Our cat, Polly, died last September. She’d been with us for twenty years, and I still can’t write this without keeping a box of tissues at hand. Losing her was hard enough on its own, but her death also brought out something I’d never clearly recognized before: loss is like a magnet. Each new grief draws to itself pieces of older griefs.

No wonder losing a pet is so much heavier than we expect. Hard to drag around with us. Any loss we haven’t fully grieved adds its weight . . . and when can a person ever say they’ve fully grieved something? Even if we thought we did, we’ve changed since then. We need to go deeper.

Deeper is good. Deeper is hard.

David and I gave Polly a great life. But I keep getting stuck on the painful time, those last dark weeks. That last day. Her small, vulnerable form curled into the brown afghan on the loveseat, her place of refuge. My hands lifting her off, putting her into the carrier to go to the vet. David’s fingers stroking the soft, rumpled fur of her head. Her fragility on my lap as the spark of life went out.

“She’s so tired,” the vet had told us. “She’s ready to go.”

Polly desktop picture

She was ready. That helps lighten the grief just a little, and I know it will keep getting lighter. But for now, it’s still weighted with everything I’ve ever lost.

Because we weren’t ready. We never are.


Not-So-Routine Errands

I haven’t quite reached the laugh-about-it stage. Soon, but not yet.

If you’ve ever had to prepare for a doctor appointment by doing one of those 24-hour urine collections, you know how gigantic the orange collection jug is. It seems laughable that you could ever fill it. But David did, to the brim. That is, he did his part, which was to produce. My role was to collect throughout the day and night and one final time the next morning. Monday morning.

“I’m happy that’s done,” I told David, tucking the jug into a bag of ice. “After I take you in to work, I’ll drop it off at the clinic.”

We’d also filled out our ballots for city councilman and two propositions, which took a lot less time than filling the orange jug. David rolled himself into the van, and I put everything else in. After dropping him off at work, I headed straight for the clinic. I was ready to be completely done with that task.

But on the way, I realized I would pass right by the ballot drop-off site. In fact, there it was. Impulsively, I hit the brakes and took a sharp right.


The orange jug hurled itself over the barricade I’d created and crash landed on the van’s floor. The lid flew off.


A tsunami of urine and ice surged toward me. Of the 3,000 milliliters in the jug, at least 2,800 were now rolling across the van’s floor, on which sat our ballots, the shopping list, and my phone.

I didn’t say much. The only word I spoke for the next few seconds was “No!” I probably said it fifty times, though, and I didn’t really say it. I howled it. I’d glance down at the floor. “No! No! No!” Then I’d look up and steer. Finally, I pulled over to the curb so I could safely take in the full extent of the disaster. Bad in every sense. Literally.

That changed the day’s schedule. On to the clinic to hand over the pathetic remnants, explain what happened, and get a new orange jug—trying all the while to stay out of the stink range of other people. Then home to scrub the van for the next hour or so. The bottoms of my shoes got a good scrubbing, too, and spent the rest of the day baking in the sunshine. I considered giving our ballots the sun treatment as well, but the black ink we’d used had bled through the envelope. They went in the trash.

As for my phone, I took it apart and dabbed at the wet spots, then gave it a cautious wipe-down with vinegar. It seems to be okay. I just try not to think about it.

So, life goes on. Two days later, the new jug rode back to the clinic locked in a plastic tub, traveling five miles below the speed limit and with a minimum of turns. Some lessons don’t need to be learned twice. The van still stinks. There’s no other word for it. Not as intensely, though, which gives hope for the future. And for now, the high-powered lemon deodorizer swinging from the rear view mirror stuns the sinuses into acceptance, at least on the short trips I’ve had so far. Driving to Denver next week will be the real test.

Want to come along?

Okay, now I’m laughing.

Take and Give

The breakfast nook where I usually write gives a clear view of the house across the street. This works out well. My neighbor is recently widowed, and I like to keep an eye on her place.

The other day, two teenage girls stopped on the sidewalk outside her fence. I watched as they lingered near the big tree on the easement. They were talking, maybe arguing. I went back to my work. When I glanced up again, one girl was reaching through my neighbor’s fence.

I came to full alert. What was she doing?

The girl plucked a flower and walked out of sight behind the tree. A few moments later, she reappeared and marched purposefully toward the fence. She took another flower.

I scooted my chair back, intending to go outside and put an end to this. But she was headed for the tree again, while the other girl looked on. I hesitated. What was she doing? She went back to the fence, where she plucked another flower. Then back to the tree.

After several more trips, they left. I let a few minutes pass, then went outside and crossed the street.

This is what I saw on the ground behind the tree.

Bird funeral

Only then did I remember the small dead sparrow I’d seen on the sidewalk a few days earlier. How sad, I’d thought, and kept going. This girl saw it, too. But she did something beautiful.

Can you see it?


The threads of life – you never know where they’ll join up!

When warning lights showed on the dash of our converted van, we weren’t happy. Would you be? Check engine, oil pressure, air bag . . . time to take our baby in to be checked. So this morning I drove David to work early and headed for my appointment at the dealership.

The bad news, which I already knew, was that others were ahead of us. This meant the van would probably be there all day. The good news: they had a courtesy shuttle and were happy to drive me home. The driver and I talked all the way. Larry was familiar with our neighborhood, and in the context of describing our house, I mentioned David’s accident.

“A bicycle accident? When was that?” he asked.

“August 11, 2009.”

Larry’s face had gone from cheerful to dead serious. “Was it on one of the bike trails?”

I nodded.

“I heard about that,” he said. “I was working for the sheriff’s department then, and I was there when the call came in. They said it didn’t look good.”

“It wasn’t good. No one thought he’d make it, but he’s doing great.”

Larry wanted to know more, so I told him that David can walk a little, works full time, holds no bitterness over his limitations but keeps pressing forward.

“Well, dang.” He grinned. “This is so good. You know, I worked in the sheriff’s department for more than 20 years. From all that time, there are maybe 3 or 4 incidents that really stick in my memory. This is one of them. For some reason, that day is so clear to me.”

I had to blink back tears. Almost 7 years ago, a stranger had been touched by the event that changed us forever. And now, unplanned and unexpected, I’d met him. There’s power in seeing the threads of separate lives come together. From a casual business contact, this drive home had deepened into a true connection. I could hardly wait to call David and tell him.

Larry pulled into the driveway. “Will I be picking you up to get back to the dealership?”

I nodded. “Today, hopefully. I’ll look forward to seeing you again.”

“Sounds good.” He grinned and shook his head. “Dang!”

Amen to that.


Ragbag of Regret

“Unconsciously, like most blind people, I had never accepted the fact of being blind. There was always a small voice insisting, I’ve got to see. I can’t go on living like this. But that voice always has to be strangled, suppressed, because if you heed its message, you will never be anything more than a ragbag of regret, unable to take your part in the world.”

When I looked up from reading those sentences aloud, David was staring at me. “That’s exactly how I feel,” he said.

He swept his arm awkwardly through the air, indicating his legs and wheelchair. “Sometimes I think, I can’t go on living like this.” His eyes were serious, but they shone. Hearing someone express an exact truth you could never put into words for yourself brings both relief and power.

This was doubly powerful, a two-part truth from someone who understands: This is how I feel, and this is what I have to do about it.

David and I always have a read-aloud book going together. We move from beekeeping to Christian fantasy and everything in between. We can’t even begin to guess how much this has enriched us. Right now, we’re almost finished with Emma and I, Sheila Hocken’s true story about her blindness and her guide dog, Emma. This Englishwoman, who will never meet or even hear of David, lifted and strengthened him with words she wrote 40 years ago.

“A ragbag of regret,” David said. “That’s such a good way to put it.”

And I love the way she didn’t just say, “take part in the world,” but “take your part in the world.” It’s there for you to take.

David does that. And now, because of what we read together last night, he’s stronger to keep doing that.






I glanced out the window. The man was still there, staring at our house from across the road. The woman had wandered a short distance away, looking at the neighbors’ lilac bushes. But he just leaned against the car, his gaze intent.

Something in his expression sent me outside and down the front steps. As I crossed the street toward him, he gave a start and straightened. Not a guilty reaction. More like embarrassment at being caught.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just looking at your house. My grandfather built it for his family, in 1926.” He smiled shyly. “I haven’t been back here since I was a boy.”

Grandpas House 1963 2Brooks Parents in Later Years

So, of course, I invited him and his wife to come in and see the house. He pointed out changes, reminiscing about memories like going with his grandfather to fetch coal from the basement. They didn’t stay long. As they left, he paused on the front porch.

“My mother remembers the Great Depression,” he said. “My grandfather was a brick and stone mason, so he mostly stayed in work. If they didn’t have money, people he did jobs for paid him in food. Every Sunday after church, the men would set up long tables on this porch. The women would cook and load the tables with food, and anyone could come and eat.”

He gestured. “She remembers the house and yard full of people walking around with plates, talking to each other and eating. For some of them, it was the only decent meal they’d get all week.”

In the silence that followed, his shyness returned. “Well, thanks. I won’t take any more of your time. It was good to see the house again.” But his smile held a hint of sadness. “It’s changed a lot.”

When I picked up David from work, I told him that story. He loved it as much as I did. “That’s quite a legacy,” he said.

A legacy of generosity and true hospitality. May this be one thing about the house that will never change.

Batting 1000

In this month of New Year’s resolutions, coming across a list of David’s goals from late 2009 seemed perfect timing. He dictated them a month or so after he broke his neck, when he was at Craig Hospital in Denver.

As I read through them, I realized each one has happened.

David's goals

The last one was for our daughter. David knew his accident had pierced her deeply, and his new limitations made any kind of communication difficult. But I’d say he’s expressed love more clearly than many fathers ever do.

Other than that, they all speak for themselves.

Not-So-High Excitement

Last Sunday, David and I discovered a new extreme sport called Ramp Skiing.

The rules are simple. All you need is a converted van, a guy in a wheelchair, and his wife wearing heels in a vain attempt to make an old pair of pants look glamorous. We had all three, plus a church parking lot with a downhill slant.

The van’s door slid open, the ramp unfolded, and David and I started down. I leaned back against his weight and . . . whoo-ee! Keeping a death grip on the wheelchair handles, I burned rubber—and leather—all the way down. My shoes hit the asphalt. A moment later, my bottom joined them. With visions of slaloming through a parking lot full of cars, I was happy to find myself sitting at the bottom of the ramp, still clutching the handles of the wheelchair.

Smiling brightly, I gave a carload of passersby the thumbs up and jumped to my feet. “Well, that was exciting,” I told David.

“It was,” he agreed. “But I think once was enough.”

It will have to be. We no longer have the equipment. My heels weren’t all that high to start with, and they left half of themselves behind on the ramp.

Too bad.

On the Road

I spent much of yesterday crammed into a little blue Prius with four other women. We drove from Colorado Springs to Raton, New Mexico for a wedding, laughing and talking all the way. The drive there and back took six hours. The wedding and reception took one.

All of it was lovely.

What is it about autumn? Beauty, poignancy, happiness that transcends the hard things of life. All of us in the car had adult children. Some had grandchildren. For the bride and groom, this was an autumn wedding in both senses. In the past, I might have considered it second-rate, compared to two fresh young people starting life together.

But not now. What a beautiful season.

After the Tissue Box, Part 2

A good-looking guy with fluffy gray hair and an honest face rolls up to you in his wheelchair. “Are you a reader?” he asks.

Brace yourself! The guy in the chair is my husband, David, and he’s primed to tell you about my book. He’ll give you a brief résumé of the plot, then suggest that you whip out your phone and place an immediate order—Kindle or print version—with Amazon. After all, anyone who likes to read shouldn’t miss out on the pleasure and privilege of curling up with “Safe” by Jill Case Brown.

Right. No wonder I love this guy!

This makes for a fun partnership. I hate tooting my own horn, but David loves doing it for me. And I will say that “Safe” truly is a good story. The protagonist is a 16-year-old boy, so the novel is officially YA (Young Adult), but I’ve come up with a new genre that I think fits it better. YAHA, or Young-At-Heart Adult. How about that?

I have more to say about the significance of this post. But for now, all you need to know is that the story is out there for anyone who wants to read it. If you’re actually on my blog, you can click on the photo of the book cover. Otherwise, click on this: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/192-0129744-7766374?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=jill+case+brown

Wow, that’s a big, ugly mess. But it should work.

If it doesn’t, just go to Amazon books and type in Jill Case Brown Safe. That might take you to someone who sells backpacks, but eventually you’ll get there.

If not, just wait for the guy in the wheelchair to roll up.