was able to clean up a really messy diaper with one measly wet wipe? Seriously.  It took me five or six wipes when I witnessed her manage one of those poops with one wipe.

Not only was sleep deprivation killing me that year, but it was also the year that I started prerequisite classes for nursing.  When I first broke the news to Ali and Jen, they were excited for me and Ali said, “you’ll be a great nurse, Shannon.”  Those words continue to ring throughout my head.  I heard them during my 13-month accelerated program at UC.  When I thought the intense classes and clinicals were almost too much to bear, her words echoed in the back of my mind.  I heard the words as I took my licensing exam in September.  As I sat in the testing cubicle, I said one last prayer to Ali and I sent up a silent thank you to her when I received the news that I had passed. I recently accepted an RN position at University Hospital and everyday I feel Ali’s presence with me as I’m caring for patients.  I know she is there to remind me to be patient, to be compassionate, and to give the best care possible no matter the circumstance.  Lastly, to honor Ali, I bought a pink stethoscope, and even though it’s not the most fashionable accessory, at least I’m rockin’ pink everyday.

Dress like a student day.

Dress 80’s day. Oh wait, maybe this one was “dress how you do on the weekends” day. 🙂

I love this picture of you three. I hope you both have it framed.


Thanks for sharing Shannon. I really enjoyed hearing those memories because I remember them so clearly. I can assure you that you are a great nurse. I know that Ali is SO proud of you for pursuing. I hope you continue to think of her often. Maybe you can channel her diaper changing skills while changing your future babes? Thanks for being such a good friend to her. Love, Melanie.

Missing a friend.

So often I lay awake at night and my mind turns to Ali… So often I see something pink, something frilly, something yummy, and I think about Ali…. So often I just have those moments where I’m left shaking my head in disbelief that Ali, my friend, is gone.  Today I had one of those moments and I just needed to write about her…

I have so many wonderful memories of Ali.  We were friends for a long time… through grade school, high school, college and then as wives and mommies.  I remember Ali’s grade school birthday parties (in particular her Naked Gun 2-1/2 party, which I was not allowed to go to because the movie was rated PG-13… thanks Mom and Dad).  I remember playing soccer with her at Victory and Seton –she always laughed while playing, which probably drove the opponents nuts.  She’d laugh and steal the ball from you at the same time!  I remember her dancing – she was such a naturally good dancer… kind of made me jealous.  I remember her waterbed and the weird hand sculpture in her room that held her jewelry!

Ali and I were probably closest in high school.  We spent every day of our senior year eating our lunch together in the balloon shop. I remember confiding in Ali with so many of my worries.  She always made me feel better… just by listening. We bonded in our faith in Christ.  We went to mass together before school started.  We prepared for Kairos together.  One of my strongest memories of Ali was when it was my turn to practice my talk before our retreat… I was nervous, but Ali was there.  She was first to hug me.  She was first to shed tears with me.  It was so comforting to see her face first.  And to see her tears… it meant she understood me and that my talk was worthwhile.

Ali and I went to Xavier together.  We commuted our first year and hung out together in the “Commuters Lounge” inbetween classes… it was kind of lame… which is why Ali decided to dorm the next year.  I transferred to the Mount.  We lost touch with each other.  Ali graduated from Xavier and moved out of state.  I graduated from the Mount and got married.

Just a few weeks before I got married, Ali’s Mom showed up at our house.  She had a wedding present for us… from the Tracy family… and from Ali who was still living out of town.  She told me Ali was disappointed that I didn’t invite her to our wedding.  I felt awful.  That has been one of my only regrets in life thus far.  Thankfully Ali came back home and we reconnected.  We began meeting for dinners.  She would talk about meeting a good man to marry.  I would talk about my infertility.  It was like old times.  I apologized for the wedding invitation.  She forgave me J

Fast forward a few years and Ali got married.  I had some kids.  We continued to meet every once in awhile for dinners, but not as often as I now wish.  We reconnected one last time when she was pregnant with Olivia.  I remember the day she decided to take a home gender test to see if she was having a boy or girl.  It said she was having a boy.  Her reaction was priceless… poor thing tried not to be upset!  Thankfully the test was wrong and Ali had a girl!  I had my third child just weeks after she had Olivia.  We began meeting for “play dates”… LaRosa’s pizza was always involved!  Ali always had to have a gumball out of my gumball jar after lunch… NO ONE ever took a gumball out of my gumball jar!  I think most people thought they were fake!  I love looking at my gumball jar now.

Ali made my day when she asked me to make Olivia’s first birthday cake… something that I will forever be honored to have done.  I prayed over that cake… I wanted it to be perfect in every way for her.

I miss Ali, but I am thankful for these memories.  I am so thankful for the constant reminder to cherish my husband and children.  I am just so thankful…


I want to make fun of Carrie’s shirt, but I’m pretty sure I saw the same one at Forever 21 last week. 😮

 Carrie bought a stone in memory of Ali in St. Jude’s prayer garden on the Westside. So thoughtful of you Carrie. Thanks for doing that sweet gesture. 🙂

Thanks for sharing Carrie. Xoxo. Love, Melanie.