the great unknown

What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

These words sit atop a vintage blackboard in my kitchen. They’re written on a little pencil box I found in Anthropologie a few months ago. I was never one for inspirational messages, but the last couple of years I find myself clinging to them. Even inscribing them onto my skin, as reminders in my darkest moments.

I couldn’t help feeling envious as I watched a mother playing hide and seek with her baby daughter outside a deli recently. Their eyes were both sparkling with pure joy, love, and the simple wonder of it all. I remember that fun and carefree feeling of a cold day, and mommy-baby time with my sweet Bella. It feels so far away, now ten years later, as we navigate the depth of our loss. We both lost the love of our life two years and four months ago. Virginia, of course, feels the loss, but her connection to M was so different. It was through Bella that M first learned the meaning of unconditional love. For the first time in his life, he discovered a pure love, one of his own making, literally, having contributed half of her DNA.

The two of them had a level of trust and understanding that was her rock. Not only did his death steal the love of her life, it demolished her foundation. Now we’re left to rebuild it, piece by piece. I say we, but often it feels like it’s just me, left alone here on the firing line of single parenthood. A ten year old can’t be expected to understand and sort through such deep seated sadness and anger alone. Like me, she wears a smile, but the fault lines run deep inside, on the verge of an emotional earthquake at any moment.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing this here. I often think about my friend Jodi’s decision to stop writing her blog. Where do I draw the line between helping heal myself, and respecting the privacy of what my daughters are going through? I don’t have the answer. I just know that when life is feeling too much to bear, releasing the words across these pages is what helps me find clarity. Our journeys are intertwined, even though our paths toward healing will inevitably be very different ones.

We curled up on the sofa and watched Annie together tonight. The lyrics from Tomorrow keep echoing in my mind…”when I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely, I just stick up my chin, and grin, and say, oh…”.

This is what I’ve been doing the last 877 days, leading by example. Telling my girls every step of the way that we have to hang on ’til tomorrow. Amidst the sadness, there is hope. Amidst the loneliness, there is togetherness.  I don’t have the answers to our future, and I’m not sure I want them. The journey is the best part of living, even with the knowledge that there are sometimes unexpected steep emotional cliffs from which to fall.

I’m not one for resolutions. Really, I don’t see the point in making a grandiose declaration, at least not on January 1st. I think we should live every day with a resolve to be better, dream bigger, and have hope, that eternal fuel that keeps us hungry for each new day.


  • Cheryl

    Bare with me here. I will say something rather crass, but I swear there is a point.

    My Hubby likes to tell the kids that the difference between an adventure and an excursion is that on an adventure someone dies. Yes, he’s being ridiculous and sarcastic and enjoys teasing the girls. But I always stop and think that he is a bit right. If only in the part that the adventure of life, of love, is a risky one. An excursion calls for sturdy shoes and walking sticks, for Tilly hats and granola in your backpack. An adventure calls for improper footwear, not enough diapers, and a sense of wonderment. Life is indeed an adventure. Your life seems to be a smushed up one, where the death came too soon on the trip. But I do know that it will be far from an excursion for you and the girls.

  • JulieD

    I look forward to your blog posts, I hope you never stop writing. You have a beautiful gift in your writing, please continue to share it with all of us. As for everything else, I have no idea what to say except I’m thinking of you and I know you’re an amazing mother and your words always cut to the core. Making me wonder what I would do if I were in your shoes. xoxo Here’s to 2014 for you and your girls. I hope I get to spend a little more time with you in ’14.

  • Maria

    Jen this is so beautiful. You are so inspiring and your girls have such a gift in you. Your strength pays off ten fold with them no doubt. I have tears reading this. Thank you for sharing this beautiful passage.

  • Rhonda

    You do have a gift of writing, and it is therapeutic not only for you to write, but for others to read. I saw a quote on a tee shirt once: “It’s the journey, not the destination” — fully living each minute, day by day, one step at a time, rather than racing toward some self-imposed deadline. Praying for you and your girls as you continue on your journey.

  • Cheryl

    Jennie…you are an inspiration. Our circumstances are similar yet different. I lost my husband of 43 years suddenly 3 years ago, we have 3 daughters, six grandchildren. Like you…our hearts are broken yet we continue to journey on, finding joy in family, friends and the blessing of life. Your thoughts are relatable and touch my heart. Thank you for sharing and bless you and your girls as your healing continues.

  • Tracey A

    Good Morning, Jennie,
    Although I haven’t written lately, I still read your posts, with you small miracles and lots of sunshine and wonderful things.
    The journey will never stop, nor the growth.The beauty and truth of life will continue to amaze and appall at the same time. Scary and sometimes awesome at the same time.
    I hope 2014 brings many happy, sunshiney times(I know that isn’t a word) and love to your hearts and spirits.
    Wishing you a rainbow and bucket of heartwarming joy,

  • Michele V

    Jennie Happy New Year to you and your family wishing you everything you could hope for in 2014! …and please continue to write I find each and every blog post very inspirational.

  • kim

    Hi, Jenny – I’m not sure exactly what to say, but I felt compelled to comment. My father had a sudden heart attack and died at age 39. I was nine at the time. I’m 43 now, with two children of my own. So, when I read your post, I identify with your daughters in their loss and also with you as a mother. I don’t know that I’d have anything truly helpful to offer – my own experience is my own experience – but, as I was just yesterday reading about using our painful experiences to help others (acting as “wounded healers”), I wanted to reach out and offer what I can. I can be reached at if you feel inclined to connect.
    I will continue to root for and pray for you and your girls.

  • Taylor

    I started out loving your recipes because my boyfriend bought me your cookbook for my birthday this past May. I knew nothing about the pain and loss that you’ve gone through, but I loved your recipes and your stories. Through things that you’ve mentioned, I realized that you lost a loved one and I started reading your blog and finding out more about the pain you’ve suffered. I honestly couldn’t imagine what you’ve gone through and I hope that I never have to find out first-hand. What I can say though is that I think you’re an incredible strong woman. I think you’re a fantastic example for your girls and the fact that you wrote a cookbook alone is amazing, but knowing that you wrote this while fighting a horrible sadness is something even more brave and courageous. You are one strong and beautiful woman.


  • Kelley

    Despite the loss you have faced, you, Jennie, are a bucket filler! Your sense of hope, determination and strength inspires and encourages me and others to face our own challenges. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Cheryl c

    Hi Jennie,
    For awhile I couldn’t bring myself to read your blog, as I couldn’t deal with what you were going through, but I came back as I needed to know how you were coping. You’ve done so well Jenny and have helped many of us out there with your thoughts. You have a gift for writing from the heart. I hope you continue to use this gift to help others. I
    I like to think that when door closes, another one opens. Who knows what joys and challenges await us.
    Keep strong Jenny!

  • Eddie

    Truly Heartfelt,
    It must take such a beautiful soul combined with a unconditional heart of belief to explain life better than to live it as you just experienced it. I never read a blog until I somehow touched my phone. Im sold

  • Yuri

    Your blog helps me understand that how I feel after losing my beautiful mother suddenly and unexpectedly is normal and I’m not alone. I hope that you continue to write.
    Praying for enlightenment…

  • Janna

    Thank you for being brave and sharing your story!!! May your strength inspire someone else to keep going and not give up! God bless you and your girls and give you peace and comfort that can only be found in Him!

  • Julia

    Jennie, for the are no words of comfort, no kind gestures, none of the sincerest genuflects that could possibly remove the place you are climbing up from, and for that exercise of strength, you are an amazing woman, an amazing mom, and yes, still, an amazing wife. I think M would agree. I am so sad for you and your loss. You and your girls are forever in my prayers. I believe in finding the meaning in life, and i see here that you are an extremely intelligent and resilient woman that can manage any fastball thrown her way – a diamond in the rough. Not just any woman, any mom,nor any wife, could take such great care of the dreams and hopes made in the bonds of love, and you are. Have that, own it, and may peace come to you as often as possible so you may continue living your life with love. My deepest condolences and my biggest hopes for you and your family, j.

  • Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes)

    This really resonated with me. I like to think I would live my life completely without fear but sometimes it is so hard to do that. I would not just think practically, I would just step out and not let “practical” rule my decision making. Happy New Year! It was awesome meeting you in 2013.