Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 2/15

We had an amazing meal last night at Frontera Grill. The Manager greeted us when we sat down, our server was masterful and the food was spectacular. We started with oysters and ceviche; Anne had swordfish and I had brisket. Driving home was like being in an action movie. Cars were double and triple parking in front of restaurants and clubs - left turners were blocking intersections - it was a gauntlet just to get out of the loop.  

It was a very grey morning, not as cold as Friday, when I drove over to Galter Life Center for my training session. Jessica introduced me to burpees, which I had never done before. Super hard - which the whole session was. 

I don’t know why exactly, but a thread of melancholy just strung throughout the day. Maybe it was the fun of the previous night when we started talking about what a trip overseas might look like in the coming year: Paris and Brugge? Something in between as well? Maybe Lille?

It wouldn’t surprise me that even just the consideration of such a family trip might come with an emotional cost. Strangely, I had to pick up and adjust two pictures of Nora that somehow got knocked over in our living room in the afternoon. 

It just feels very scattershot right now. When one of us is okay, the other is not. We can be joking one minute and convulsing in sobs the next. On Facebook, a picture memory popped up on Anne’s feed: one year ago today, Nora was performing at Chicago Waldorf with her class doing Shakespeare scenes. It was a really important moment - it sparked hope. Sitting here, one full year later, the bitter disbelief is gnawing. 

“...when your child dies, you feel everything you'd expect to feel, feelings so well-documented by so many others that I won't even bother to list them here, except to say that everything that's written about mourning is all the same, and it's all the same for a reason - because there is no read deviation from the text. Sometimes you feel more of one thing and less of another, and sometimes you feel them out of order, and sometimes you feel them for a longer time or a shorter time. But the sensations are always the same.

But here's what no one says - when it's your child, a part of you, a very tiny but nonetheless unignorable part of you, also feels relief. Because finally, the moment you have been expecting, been dreading, been preparing yourself for since the day you became a parent, has come.”

  • Hanya Yanagihara

This is a weird sentence to write, but I managed to recover my dreams. I think it was simply by putting a pen and small notebook next to my bed that I recalled a couple of dreams from the previous night, even when I didn’t have the energy/interest to write them down - so I’m fuzzy on the details, but certain that dreaming was happening. Honestly, I think I preferred it when I didn’t know the dreams were there. Now that I’m noticing them again, they become part of a puzzle that I don’t have the energy to figure out. 

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

  • T.E. Lawrence

Sunday 2/16

We’ve said to ourselves and to each other, “I don’t know how to do this.” And, of course, there is no satisfying answer to this question. In part, because it’s likely the wrong question. The “how” part is ingrained not learned: we cry, we ruminate, we laugh, we remember, we forget (only for fractions of time, never fully), we move, we sit with it - leaning into the pain as if it were a pillow of ache. 

In getting deeper into the Jim McKelvey book, I came upon a chapter titled “When.” McKelvey began his adult life as an artist. He is a glassblower. The previous chapter was talking about mentors and he notes that “Every glassblower has a mentor: in fact, we all have the same one: Lino Taliapietra.” It took him 15 years to get into his two week class and during that time each student gets to ask the Maestro one question. Most of the students ask carefully prepared and complicated questions. When it came to McKelvey, he asked the best glassblower in the world how to put a simple foot on a bowl.

Putting a foot on a bowl isn’t complicated and McKelvey has done it thousands of times, but he never felt he was doing it correctly. 

“Lino told me to make a bowl, which I did promptly. Then he told me to make a foot, which is simply a hot gather of glass taken directly from the furnace and shaped into a tennis ball-sized glob. I made the foot. He then told me to put the foot on the bowl, but just as I was about to let the hot foot drop onto the colder bowl, he said, ‘Wait.’ I stood there with the bowl in my left hand and the foot in my right until he gave the second half of the lesson: ‘Now.’ I let the now-slightly-less-hot foot fall and it went on perfectly. This blew my mind.

I was expecting a lesson in how, but Lino gave me a lesson in when.”

Later in the chapter:

“Schools teach how. We learn to copy what works with the emphasis always on the how and not the when. I learned how to construct complicated mathematical models, but never learned when presenting such a model was inappropriate. I learned to reason logically, but never learned when logic might offend someone. I learned contract law, but never learned when to just shake hands.”

This grieving process may be more a matter of when than how. When do we say yes to the invitation and when do we say no; when do we allow ourselves to sink into the despair of it and when do find the strength to put the despair aside. Maybe it’s about when am I rather than how am I. 

Dan Pink wrote a whole book about this called “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” There is so much evidence that peak performers are masters at knowing how to create a cadence of performance. They don’t run until they are spent, they don’t practice until their fingers bleed. They sprint and rest. As Pink writes, “Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength.”

Anne and I talked about this over a breakfast of hash with smoked pork, onions, peppers, bacon and carrots. Our breaks aren’t about breaking, they are about defending our strength. This is so hard. Unspeakably difficult. But we have each other and you. In the words of Nora Leonard, “You can do this.”

Monday 2/17

“The awareness of the ambiguity of one's highest achievements - as well as one's deepest failures - is a definite symptom of maturity.”

  • Paul Tillich

My college adviser, Ron Miller, was an ex Jesuit priest who left the order to marry and have kids. He introduced me to the work of Paul Tillich. This morning I was listening to a podcast that my former colleague Travis had recommended to me and it contained a lecture on Tillich. Paul Tilich was a German-American philosopher and theologian whose most popular book was called “The Courage to Be.” The quote above definitely speaks to me and gives me some semblance of hope that I am maturing. In age and experience, I’ve come to be far more skeptical of my personal successes and failures - which don’t belong at either end of a spectrum, but are intertwined like rope laces throughout our days, months and years. 

I long ago gave up the idea of finding some single organizing principle of understanding life, but in doing so I also stopped looking. In the days after Nora died, just barely breathing in the bleakness of the loss - I started to sense a need to start looking again. It’s almost like Nora lit the candle again - and although I know I’ll never reach the flame, I’m drawn to it. Hearing the professor talk about Tillich, I remembered one of the passages that very much spoke to me. When thinking in the larger terms, I was always frustrated by people who were absolutists because I was a creature of the modern world. I was a relativist. In the words of an old Second City scene, “I mean, I’ve read Les Miz.” But Tillich negates the arguments swiftly and beautifully: 

“The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete. The paradox of final revelation, overcoming the conflict between absolutism and relativism, is love.”

So, yes. If the law is love - it doesn’t matter if it’s absolute or relative - love is the root of everything. 

To be guided by love first, feels right to me. It’s an organizing principle for living your life with meaning and purpose. It expresses your values in the tangible actions that fill your day. 

I’m still not used to this new rhythm: the one where the weekends are only for Anne and myself; where the weekdays aren’t concerned with either making breakfasts and lunches or stuffing an overnight bag and making sure we have the right medical supplies for the week. This cadence of caretaking and caregiving that dominated our lives for almost one full year. Snap. Gone. 

Although it has been over six months, the new pattern is just starting to take hold and it literally grabs me each morning as a I grab for my winter coat. It’s impossible to unnotice it. I mark the sadness and complete the morning ritual. Kiss Anne goodbye, pet Benchley on the head, grab my backpack and head out the door to work. I carry her with me in all those actions. Sometimes it’s a balm, sometimes it’s a metric for how I keep going in the wake of this devastation.

“Faith includes both an immediate awareness of something unconditional and the courage to take the risk of uncertainty upon itself. Faith says "Yes" in spite of the anxiety of "No."

  • Paul Tillich

Tuesday 2/18

I got an email from the Manager of Clinical Operations Hematology/Oncology at Advocate Children’s Hospital. She saw me speak a few weeks back at the Coleman Foundation and is interested in our program. We also got contacted by the owner of a number of eldercare homes in Minnesota. He saw my talk on improv and caregiving for the NIC conference a couple of years back and he’d like us to train 180 of his caregivers. We’re putting together the proposal for Lurie this week. All of this is fantastic, but there are barriers. The biggest barrier is scarcity - of time and money. The hospital systems have money, but they don’t have the time. The eldercare group can carve out the time, they just don’t have the money. We’re working on finding ways to get time and money, but it speaks to what I think is a misalignment in our values in this country. 

In the McKelvey book, he outlines how credit card vendors charge small businesses a higher rate on their transactions than large businesses. How much? The credit card vendors profit margin from small business was 45 times higher than from billion-dollar corporations. 60 Fortune 500 companies avoided paying all federal income tax in 2018 (Netflix, Amazon, US Steel, Haliburton). 

We have an epidemic of greed in this country and it's at the expense of those most vulnerable: the elderly, children, the poor. Find me one of your bibles that endorses these values. You can’t. Instead, our shame at what we’re allowing to happen forces us to tell ourselves a different story, a story where the enemy are the vulnerable ones. It’s so disheartening and obvious if you have eyes and ears and a mind. 

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

  • George Orwell

Rant done.

Wednesday 2/19 and Thursday 2/20

It’s another busy week and Anne and I are ships passing in the morning, as I’m often asleep by the time she gets home. But I was awake last night in part because of the return of the helicopters to Ravenswood Manor since Trump commuted our former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s sentence. I have mixed feelings on the whole thing. I’ve come to understand and believe that the way we do criminal justice in this country lacks justice and wisdom. Too many people are thrown into prisons for too long - from minor drug offenses to political crimes. It’s as if our blood lust for comeuppance is so great that we cannot see the greater harm we’re committing in throwing away the key. 

And yet, in the coverage of Blagojevich, I was painfully reminded that he was holding back funds to Lurie Children’s Hospital in attempt to get $50,000.00 from their then CEO. Horrific. 

So I’m left with another both things are true moment: his sentence was too long and he did many horrible acts. The fact that he appears to feel no shame or remorse is repellent and I, as his neighbor, won’t greet him as a friend. If he were honest to himself and others about his wrongdoing, I think we have to allow our fellow humans a shot at doing better. But if they cannot own up to their bad deeds, we have no obligation to offer a hand. His sister in law, Deb, was very sweet with us during Nora’s illness. She followed up twice to check on her and the last time I saw her, she gave me a big hug. Humans and human relationships are complicated.

We had an all day offsite at work today. It was really productive - but I’ve been so focused on work, I didn’t have much prepared to talk to Fred tonight in therapy, other than recovering the fact that I’ve been dreaming and was likely dreaming before but it wasn’t registering. 

It’s always interesting in therapy when you go in expecting one thing and quite another thing happens. I went in feeling light, found that I was weighted more than I thought and left feeling like I had had a thorough emotional workout. 

How we got there is too long and circuitous, but the thing we discovered was that I was starting to accept that Nora is gone. And by saying the thing out loud, I unlocked another layer of grief. Honest tears. True sorrow. A significant and mournful acceptance. 

So what now? 

At his trial, facing a death sentence, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” As I work on healing all the parts of me, I want to grow more strength, more wisdom and more serenity - so that I can be of more use to the people I love and the world in general. I can see now with increasing clarity that tragedies do define you for better or worse. There is just so much work to do.

“What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other—but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness—of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other's sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him.”

  • Erich Fromm

Friday 2/21

I learned a new term this morning: “eidos.”

Eidos is, as Merriam Webster defines it: “the cognitive part of cultural structure made up of the criteria of credibility, the logic used in thinking and acting, and the basic ideas by which the members of a culture organize and interpret experience : logical structure.”

It is different than ethos. Which, as MW provides is: “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.”

Eidos is seeing or understanding; ethos is believing. 

Making my way through John Vervaeke’s “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis,” I’m prone to ask my personal dictionary (her name is Anne) what terms mean - she hadn’t heard of eidos, so we looked it up. 

Vervaeke talks about the various states of consciousness and how they develop: from first to second order thinking, knowing and believing, and how the ideas that Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were wrestling with are still being wrestled with today - despite all our technology and our cartoonishly arrogant sense of how we have it “figured out.” I’m reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is a bias in which people assess their own cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.

So, the smarter someone thinks they are, the more likely it is that they are simply delusional.

Know anyone like that?

In the episode on consciousness, Vervaeke talks about a study he was just about to publish that showed how people who experience a higher order sense of consciousness - which could be a spiritual awakening, a great flash of insight, etc… - report far greater meaning in their life. They are happier. And, interestingly, this phenomenon is not isolated by religion, culture, socio-economic condition - it is present across the human experience. 

I think this is also true of a tragedy. It’s true if you can come out of the other side of a trauma and let the experience of it inform and inspire you to a more present path; a kind of self-generosity whose expression is to actually give of oneself to others; maybe its second order caregiving? Pretty sure I just made up that concept. 

Lao Tzu said, “Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.” Knowing and believing. And giving. 

Our friend Ai-jen Poo was quoted in an article saying: “It’s precisely the people who are considered the least ‘likely’ leaders who end up inspiring others the most. Everyday people and everyday acts of courage eventually change everything.”

She’s talking about us. 

I think of this in Nora’s name.


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Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 2/8 

I forgot to post the blog on Friday. Anne and I were asked by a journalist to provide real-time performance notes on the democratic candidates at Friday night’s debate in New Hampshire. I was initially going to a 5pm session with my trainer, but she had a cancellation on Saturday morning at 8am, so I took that slot instead. Still, the turn around in getting home, eating dinner, cleaning up from dinner and turning on the debate at 7pm with our laptops opened - probably kept me from remembering to post. Or, I thought to myself, this is a good forgetting. It means I’m busy with life. I had a few hours this morning thinking I’d made some sort of progress. Of course, all that came crashing down in heaps and waves mid-morning. Anne had left to go grocery shopping and, for some reason (I was feeling okay, emboldened?), I decided to go into Nora’s room and start picking up and organizing some of her things. Within minutes I was convulsing in tears, short of breath and had to leave the room and shut the door. 

I’m not ready. I’m not done. We will have to tackle that room at some point, but I’m nowhere near being able to accomplish that devastating task. When Anne got home I told her what happened and we made a promise to check in with each other before either of us went into her room. 

“The clothes you're wearing, the room, the house, the city that you're in. Everything in it started out in the human imagination. Your lives, your personalities, your whole world. All invented. All made up. All the wars, the romances. The masterpieces and the machines. And there's nothing here but a funny little twist of amino acids, playing a marvelous game of pretend.”

  • Alan Moore

Nick called to check in. He’s in rehearsals for “Radium Girls” at Skidmore. We will fly in at the end of February to see the show. He sounded good and was about to leave for an acapella gig in Rome, New York. We got caught up on his classes and I felt a pang of jealousy that part of his world is to just read a lot of books. He’s reading “Remains of the Day” for one of his courses, a book he read Freshman year of high school and loved. The teacher noted that she was both “Appalled and impressed” that he read it as a Freshman in HS. He also got re-acquainted with a poem by Elisabeth Bishop that he then emailed to me. 

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Sunday 2/9

We had a lovely dinner with friends in their west loop apartment last night. I just tire out so easily these days, so it was a fairly early evening. Today, I have to finish reading Dr. Michelle King’s “The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers that are Holding Women Back at Work.” It’s an important and sobering read. And it’s not just the statistics, although those are facts we can’t unknow: “Women only account for 4/6% percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s, 8.1% of top earners, and 16.9% of Fortune 500 board seats - despite the fact that women hold 52% of all professional-level jobs.”

Fundamentally, the modern workplace was not designed for women, nor is it designed in accordance with how the world has developed since Ford erected his car factories in 1903. She writes, “While there isn’t an exact date for when patriarchy took hold, it is clear that at least since the Agricultural Revolution (which occurred at different times in different regions of the world) most societies have held the pervasive belief that men and masculinity are more valuable and important than women and femininity.” 

The evidence is striking that leadership qualities such as collaboration, problem solving and meaning making are far more prevalent in women than men. But most of our workplaces value confidence over competence. 

I have mostly kept away from the #GirlDad tweets, as I don’t need to lean into that particular pain. But I did love being a dad to my girl and I loved that her own identity as a human seemed indestructibly powerful. She was the only girl on her grade school flag football team; she was as at ease talking to the boys as she was with the girls. I hate that I don’t get to see what she would have become as a woman, but I did get to see who she was becoming - and she was glorious.

As I’m writing this, I’m having a fairly friendly back and forth on Twitter with someone about why I don’t want Joe Biden to be the Democratic presidential candidate. I think Biden is a very decent human being, but I think his mindset belongs to a past political reality that is not only extinct - it’s been proven to be a mindset that protects the power of rich, white men. Ezra Klein writes a bit about our current political state in his new book “Why We’re So Polarized:”

“Political identities aren't about tax cuts. They are about tribes... This is the result of the incredible rise in political polarization in recent decades. It used to be that both the Republican and Democratic parties included both liberals and conservatives. Since parties contained ideological multitudes, it was hard for them to be the basis of strong, personal identities. A liberal Democrat in New Jersey didn't have a lot in common with a conservative Democrat in Alabama. But now that's changed. The parties are sharply sorted by ideology. What were once fractious coalitions have become unified tribes.”

People are not one thing or another. They are the sum of their experiences, actions and intentions. Your intentions can be good, but your thoughts not so much. Your actions can have horrific ramifications even though you were operating from what you thought was a place of charity or purity. I truly loathe the fixed mindset thinking that can’t allow for change in light of new evidence; it makes me sad that we have formed tribes that refuse to see each other as human; and it devastates me that Nora won’t be able to cast her vote in November. 

It was always tradition to watch the Academy Awards together. Last year, Anne made an event of it in Nora’s hospital room. Tonight, we’re hunkering down with Benchley at home to watch the awards - sadder than we want to be. 

Monday 2/10 and Tuesday 2/11

We still get sympathy cards. There is comfort in getting those messages - especially as the weeks turn into months. 

We are also now fully back into the deep throws of work. Anne and I don’t get to have dinner together until Thursday night and I’m so spent by the time I get home that it’s hard to find the time to reflect and write. This morning, I spied a nearly full moon outside of the ceiling window during my morning workout. Is Nora saying hi to me?

“The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”

  • Tahera Mafi

My therapist asked me to revisit the journal from the beginning. There is a sharp turn in writing from the days during her treatment to the days after her death. That seems obvious, of course, but reading it is like the starkest of before and after pictures.


“Good day today. Nora did a ton of art pieces; ate and drank like normal; and decided that it was time to get her head shaved. We just got back from the hair/wig guy. I think she looks beautiful - she is face-timing her closest friends right now to show off her egg-like look. She also has a really nice wig (thank you to the folks who made that possible - you know who you are) - it looks a lot like her regular hair. So she has options. 

Nick's working at Second City tonight - dealing with the holiday audiences. But we will all be home tomorrow for Thanksgiving with Julie, Joe and Jake flying in from Oakland to spend the day and night with us. Anne's got the turkey prepped to go on the grill tomorrow. 

Our friend David sent us an awesome care package from Zabar's; my friend Stephanie sent us some amazing cookies; and we're just so thankful we can be together.”


“Home is a conundrum. It’s both the space that is the most comforting as well as the space where I’m most vulnerable. The back deck and garden are restorative; the kitchen is where Anne is joy incarnate when she cooks; having Nick here in his room brings me an immense source of gratitude. But Nora completed this home. The shut door of her room is an unceasing reminder of our eternal incompletion. My emotional response is that I don’t want to live in a home without her presence. My intellectual and physical self recognizes that I already live in that space. The space without her.”

I was talking to Anne this morning about this and she noted that I’m someone who always operated from a sense of optimism and opportunity, I assumed things would always work out and, for the most part in my life, they did. Even during the enormously difficult moments of Nora’s illness, I never let the thought that things wouldn’t work out linger for more than a fleeting moment. And then, the moment when we knew she wasn’t going to make it to the moment she passed (which was a really short period of time), I faced a true existential despair. You can see and hear it in the writing. 

From the light to the dark, the little details of a living day to the swath of a darker and deeper understanding of this death. Infinite in her unbeing. 

“Life is for the living.

Death is for the dead.

Let life be like music.

And death a note unsaid.”

  • Langston Hughes

Wednesday 2/12

I had two short speaking dates yesterday afternoon for a large advertising/media company. I and representatives from another training group that this company uses, gave a presentation to young leaders to get them invested in our training. There was about an hour and half between the two sessions and as we were sitting at a table talking about families, the three people I was with got on the subject of their kids, how important it is to have siblings and the worry we all have for keeping our kids safe. I looked down at my phone not sure of what to do. When there was a break, I told them about Nora. They were lovely, of course, and grateful that I was willing to share. 

Negotiating these spaces of telling or not telling; wondering who knows and who doesn’t is tricky. I have no interest in being a constant martyr for my loss, but I also think it would be inauthentic not to note that my place in that conversation is coming from a very different place. And it's been my experience that most people do want to know, they do care. 

I didn’t have a great night. I just couldn’t settle my mind. I don’t dream about Nora. In fact, I rarely remember my dreams now - which was not the case before. Another item to take up with Fred at therapy tonight.

Had lunch today with a dear friend who reads all the Caring Bridge updates - which is a funny thing when making conversation because you realize that the other person actually knows what you have been reading, thinking and feeling. The open book aspect of this process has generally been a regenerative one. I know that not everyone could or would want to do this. But it feels natural to me. 

I just started reading “The Innovation Stack” by Jim McKelvey who is the co-founder of Square, the mobile payment company he created with Jack Dorsey. He writes in the book: “Building an Innovation Stack all begins by choosing to solve a problem that nobody has solved before. Squaring up, righting a wrong, or solving and unsolved problem forces you to be creative even if you don’t want to be. That’s OK. Oysters don’t choose to make pearls.” 

And later: “The first step is finding a problem that is perfect for you.”

There is such simple elegance in that idea. 

And too my earlier thought, perhaps my perfect problem right now is me. 

Thursday 2/12

Late yesterday afternoon we had our call with the team from Lurie Children’s Hospital who had reached out through our website to talk about our training programs. None of them were aware of our personal connection to the hospital. The call went great. We’re going to put together a proposal on a variety of workshops that we could pilot with them - while also talking about the greater opportunity to partner to create ongoing training that meets the caregivers where they are. Personally, it was extremely energizing to me to have the opportunity to scale this work within a system that we know too well. 

I had a really productive session with my therapist. Just like my physical training, it’s time for them to push me a bit. I’m ready to challenge my own thinking, explore the things I think I understand about myself and the things I may be blocking. I haven’t stopped grieving - not by a longshot - but I have some strength back. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some unease when I say out loud that I’m doing okay, it can feel as if I’m cheating on my grief. Or, worse, cheating on Nora’s memory. But that’s not what’s happening. She is with me every minute - and it’s not just the necklace with her name that I can feel next to my heart every day, though that’s there too. I’m learning to walk with the loss; I’m learning to grow with the loss; I’m learning to transform and care and love with the loss. 

“A story begins with this nebulous feeling that’s hard to get a hold of and you’re testing your feelings and assumptions, testing what you believe. They end up turning into keepsakes and mementos—like amber in which a memory gets trapped.”

  • Michael Chabon

Friday 2/14

It’s Valentine’s Day,  it’s bitterly cold outside and Anne and I have reservations at Frontera Grill tonight. We haven’t had a Valentine’s Day date out in decades. Yesterday afternoon I got a long-need haircut. I’ve gone to the same stylist, Amy, for over 20 years. The last time I saw her was in June when Nora wasn’t doing so well. She came over to my chair and draped her arms around me and we just cried together for about five minutes. 

This felt like a long, stringy, complicated week that featured a crack of light.

For the first time, I started to feel how I could incorporate the loss, the grief, the trauma - all of it - in living my life presently. I could see it before, but I didn’t feel it. 

The things you do: write proposals, get haircuts, have a date night, plan a trip - in the last year and a half those things were either an impossibility or accomplished within a brutal fog. It’s still not easy and I don’t expect that next week will feel like this week. But I’m holding onto that crack of light: the whisper that I’m okay even when I’m not okay. 

I think part of it is the recognition that even before the terrible thing happened, I - like many of us (all of us?) - was on the thoroughly human quest to understand my perfect place in the world, with the unspoken knowledge that there is no perfect place. The great thinker Danny Kahneman says that he sees the world as a problem he is always trying to solve; Jim McKelvey talks about finding the “perfect problem;” at Second City we offer than one should “see all obstacles as gifts.” My problem isn’t what happened, because it already happened. My problem is how I live my life with intent - taking care of those I love and, maybe even, those I don’t love. Knowing that in the act of caring, the intent is fulfilled. 

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your in the question.”

  • Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I miss you Nora.



Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Last night, Anne mentioned that today is six months since Nora died. As she said, “Kelly says he stopped counting and apparently I’ve started.” 

There’s nothing to do with this information other than to recognize the need to take care of Anne and Nick and myself. To make note of the extra sadness and give myself a reprieve from both little and big things. 

I worked all week on strengthening my shoulders and it’s a good thing that I did, because my trainer focused heavily on that area. I had to do spiderman planks - starting in child pose and keeping low as I moved into a full plank and then back again. My trainer had a tough week as her aunt passed away. I was grateful that we worked on the area where I hold my stress. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and when I got back, Anne was working with two of our colleagues from Second City upstairs on some new curriculum ideas we have - bringing more of the exercises we developed at the University of Chicago into our core work.

I was actually on campus yesterday with my friend Liz and had a truly inspirational meeting with the bias education and support team (BEST). This group both creates programs and responds to bias incidents on campus (not ones that rise to the level of a crime). They are, of course, a very diverse team and as I was leaving the house, Anne told me that she had worked with them when we first held a train the trainer session for our “Hearing One Another” orientation workshop. They told us that over 3000 students have gone through that training. 

I had reached out to this group in response to incidents that had been reported at Second City over the course of the year - mainly customers using racist, homophobic, transphobic language. These incidents would happen both to staff and performers and we wanted to be proactive about finding ways to protect our staff. HR has been running workshops in de-escalation - but I was interested in developing a more expansive program rooted in science. 

The idea right now is to create a program that will educate people on the science of bias - a thing we all have that is neither good or bad - but is a neurological fact of human behavior. But then also show the scientific reasons that bias can turn into good actions or bad actions. From there, we would then provide a toolkit for the things you should do when faced with explicit bias (example: never intervene alone) and various responses when you feel implicit bias is at work. 

One of the team mentioned a recent study that came out which showed that some individuals are incapable of conducting an inner dialogue with themselves. This study was presented at a conference she had just attended and was an example of how someone might be using biased language but be completely unaware of having done so, because they are working out their thoughts while speaking. Some might say this is just saying the quiet things out loud, but this group felt that there could be more nuance at play than we might have previously thought. 

This is such a tricky area - especially on a campus where, as one of them said, “young men and women who have never failed show up on campus and start failing for the first time in their lives and they are totally unequipped to handle it.”

In doing some of my own research, I can’t find a single training program that addresses what to do in your workplace when explicit bias is taking place - emanating from the customers themselves. There are tons of workshops available on implicit bias. But we’ve all seen the reports coming from soccer stadiums and NBA games and incidents that happen in retail and the restaurant industry. I think we can create some powerful work that can help people.

I’m keenly aware of what I’m doing. Psychology Today had an article on this recently:

“One reason behind the positive feelings associated with helping others is that being pro-social reinforces our sense of relatedness to others, thus helping us meet our most basic psychological needs.

Research has found many examples of how doing good, in ways big or small, not only feels good, but also does us good. For instance, the well-being-boosting and depression-lowering benefits of volunteering have been repeatedly documented. As has the sense of meaning and purpose that often accompanies altruistic behavior. Even when it comes to money, spending it on others predicts increases in happiness compared to spending it on ourselves. 

Moreover, there is now neural evidence from fMRI studies suggesting a link between generosity and happiness in the brain. For example, donating money to charitable organizations activates the same (mesolimbic) regions of the brain that respond to monetary rewards or sex. In fact, the mere intent and commitment to generosity can stimulate neural change and make people happier. Recent research suggests yet another way our well-being can benefit from practicing pro-social behavior: helping others regulate their emotions helps us regulate our own emotions, decreases symptoms of depression and ultimately, improves our emotional well-being.”

Although I’ve spent the last few years reading more and doing more research than I’ve ever done in my life, I wish I had thought to enact and embody more of what I was learning before Nora’s diagnoses. I might be wrong, but I feel like it took a tragedy to make me try to be a better human. 

Sunday 2/2

Anne slept a little later than usual, so I started to make my morning hash before she got up. Moving more slowly, I started noticing: the sound of the ice being made in the freezer; the morning light moving from total blackness to creeping grey; and then my eyes settled on all the little notes and pictures that have been stuck on our refrigerator - some for decades. The magnet for O’Fame, a pizza restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore; phone numbers for house cleaners and babysitters we haven’t employed in years, for couples long divorced; a picture of Anne and I with my Mom and Dad; and a colorful birthday card drawn for me by Nora with a note saying “Sorry, no birthday rap this time.”

I know the missing will always be there. I know the ache of what isn’t is a fact of our future. It’s strange to recognize that I don’t wish for a world of un-feeling because that would be a betrayal of the love we have for Nora. All of it so difficult and unforgiving, permanent in its impermanence. 

Yesterday I was doing research for an upcoming podcast with Jennifer Freyd who is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. She coined the acronym DARVO, which perpetrators of violence often use as a strategy in response when accused: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender to confuse and silence their victims. She’s also done work on Institutional Betrayal - when the institutions that we are supposed to trust (schools, churches, the military, government) - act in ways that visit harm upon those dependent on them for safety and well being. In one of her papers, she and her co-author identify the various barriers to change. The first they identify is “lack of language around the issues that continually arise only to be apparently seen for the first time, each time.” Then this:

“Even the most extraordinary example of institutional betrayal, genocide, was once a ‘crime without a name’ until Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish scholar living in Berlin during World War II, coined the term genocide to describe the systematic destruction of Jewish lives and culture he was witnessing during the Holocaust.”

I find it incredible that there was no term for this prior to World War II - when our human history is riddled with one genocide after another. 

But that’s what the trauma can wrought. We don’t name it for fear that it confirms that it happened. 

Words are so important and we are far too casual with them. So many misunderstandings wrest upon different interpretations of the things we are each saying. With that, I think the importance of words needs to walk hand in hand with compassion. We are flawed and will use words incorrectly, insensitively, unknowing - and if we are compassionate, we will work to do better. And if you’re compassionate, you will give me the space and time to do better. The important thing here: we need to do it together.

I miss Nora in this world. I need to name it. But I will try to do better in this world in her name.

Monday 2/3 

This was one of those weird bookend days where I feel sad when I wake up, go to work and get immersed in what I’m doing, have a terrific lunch with a much loved friend, come home and feel sad again. In today’s case, when I got home and got the mail there was a letter to Nora from “Phil’s Place,” a cancer support group with religious overtones that would send her various notes of support - well intentioned, of course - but she found them creepy and I had to email them to take her off their mailing list. They mean well and I appreciate the idea - but we never signed on to this and it’s a good example of when your intentions might be fine, but the actions actually cause more difficulty and stress to people who absolutely don’t need it. 

I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m going to bed. It’s 7pm.

Tuesday 2/4 

“We can never know in the beginning, in giving ourselves to a person, to a work, to a marriage or to a cause, exactly what kind of love we are involved with. When we demand a certain specific kind of reciprocation before the revelation has flowered completely we find ourselves disappointed and bereaved and in that grief may miss the particular form of love that is actually possible but that did not meet our initial and too specific expectations. Feeling bereft we take our identity as one who is disappointed in love, our almost proud disappointment preventing us from seeing the lack of reciprocation from the person or the situation as simply a difficult invitation into a deeper and as yet unrecognizable form of affection.

The act of loving itself, always becomes a path of humble apprenticeship, not only in following its difficult way and discovering its different forms of humility and beautiful abasement but strangely, through its fierce introduction to all its many astonishing and different forms, where we are asked continually and against our will, to give in so many different ways, without knowing exactly, or in what way, when or how, the mysterious gift will be returned.”

  • David Whyte

When I was on the exercise bike the other morning, I just downloaded a bunch of new podcasts that looked interesting - mostly a mix of science and faith oriented programs. The first one I clicked on this morning during my workout contained an interview with David Whyte. Like Robert Macfarlane, Whyte has been a kind of sherpa to my grief journey over the last six months. In many ways, he is one of the “namers” - just like Macfarlane reclaiming the lost words - Whyte is able to say a thing that helps me give expression to my pain. These utterances, the naming - it’s far more sacred than I ever suspected. And it's not static. The naming changes with context and audience, time and space. 

There has been such a crossover in all my worlds with regard to the importance of what we call things: on a personal level, I need to find the words that will help me deal tangibly with my grief; at Second City, we’re trying to create a commonality around the words we use and what we mean when we use them: resilience, agility, collaboration, co-creation, ensemble; and the authors and academics we are talking to - recognizing that one PhD thinks bias means one thing and another PhD thinks bias means something different. 

The work day ended when we discussed a keynote that I would deliver in the spring to a bunch of digital workplace executives. The idea was to explain that we were always pretty bad at communicating before we got all these devices, so we’re not starting at zero in trying to solve for our communication issues - we’re starting at negative 100 at least. 

Anne teaches late tonight, so I picked up the dog from doggy day care. Nora used to come with me and always liked ringing the bell and saying “Pick up for Django” or “Pick up for Benchley.” And then we would scope out all the dogs who were getting trained or picked up. 

When we got home and I got the mail, there was more mail for her - a catalogue. I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know how to stop myself from running through the catalogue of things she loved - Amy’s Candies, Turkey sandwiches from Subway, Broadway - and feel the loss so deep in my bones and blood that I find myself slipping into an abyssal of aching memory. 

As I’m writing - as I’m giving names to what I’m feeling - Benchley punched me with his nose to pet him. And before I could write some more, an email came in that was a solution to a problem that I was worrying about. And before I could write some more, another email came in from someone I deeply admire who is busier than any human being I know, simply checking in on me. Your daily reminder to find your gratitude; stay connected; and love as you want to be loved.

Wednesday 2/5 and Thursday 2/6 

I’ve been a bit stuck in knowing what’s next. I talked with my therapist about this. She had me draw my grief in the days after Nora died and my grief now. The first picture was chaos, sharp scribblings with scattered flicks and little white space. The second picture, my grief now, resembled an EKG - some up and down movement, accented by a handful of sharp increases and decreases with plenty of white space above and below. She asked me to title each picture. I called the first All Consuming Grief and the second Grief All Consumed. 

In the conversation following, I questioned whether I was a reliable narrator of my own story. There is so much literature about how untrustworthy our own stories are, why should I be any different. So she gave me a project, to go back through the Caring Bridge blog and see how my own story has been told - find patterns, contradictions, changes. I have a body of evidence in my own writing that my tell me something about where I was and how I got to where I am not - which, hopefully, can give me a better handle on where I’m going. 

Of course, I might be asking for directions that don’t exist. That simply being where I am right now - attentive, compassionate, curious - will provide the momentum I need to live this one life with meaning in the face of so much loss. 

“The measuring of worth and success in the terms of time, and the insistent demand for assurances of a promising future, make it impossible to live freely both in the present and in the "promising" future when it arrives. For there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.”

  • Alan Watts

There is so much work to do at work and there is so much work to do at me. I’ve come to believe that the work/life balance concept is the wrong way to think about that particular quandary. The person you are should be able to live in all the important ways at work and home and in the world with great similarity. Yes, the context of each place will dictate different actions - but not the vital stuff: moral, ethical, human. Watching what’s happening in our country right now, you realized that talking about your morals and ethics is a very different thing from operating your actions with respect to your morals and ethics. Our leaders are liars and, worse than that, they are perpetuating their greatest fraud on their supporters. They bring harm to the enablers who continue to enable their peril.

I’ve always been interested and participatory in politics, but I need to make a lot more space for myself outside of politics. Both for the toxicity of it at this particular moment and for the more important work at hand in tending to my place in the greater world. 

I so deeply miss Nora. She rarely leaves my mind for a minute.

Friday 2/7 

Another busy day and I have a training session tonight because Jessica isn’t available on Saturday. I have to run right home after that because Anne and I were asked by a journalist to give performance notes tonight on each of the candidates in the New Hampshire debate. 

So this is a short entry. 

I had a meeting yesterday in a colleague’s office and about halfway through the conversation, I realized that she had a picture of Nora on her bookshelf. Michelle from Lurie told me that Nora’s picture still hangs in their breakroom - half a year after she left this world. We, of course, have plenty of family photos on our wall and we’ve kept the framed photo of Anne, Benchley and Nora wrapped in a blanket on the desk near where Anne and I sit each evening reading our books. This was Nora’s birthday gift to Anne. We picked out the photo on my phone in the hospital, went on the Walgreens website and ordered the print and frame. I don’t know the exact timing of the photo, but despite her bald head, Nora’s smile is luminous. Her eyes are all life and kindness and mischief. She is inextricably her. Nora in all her Noraness. 

I love this photo. It brings her forward to me. And it makes me sad. 

“You didn't die you just changed shape

became invisible to the naked eye

became this grief

it's sharpness more real

than your presence was

before you were separate to meentire to yourself

now you are a part of me

you are inside myself

I call you by your new name


although I still call you ‘Love.'”

  • Donall Dempsey


Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 1/25

Last night, Anne and I had an incredible dinner at Flat & Point in Logan Square. They have a 500 gallon smoker and you can see the flames rising out of the open kitchen in the back of the restaurant. We had Charcuterie, Brussels Stroganoff, Winter Squash, and their brisket “like a steak.” The room was warm and the service was excellent. We were happy.

I got up at 5am and had my session with trainer Jessica at 7am. We discovered that I’m still holding a lot of stress in my back and shoulders - so we focused a lot on those areas. 

I’m re-reading my friend Kim Scott’s book “Radical Candor,” as we are taping a podcast that will also be used as additional content for a new digital learning product that we are co-creating with her called “Improvising Radical Candor.” In the preface to the revised edition, she quotes Zen Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax:

“Healthy emotional empathy makes for a more caring world. It can nurture social connections, concern, and insight. But unregulated emotional empathy can be the source of distress and burn out; it can also lead to withdrawal and moral apathy. Empathy is not compassion. Connection, resonance, and concern might not lead to action. But empathy is a component of compassion, and a world without healthy empathy, I believe, is a world devoid of felt connection and puts us all in peril.”

If there’s one concept that I feel was drilled into me when working with social scientists, it’s the idea of self regulation. Here’s a definition of self regulation that I found on a wellness blog:

“Self-regulation can be defined in various ways. In the most basic sense, it involves controlling one's behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses. In other words, to think before acting. It also reflects the ability to cheer yourself up after disappointments and to act in a way consistent with your deepest held values.”

As Halifax notes, it’s to our peril when we fail to find ways to self-regulate - even when life is going along in a mostly normal way. 

Tonight, there is a gathering at Chicago Waldorf to introduce all the elements of “Nora’s Sun and Moon Garden” to the parents. I’m going to say a few words. Anne’s still figuring out if she feels up to going. 

That’s how this works.

We have to let each other grieve as we grieve. We have to pay attention to what the other is saying and isn’t saying. We have self-regulate, in a time of distress and emotional chaos. In between some work around the house and reading, I ran out to the Starbucks in Albany Park. I don’t know what it was, but a surge of emotion swept up in me as I started the short drive back to the house. Maybe it’s because Nora and did that trip so often to the same strip mall that contained the Subway where they knew her order. It hit me and then it went away, as quickly as it came. 

This navigation of one’s own emotional schema - the ever-present drifting from “Am I okay?” to “I think I’m okay” - is taxing to say the least. Knowing that this conflation isn’t going away anytime soon is equally tiring. 

Breath. Be present. Be grateful. Breathe. 

Sunday 1/26

 “I’m pretty sure no one ever committed suicide within 24 hours of singing Handel’s Messiah.” 

  • Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

During my workout, I listened to another interview with Bessel Van Der Kolk this time on the “Finding Mastery” podcast. The host, Dr. Michael Gervais, is a sports psychologist who is on the staff of the Seattle Seahawks. As they were discussing how people hold trauma in their bodies, Gervais asked Van Der Kolk what treatments would he suggest when working with groups. He responded with yoga, play, singing and theatre games. The point was around synchrony as a way to recover and heal our bodies from trauma through interconnectedness - a deep sense of being seen and heard within groups of people. In his book, “The Body Keeps The Score,” he writes:

“One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life. While numbing (or compensatory sensation seeking) may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being fully, sensually alive.” 

Last night’s event at the Chicago Waldorf School was profoundly kinetic. The school is still draped in suns and moons and our girl’s smiling face greets you as you walk through the gate to enter the school and a younger, tree-climbing photo of Nora hangs in the lobby. Anne wasn’t up to attending but did offer to go as support for me, I told her that I was pretty sure I could name four or five women who would surely make sure to take care of me. Of course, that’s exactly what happened the minute I walked in the door. 

I guess it didn’t dawn on me that the sense of urgency on this project isn’t just that the school needs and wants this incredible place of play, discovery and learning - but that the timeline means so much more if we can have this space for the next school year because that’s when Nora’s class will be graduating; because that will be the year anniversary of losing her. I was so overcome as Luke Goodwin talked about this. 

And there is something inside this that speaks to what Van Der Kolk is talking about. This effort on behalf of the school isn’t just about seeing Anne, Nick and I - although it is that - it’s about seeing Nora. And within that, we can feel in our bodies and our brains our connection to her. All of us connected in our school community that has been central to our families life since we became a family and Nick entered early childhood classes at the old campus in Rogers Park.

More and more, I’ve been struck that the source of our ability to move wisely and successfully through the world is when we understand that we operate relationally - we are not alone, truly. Even when someone is gone or far away, we are emotionally connected. In small groups and large groups, there isn’t one thing going on - there are many different and varied understandings, interpretations and actions. Our sadness comes when we consider ourselves closed off from others, when we outgroup ourselves or when others outgroup us. Anne’s talked to me in the past when she has certain students who struggle with their ability to relate to the other students, she says it’s like watching the making of a troll - someone who has trouble relating, is shunned by the rest of the class and turns inward to vent their hurt behind the mask of digital media. 

But the opposite energy seems to be happening here, old friends and new friends are coming together to make this beautiful idea become a reality. The ultimate we.

Monday 1/27

This morning, we woke to an email from nurse Michelle who sent us pictures of the corgi puppy that she will be bringing home in a few weeks. You may remember, she and Nora decided that if it was a boy it was going to be named Carl. But Michelle is getting a girl corgi and she is naming her “Cora.” So perfect.

Around 2pm, I grabbed Anne and we headed over to Lurie. We met Elisha and Jen in the lobby and our room on 16 wasn’t ready yet, so we hung out in some offices on 17 - we had a brief glimpse of some of our nurses, but I didn’t get to go over and say hi. This was Anne’s first time back in the hospital and she was focusing on teaching a workshop. That being said, when we got down to 16 there were many long hugs with the folks who attended that knew us - which was about half the group.

The session went really, really well. I love watching Anne teach and I was able to chime in on the debriefs. The discussions were fascinating - especially when it got around to the various teaching that medical professionals get that offers a less than full human approach to professional caregiving. It is amazing that in literal life and death situations, anyone would think that doctors and nurses need not use that which makes them most human: empathy, connection, love. I think one of the elements that makes our work so powerful is that we are sharing exercises and ideas that show that even the smallest signs of sharing our human selves is enough to create quick bonds. We make ensembles instead of adversaries. We don’t need to share our innermost desires. But by sharing small things: our favorite restaurants, our pets, where we grew up - these details are very interesting to us and when both parties share, everyone wins.

I think we made an impactful first step with this group. 

“Betterment is perpetual labor. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing, and medicine is nowhere spared that reality. To complicate matters, we in medicine are also only human ourselves. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. Yet still, to live as a doctor is to live so that one's life is bound up in others' and in science and in the messy, complicated connection between the two It is to live a life of responsibility. The question then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility. Just by doing this work, one has. The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.”

  • Atul Gawande

Tuesday 1/28

We got sent a copy of a text that one of Nora’s classmates, Grace, sent to her Mom who was one of Nora’s favorite teachers at Waldorf:

“I should acknowledge that this whole conversation with my mother is probably colored by the fact that she is speaking at a playground dedication tomorrow. The playground is being dedicated to Eleanor Leonard, who I knew as Nora. Nora was, all on her own and independent of anyone’s influence, a disciple of the skinned-knee-philosophy. My memories of her involve: wood chips in her hair and stuck to her Hannah Anderson leggings; yelling, often at her older brother, and/or a stuffed pug; and falling, jumping, and rolling over couch cushions in a way that looked equally alarming and joyful. Nora was “born without vanity”, she was a “spitfire” and had a million other qualities that in the gospel of Andrea Shaffer are indispensable. She is being honored with a place for more children to fill their shoes with wood chips and stones, and to learn by falling and rolling and alarming the adults watching them.”

Absolutely perfect description of our girl. 

Yesterday’s workshop, while extremely successful, brought out a lot of emotions afterwards. Anne didn’t sleep great and I really had to push myself to do my morning workout. But I did and I’m glad for it. Today was a busy day at work and I needed to have a semi-clear head. 

Anne and I had an amazing creative session with a couple of our favorite colleagues about crafting a series of robust programs in each of our core learning areas. We’re all passionate about the work and the ideas and, mostly, we just want people to be happier in their work lives.

Wednesday 1/29

“What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. [...] Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.”

  • Douglas Harding

I heard the above passage read on a podcast I was listening to when driving into work this morning. I had not heard of Harding previously, but he was an English writer, mystic and and spiritual teacher who developed a philosophy of no-head - a kind of un-self where who you are cannot be seperate from the universe you are in. He seemed to create some more dimension around the Rumi quote: “Behead yourself! Dissolve your whole body into Vision: become seeing, seeing, seeing!”

I know it’s not surprising that I’m finding myself interested in what it means to be. And just like the re-awakening of my own body, I’m re-awakening the kind of native curiosity that I had in my younger days to find words and meaning for existence itself. 

I had a really wonderful talk with a friend who is doing some very courageous work on herself to reframe her responses, thinking and feeling within some toxic interactions that she can’t avoid. Even though she is in a position where she could walk away, she’s trying first to see if she can change the situation through her own intelligent calmness, her reason and ability to turn down the invitation to engage in being demeaned. I’m very proud of her and it’s another reminder that we all have our shit that we’re dealing with. 

Some interesting news, we got a request for information from a higher up at Lurie Children’s Hospital who doesn’t know that we’ve done work there. This might be a great chance to align our work under an institutional framework rather than just through our champions on floor 17. More to come.

Thursday 1/30

Woke up blue today. Nothing dramatic, no tears. Just blue. 

“I don’t know what they are called, the spaces between seconds– but I think of you always in those intervals.”

  • Salvador Plascencia

I talked to my therapist last night about feeling the distance now and she noted that one difference she noted when looking at my session notes was that in the past few sessions I haven’t cried. The strange thing is that this isn’t comforting. In the absence of tears, guilt creeps in. I can brush it away, but I’d be lying to myself to say I feel guiltless. “Feel” is the operative word here. This isn’t an intellectual argument my brain is making, it’s an emotional response to the trauma I’ve experienced. 

And when the guilt goes away, other emotions show up: anger, pity, envy, fatigue, remorse, heartache. The interesting thing I’m noting as I write these words is that they never stand alone in my mind and body - it’s always a clumsy mix. Thinking back to Douglas Harding, maybe the path isn’t one of self-knowledge, but one of no self - maybe that’s where peace resides.

“Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”

  • Jeffrey Eugenides

Friday 1/31

The end of a week. The end of a month. Another month starting. While I don’t count days anymore, I do measure time without her. We are definitely in a new phase of the grief journey.

My week has been packed at work. I just looked at my calendar for today and I literally have back to back meetings every hour from 9am to 6pm - no breaks other than travel to and from the University of Chicago where we are meeting with one of their teams about developing training for individuals who have to deal with public acts of bias. 

I truly love my work, but I have to protect myself from overload. I still am not back to my best work self - I can’t move as quickly as I used to; I need breaks to regain my focus and breath; and multitasking, which was always a myth anyway, makes things that much worse. I really want to regain the flow state that I was in prior to Nora’s diagnosis. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the psychologist who recognized and named the concept of “Flow.” There are tons of connections between his idea of flow and improvisation. But it also just simply exists when you are putting great effort into something you love to do. He writes:

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

I had to look up some of his work yesterday and I was struck by this line: “Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”

I’m not there yet. I’m trying.


Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 1/18

We just found out early last week that a longtime friend of ours was moving his son into hospice. He’s a young adult and the whole thing is so sad and tragic. There was a last request, to get a copy of a book that hadn’t been released yet by one of his favorite authors. They had done the research of getting the author’s agent and assistant’s email addresses. So I crafted a note, explaining who I was, the situation at hand and I told them of our own experience with Nora and how we tried to create little miracles that might keep her spirits up. 

They got back to me immediately and said that galleys hadn’t been made yet, but they would contact the publisher and see if they could help. I got a message on Friday morning from them saying that they were so sorry, but the publisher couldn’t help. I forwarded the information and then went into WGN to do a podcast taping. When I got out of the taping, there was a note from the agent:  the author heard what was going on and he asked them to forward his own electronic version of the manuscript - we just couldn’t tell anyone. When I finished reading this amazing message, I looked at my other messages and there was one from our friend thanking us for trying anyway. 

With tears in my eyes, I forwarded the new email that included the manuscript. 

What a way to end a week. 

It snowed last night and rained this morning, so I had a pre-trainer workout by shoveling heavy, wet snow. Again, Jessica amped up the workout. But I felt good afterwards. 

I went to the jewelry store in Lincoln Square to pick up the necklace I had ordered. When Rebecca made the Nora moon bracelet for Anne, she asked if I wanted her first test version. So I have a Nora symbol hanging on my chest near my heart now. 

Anne’s making chicken stock and I finished the book for my next podcast taping. It’s called “Restoring the Soul of Business” by Rishad Tobacaccowala. He is the Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe and a Chicagoan. He has an entire chapter on why art is important to business. He writes:

“Just about every organization communicates to its employees this truth: We are living in transformational times - times when people are empowered, things move fast, and the biggest opportunities and threats often arise from outside the category and traditional competition. It was not Schick or Gillette that hurt each other but Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. It wasn’t GM versus Ford versus Mercedes but Tesla and Uber versus all the established automakers. 

Given this environment, winning companies re-create themselves. They need to reimagine possibilities. They need to connect things in new ways to remain relevant. All of this requires innovation, and art fosters all the elements of innovation - re-creating, reimagining, connecting in new ways.” 

It’s so quiet in the house. I know Anne doesn’t mind it, but I put on a playlist just to create a touch of gentle noise. 

Since I finished my work reading, I cracked open a book of Mary Oliver poems that our friend Abby sent us. One of the first poems I read just felt so rich:

I Happened To Be Standing

I don’t know where prayers go,

  or what they do.

Do cats pray, while they sleep

  Half-asleep in the sun?

Does the opossum pray as it

  crosses the street?

The sunflowers? The old black oak

  growing older every year?

I know I can walk through the world,

  along the shore or under the trees,

with my mind filled with things

  of little importance, in full

self-attendance. A condition I can’t really

  call being alive.

Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,

  or does it matter?

The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.

Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing

just outside my door, with my notebook open,

which is the way I begin every morning.

Then a wren in the privet began to sing. 

He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,

I don’t know why. And yet, why not.

I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe

or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.

But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be

  if it isn’t prayer?

So I just listened, my pen in the air.

  • Mary Oliver

Sunday 1/19

The space where I work out each morning faces the glass sliding doors that look out over the Francisco El stop. Right next to the window is the cubby area where we keep all the various board games we’ve collected over the years. Between the cubby and glass doors is the wall where we would measure Nick and Nora every year and note their height in pencil. I look at it from a few feet away every single morning. Not wearing my glasses, I can’t make out the dates or names or feet and inches. I also haven’t moved closer to read the information on the wall. I don’t know why this is, but the fact of it - and my daily morning encounter - offers the strangest mixture of joy and grief. 

One of the grief journals I follow expresses it this way:

“Grief and Joy collide! The tears flow even as laughter fills my soul. The heartache never leaves, but joy is here in its midst. Grief and Joy are intertwined, they coexist in my moment to moment.”

Another blog from a woman who lost her daughter talks about this new mingling of seemingly opposite emotions:

“In our western culture it’s difficult for us to sit in the emotions of pain and joy for both the one grieving and the one watching another grieve. We like things to be more streamlined, more comfortable, more understandable. Today I feel happy. Today I feel sad. But for the one who grieves, those emotions are back and forth and often happening in the same moments, or even the same breaths. I can make much more sense of my emotions when they are not such a jumbled mess. But grief is jumbled and messy.

Before I lost a child, I didn’t understand the collision of such intense emotions, I truthfully had never experienced them so frighteningly close together and at the same time. Most of my life had been fairly easy. At a wedding, or a bridal shower, at a baby shower or finding out someone was pregnant I felt mostly joy. Even when I was single and longed to be married, finding out someone else was getting married didn’t evoke the same kind of intense emotions that surfaced when I would find out someone was having a baby after losing mine.

Joy and sorrow go together.

Of course, I didn’t wish loss on anyone, I didn’t wish that someone would have to endure the pain of knowing their child would die, I just wished I hadn’t lost my child. Today, several years later, it is more the other milestones I watch my friend’s children experience that are reminders –sometimes glaringly, other times more subtle–of the milestones I’m missing. They are the emotions that arise in the ones who have walked through suffering and they are the emotions of those who recognize that we live in a world where joy and sorrow are constantly colliding.”

I literally just experienced this. I was typing this out, feeling so low and weighted, when my phone rang and it was Nick calling from his girlfriend’s house in New York. His cousin Ross got him house seats (sixth row, center) to see David Byrne’s “American Utopia” on Broadway last night. There was such joy in his voice as he talked me through the concert and song list - as well as the meal they shared with Ross before the show at a great Vietnamese restaurant. There are few things more comforting than experiencing the happiness of your child. Which, of course, means the opposite is also true. 

Monday 1/19

I’m reading “Dare to Inspire” by Allison Holzer, Sandra Spataro and Jen Grace Baron. Allison will be on the podcast next week. The authors examine the science around inspiration - I say “around” because there doesn’t seem to be very much specific research on “inspiration.” I just got to a section that talks about experiencing grief, loss, or failure.

“When channeled properly, loss or failure can be a source of inspiration. In some ways, it is counter intuitive, even off-putting, to think of grief, loss, or failure as being inspiring. Yet, in many of our interviews people mentioned these as sources of inspiration to them when the difficult emotions that ensued were channeled properly and held close - but not too close. When people make constructive meaning out of their grief or loss, it can then inspire them to take action in meaningful ways.” 

I feel this. 

Losing Nora has made me want to be a better human; it’s pushed me to want to help families and caregivers with skills building to better guide their caregiving experience; and now it manifests itself in working to fund raise and build “Nora’s Sun and Moon Park” at the Chicago Waldorf School. 

In other sections of the book, the author’s talk about inspiration that arises out of being vulnerable, out of sharing experiences with large groups of people, within one’s connecting to nature and creatives spaces that push them out of their comfort zone. 

All of this rings true from my experiences and the literature I’ve read to support these ideas scientifically. 

And this quote from psychologist Susan David: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

When I’m feeling low, it’s usually when I’m dwelling on the past or the future; or ruminating on what isn’t here - what has been taken away. The essential unfairness. In really uncharitable moments, I’ll look upon someone who exhibits monstrous behavior and ask myself why they couldn’t have been hurt this way. Understanding that these feelings are natural helps me reframe them as unnecessary. They are unnecessary to my healing and they are unnecessary as a way to live with purpose, meaning and intent. 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

  • Martin Luther King Jr.

 Darkness is only driven out with light, not more darkness. 

  • Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday 1/21

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

  • Joan Didion

The Joan Didion quote that I came across this morning in a book I’m reading seemed particularly resonant on a day where I woke up just so sad. Even working out didn’t break me of the gloom. I had a busy day at work, so I could distract myself that way. But my interior monologue was one of a depressed present and an empty future. So I had to work very hard to replace that narrative with one that connected me to a vibrant present and a future filled with meaning-making. 

I’m realizing that seeing all the beautiful photos of Nora’s friends turning 17 on social media is playing a role in my melancholy. I don’t for a minute begrudge anyone for this and, in fact, the pictures also represent the good things I need to be reminded of - so I don’t want anyone to feel bad about it. But Nora will be forever frozen at that age in my mind and that’s not a thing I can un-feel. 

So today just felt off. I was very aware of the chain and Nora moon medallion against my chest. Sometimes I press it when my mind drifts to her.  

Anne teaches until 7pm on Tuesdays this semester, so after I got Benchley from doggy day care, I got home and there was a letter from Lurie Children’s Hospital. Because so many people donated to Lurie in her name, they are offering us to have Nora’s name included on the 12th floor on their Gifts of Love wall. 

It’s lovely, of course. It’s sad, of course. 

I guess today was a day when I needed to feel all of it. 

“Death has its revelations: the great sorrows which open the heart open the mind as well; light comes to us with our grief. As for me, I have faith; I believe in a future life. How could I do otherwise? My daughter was a soul; I saw this soul. I touched it, so to speak.”

  • Victor Hugo

Wednesday 1/22

“It's the same struggle for each of us, and the same path out: the utterly simple, infinitely wise ultimately defiant act of loving one thing and then another, loving our way back to life... Maybe being perfectly happy is not really the point. Maybe that is only some modern American dream of the point, while the truer measure of humanity is the distance we must travel in our lives, time and again, "twixt two extremes of passion--joy and grief," as Shakespeare put it. However much I've lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love. And I can look for safety in giving myself away to the world's least losable things.”

  • Barbara Kingsolver

I’m glad I have therapy today. Last night I broke down and this morning I think I was beating myself up again for being so sad. I had a fascinating conversation with a Toronto-based academic yesterday afternoon who was a corporate executive that went through improv training, quit his job and got a PhD - looking to bridge the worlds of improvisation and academia. 

More broadly, he believes that the arts should be considered an indispensable tool in how we teach and understand human interactions. He suggested I look up the work of Erving Goffman who wrote a book in 1959 called “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” Ashley Crossman writing in a social sciences blog describes it this way:

“According to Goffman, social interaction may be likened to a theater, and people in everyday life to actors on a stage, each playing a variety of roles. The audience consists of other individuals who observe the role-playing and react to the performances. In social interaction, like in theatrical performances, there is a 'front stage' region where the actors are on stage before an audience, and their consciousness of that audience and the audience's expectations for the role they should play influence the actor's behavior. There is also a back region, or 'backstage,' where individuals can relax, be themselves, and the role or identity that they play when they are in front of others.”

I think, for me, there’s very little difference between my onstage performance and my backstage performance. I don’t know if that’s always been true, but it feels true right now. My Dad was like this. There was very little difference in Roy Leonard at the dinner table and Roy Leonard behind the microphone at WGN radio. There’s pro’s and con’s to this, but I’ve seen more advantages than disadvantages. Mostly, I’m able to have more authentic conversations because people really do pick up when others are “performing” for them rather than openly and generously listening and responding. This morning, I had two colleagues who I could talk to about feeling sad and they really helped me feel seen and heard. 

I’m doing a 45 minute opening keynote tomorrow morning for a foundation that supports oncology teams at a bunch of Chicago area hospitals. It was going to be a 15 minute talk, but during over conversations they became more interested in sharing some of the exercises we have used or will be using in that space.

This will be the longest, solo keynote I’ve done since Nora died, so I’m more apprehensive than normal. But these are the people who need to hear these stories and who can make a difference in re-humanizing the many faces of medicine.

I was trying to think on how I end this talk and I came upon something like this: 

Meaning is made in moments. And improvisation provides practice in filling our moments in meaning. 

Thursday 1/23

I presented the keynote at the Ace hotel this morning. There were representatives from Lurie, Northwestern, Rush, Advocate, University of Chicago. A few minutes before it started, I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was our oncologist Jen from Lurie. So that was a welcome face to see in the room. 

I think it went well. We talked about improv, science and how we need to practice better ways to listen and hear each other, see each other and create ensembles that serve each other in order to serve patients and their families. 

Only a few people knew what I was going to talk about, so I think the element of surprise helped grab the skeptics early and there seemed to be consensus after we ran through each exercise - we can do better and we need to do better. 

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of meetings and work sessions. I’m feeling so spent.

Right foot, left foot.

Friday 1/24

We got the news last night that our colleague’s son passed away yesterday afternoon. His name is Morgan. Please say a prayer and say his name out loud.

“There are no words, not in English, Spanish, Arabic, or Hebrew, that have been invented to explain what it’s like to lose a child. The nightmarish heartache of it. The unexplainable trepidation that follows. No mother loses a child without believing she failed as a parent. No father loses a child without believing he failed to protect his family from pain. The child may be gone, but the years the child were meant to live remain behind, solid in the mind like an aging ghost. The birthdays, the holidays, the last days of school—they all remain, circled in red lipstick on a calendar nailed to the wall. A constant shadow that grows, even in the dark. As I was saying…there are no words.”

  • D.E. Eliot

In reflecting on yesterday, I had numerous conversations with people who are hurting, scared and unmoored. Maybe the cultural reframe we need to make is to recognize that those feelings are actually the norm. They are not an aberration, nor an anomaly. For most of us, our natural state isn’t a settled one. We don’t all live inside a perpetual state of sadness, but for many of us we are sadness-adjacent - a place near a gloom that is always lingering. 

If we’re not sad, we’re scared. Scared that we’re not doing enough or that we’re doing too much; scared for our families; scared for our nation; scared for ourselves.

“How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn't they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for a little while? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise?”

  • Don DeLillo

It’s been a hard week, but it’s been a good week. Work got done. We talked to Nick last night on the phone and he was in a great mood. Anne made progress on her book. And a bunch of us took care of each other. I think that’s how we do this. We take care of each other.

Miss you, Nora.



Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.”

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez

By the time I post this, we will have announced “Nora’s Sun and Moon Park.” It has been an extraordinary experience - bittersweet and powerful. Here’s how this happened:

Heidi Stevens at the Chicago Tribune read my post about wishing for a place - not a graveyard - where we can put Nora’s ashes and celebrate her eternal spirit. She saw some exchanges between Mark Miller and I about this idea and asked if she could write about it. After the article appeared, we received dozens of messages - most from strangers - with their own ideas, thoughts and experiences. 

And then I got a call from Becky Moskowitz at Chicago Waldorf. They had been planning the new outdoor space that the school was going to build and at a meeting that week, a number of the folks on the committee brought up the article. Anne and I were invited to meet with Dana Hegedorn at Chicago Waldorf to talk about the project. Dana’s office walls were covered in drawings and photographs - inspiration for all the elements of the outdoor space that they were considering: firepits, gardens, walking paths, climbing trees. As she was showing us the preliminary plans, Anne nudged me to look at the book on her desk. It was “The Lost Words” by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this book, but it is a book of poems and art that was created in response to the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The editors dropped around forty common names. The dropped words included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher and willow. The “spell book” conjures back twenty of these words. 

They had been using the book as inspiration for the park. We had been using the book as solace for ourselves. 

“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed - fading away like water on stone. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: actor, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker - gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren - all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories.”

And then, each word is conjured in art and poetry:


As flake is to blizzard, as

Curve is to sphere, as knot is to net,

One is to many, as coin is to money, as

   Bird is to flock, as

Rock is to mountain, as drop is to fountain, as

  Spring is to river, as glint is to glitter, as

Near is to far, as wind is to weather, as

  feather is to flight, as light is to star, as

  Kindness is to good, so acorn is to wood.

Dana asked if we would consider the use of Nora’s name for the park. I honestly don’t remember if we said yes right away or the next day. The idea that Nora’s spirit park would be the playground at her school is more sadly and sweetly perfect than possible. The fact that her first home was just around the corner on Paulina - the place where we brought her home as a baby to sleep in the crib in her big brother Nick’s closet - was another element that felt right.

We started working with Becky and Dana on language to talk about this idea with the faculty. As I started drafting some words, I must have said something to Becky about which element of the park seemed most appropriate for Nora’s name to be attached and she said, “Kelly, I don’t think you understand the scope of what we’re talking about - we want the whole park to be named after Nora.” 

This is what I first wrote when we were still playing around with the name and what was presented to the faculty:

“Chicago Waldorf Playscape - Nora’s Playscape

This space is a transformative opportunity for the whole Chicago Waldorf Community - students, faculty, parents, alumni, the Andersonville community and those members of our community who are no longer with us. 

Many areas to play, perform, teach and learn, commune and - most importantly - connect. At the heart of our community is this connection. We connect to the past, present and future. We connect with each other. 

Nora Leonard was wholly and wildly representative of all of this. She was the early childhood student in her green headscarf exploring and experiencing the very nature of our earth: the dirt and the water, the path finding and path making; she was the early grade school student struggling to find the artist that she would later become and beginning to add a bit of risk to her play; she was the older grade school student who excelled in sports and performance - learning to share her unique voice while thoroughly embedded in team and ensemble.

And as a high schooler, she helped push the school from Rogers Park to Andersonville. She was only able to visit the new campus for a few weeks at a time - enough to give a final performance on stage. But she has more performances to give. 

Nora’s Playscape allows us not only remember Nora and all of those from the Waldorf Community that we have lost, it allows us to commune and connect with them on a daily basis, in a space that finally allows us to complete the Chicago Waldorf curriculum.”

After the meeting, Becky and Dana told us that they wanted every single faculty member to verbally say yes or no to whether they wanted to do this. Every single person voiced their yes, many through tears. 

The name came about in one of our meetings with the designers. Anne brought up an idea of creating a moon garden: a green space where there are many moons - some hidden, some obvious, some high in trees, some underground. And she had the idea that every graduating class from Waldorf would plant a new moon in the garden. We knew the space would be eternal - night and day - so we settled on “Nora’s Sun and Moon Park.”

I’m writing this on Saturday morning around 10:30am. I was up and out by 6:45am to get to my 7am training session. The wind had blown dozens of branches from their trees over night and a mist of icy rain was whipping itself into my face. Jessica pushed me harder than ever and mentioned that she has many clients who only workout with her once a week and they get frustrated because they don’t see or feel a difference in her bodies. She said it was gratifying for her that I push myself every single day, because I have made significant progress in my balance and power. 

So, after I got home and made bacon, I sat down to recount this story. It still makes me well up when I recount it. And while the wind is still thrashing outside, I’m hearing the clank of a bell, over and over - from just outside the kitchen window. I had completely forgotten that I had put the wind chime that a friend had sent us, on the hook outside our back door. The bell has an inscription on it: “Nora Forever.”

Hi, Nora.

I love you. 

Sunday 1/12

I just downloaded the “Making Sense” podcast with Sam Harris and decided to listen to his conversation with Richard Dawkins during my morning workout. The only thing I know about Dawkins is that he’s a British public intellectual who is a strident atheist and who exhibits behavior of language that some people find problematic. 

20 minutes into the conversation, I realized I had no idea what they were talking about. 

The conversation seemed to be about evolutionary biology; Darwin’s name came up a bunch; Dawkins invented the term “Meme,” but not at all for the way that American popular culture has appropriated the term; there was discussion of a gene-centered view of evolution and natural selection. 

This is not a branch of science that I am well-read in and, as Anne put it, I simply don’t have a schema to engage with what they were saying.

Thinking back on the few classes in natural science that I had in school, I recall them as being very hard for me and they made me feel dumb. Other than English classes, I wasn’t a particularly good student in grade school. It wasn’t until my junior year of High School that two of my teachers saw something in me that others didn’t. They literally pulled me out of my regular class structure and designed a handful of special courses for me that I did tutorial style with each of them. A similar thing happened in college and I was basically a straight A student from then on (Nick just got his grades for his latest semester and he got straight A’s).

But I have a very strong sense memory of the time before my junior year and how I felt that I just wasn’t as smart as the other kids. And the thing one does when they feel dumb, often, is to retreat, recoil and reject; find a group of kids like you and make a badge of your supposed ignorance. 

I honestly think this is one of the major issues at play in our world today. With the Internet of things, AI, globalism, it is simply impossible to be intellectually proficient in every area of science, art, politics, economics, history, etc…

But all those talking heads screaming about what’s true and not true on our media devices are pretending to have some key to all the information in the world - a Rosetta Stone of understanding that is unavailable to the rest of us. When the simple fact is that they are afraid of the shame at what they don’t understand. 

Retreat, recoil and reject. 

Anne and I had a lovely dinner last night with friends and on our way home, she said something about the fact that it’s been six months since her daughter died. I stumbled a bit in my mind. Has it been six months? I counted, just about. That’s both not a long amount of time and it’s also almost half a year. And what have I learned?

I learned that I was much stronger than I thought I was - in all the ways: physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I learned that we underestimate the goodwill of humanity and we overestimate concepts like good and evil to our detriment as a species.

I learned that you need to ask for help when you need help.

I learned that living with a mindset of gratitude is just as important as living with a growth mindset. 

I learned that science doesn’t fix everything, doesn’t explain everything, but is still a worthy pursuit. 

I learned about loss.

I learned about grief.

I am learning about me in relationship to you.

“I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.”

  • Richard P. Feynman

Monday 1/13 and Tuesday 1/14

Anne and I worked on our remarks for tomorrow’s assembly and we worked on the language for the upcoming workshop at Lurie Children’s Hospital. The plan is to teach three games to a select group of staff that they can then teach to other staff, patients and their families. We are creating cards that they will get after the workshop that re-explain the rules of the game on one side and the tie back to what the games are for on the other side. Here is a draft example of one of the cards:

The Game: Universal/Unique

(Front of card) How to Play:  1) Get into a team of two and face each other 2) Pick a topic from this list: grocery shopping, getting ready in the morning, celebrating a birthday, and doing laundry.  3) One person explains how “people” do this activity for about one minute. When you play this first round, use the generic “you”. Ex: “You get in the car and you drive to the grocery store… .” 4) That person then takes another minute to explain how they personally grocery shop. Ex: “I go up and down every aisle of the supermarket slowly.” or “I run into 7-11 and grab bread and peanut butter.” 5) The other member of the team picks a new topic and does both the universal and unique versions of it.  

To talk about afterwards: What surprised you in this game? What did you learn about each other? How did it feel to share this information? Did you find yourselves wanting to share more information about yourself after the unique round?

Variation: You can do this game in a small circle and take turns if you have a small group.

(Back of card) There is scientific evidence that individuals hold back personal information because they think others don’t care when the opposite is true. When we share specific details from our life, we are faster to form strong connections with other people that can result in deeper and more productive relationships.

In Nora’s space, we made sure that every caregiver who came into the room knew a few important details about Nora: her dog, her school, the television shows or music that she liked. Parents and siblings can share information like this as well. You are building an ensemble with your caregivers and they want to know about you. Your care will only get better the more you are truly seen.


We got a visit for our favorite CNA, Kendra, yesterday. It was good to reminisce with her about Nora and while not betraying their private conversations, she did tell me that they would talk about how much she loved her family and knew how lucky she was that we all had each other. Kendra didn’t grow up in the same kind of household and the contrast was bittersweet. 

Monday night was The Second City Holiday Party and I made a short appearance, but couldn’t handle it. I’m still having trouble with big crowds - which gives me some concern about Thursday night’s event for the Rizzo Foundation. But everyone whose working on the event has been very gracious and offered that if I have to bail I can bail. 

I’m not as down as last week, but I’m still not great. 

The cold grey of Chicago doesn’t help. Looking at the calendar and staring at a new year that will be unfolding, a new year without her in it creates such an ardor of melancholy. I have to remind myself in mantra-like manner to be grateful to have had her, to be grateful to remember her and to be grateful to let my love for her make me a more loving human to everyone else. Looking for the gift in this is to be changed for the better in the wake of her light and her love.

“Whenever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be. Lover or enemy, mother or friend, those who know us construct us, and their several knowings slant the different facets of our characters like diamond-cutter's tools. Each such loss is a step leading to the grave, where all versions blend and end.”

  • Salman Rushdie

Wednesday 1/15

My morning routine includes stepping into the kitchen and saying “Alexa, play WBEZ Chicago.” As I was making coffee, they started playing Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.” One of Nora’s birthday gifts in July was orchestrated by my booking agent friends in Michigan, who got Janis Ian to send Nora a long note about writing that song and her own bout with cancer. Nora hadn’t heard the song before, but for people my age, that song is iconic. I couldn’t help but think of Nora being seventeen forever. 

It was especially prophetic to hear that song as we left the house at 9am to go to Chicago Waldorf for the announcement of “Nora’s Sun and Moon Park.” When we arrived, we saw that all the grades had created sun and moon art that was hanging from the ceiling and walls - beautiful mobiles, drawings, and more. The auditorium featured a giant moon as the backdrop. Carol, Luke and Andrea had beautiful words; Anne and I spoke; and the vocal ensemble performed a beautiful version of “Sweet Child of Mine.” 

There were a lot of tears, but it was a beautiful and powerful event and now we are on our way to raise funds so that we can start work in the summer to build the park. If you can help, please do:

I’m typing this out at the Golden Nugget an hour before therapy. Anne and Nick are headed to Logan Square for Indian food - Nick heads east tomorrow to New York to start the trek for his final semester of college. 

I’m drained right now - not all in a bad way - but drained nonetheless. Carol had beautiful things to say about remembering - which is our deed now; it’s our promise and Nora demands it. 

“The good and the beautiful is not forgotten; it lives in legend and in song.”

  • Hans Christian Anderson 

Thursday 1/16

Anne drove Nick to the airport today. Apparently, as they were locking the front door, the saddest Bernese Mountain Dog in the world peered at them. We’re happy to have Nick return to his friends and final semester of college, but, of course, the house gets very quiet without him. 

I’m tired today. Yesterday was a lot of emotional work and it took a toll. Work is busy and that’s a good distraction, but when I take a moment to breathe, I can feel the weariness of remembering.

About mid-day, Heidi Stevens piece came out in the Tribune. It’s beautiful and she’s been such an angel throughout all of this.

We’re working on a project at Second City that deals with inequity in the health space. It’s brought up some fascinating, frustrating and difficult conversations. We have a very hard time talking about race in this country. My friend Liz gave me a book called “Conflict Is Not Abuse” by Sarah Schulman, in it she writes:

“As Will Burton says, “pain has a story, a narrative,” and knowing it reveals human complexity which is an invitation to decency. When we try to understand, we discover causes, origins, and consequences about each other and ourselves.”


“Without conversation, it is the person with the most limitations who is in control. The desirable goal for all of us is not to restrict those who can, but to bring more communication skills to those who can’t. Refusal through email, texting, and other technologies keeps the person who doesn’t know how to problem-solve from learning how. It keeps them imprisoned in their own imagined negative fears about the other, and their fantasies of their own potential humiliation or demise if they were to talk to the other person and thereby understand what the other person is thinking and feeling.”

These are pleas for staying in conversation, which holds a weariness of its own. One of the gifts you can receive from a devastating loss is to become unburdened by the fear of your own truth. It allows you some space to connect with others whose truth well may include some devastation as well. It shouldn’t take a loss like this to produce this result. We run from the difficult conversation - I’ve spent most of my life doing just that. I’m going to try to not do that anymore. Especially if I can take that difficult conversation as “ invitation to decency.” Imagine a world where we all did that?

Friday 1/17

About six years ago, one of my colleagues asked me if we’d be willing to donate Second City’s time to help provide entertainment for Anthony Rizzo’s foundation. Essentially, I said that they could do it under Second City’s name and work directly with the foundation. I could never have imagined that I would come to rely on that same foundation to help us when Nora got sick. Last night they had their annual fundraiser at Tao (formerly Excalibur, formerly Limelight) in Chicago. There was stand up and improv and a bunch of the players got on stage to play various improv games - it was a lot of fun. I was asked to give a short speech about my personal experience with the foundation.

In all honesty, I was pretty apprehensive about going up after a bunch of comedy scenes in a nightclub where people were drinking and having fun talking about the most vulnerable and tragic thing in my life. But, they listened. And after I left the stage, Anthony Rizzo came over and gave me a big hug. Nora would have loved that. The last Cubs game I went to with her, Anthony Rizzo led off the game with a home run. I will never forget Nora jumping up and down with the biggest smile on her face. Magic happened. 

This has been a week.

Nick is back at school and Anne and I will readjust to the quieter house where our giant dog will demand much petting. We’re both swamped at work which is mostly a good thing. 

This living requires us to regard the significance of moments. In the ferment of loss, it’s easier to become unmoored to the moment and dwell in existential distress. The opposite is better. To make every interaction mean something; to take the time to look at the sky and feel the earth under your feet; to feel wonder and awe in the simple act of being. We spend so much of our time trying to find meaning when meaning is ours to make. This isn’t easy to do. It fights the way our minds want to work. It takes practice. We don’t think about practicing life but who masters any skill without practice. I miss Nora so much. Living better is a way to remember her.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.”

  • William Blake


Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

We are building Nora's Spirit Park and we need your help. Please donate if you can. Please post and pass onto others. We can make the happen but we need to raise some real money to create a space named after Nora but for everyone.

I'll share more in the coming days, but we are honored and excited to begin this journey with our beloved Waldorf family.

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

After my training session, I started taking down all the Christmas decorations. Anne and Nick helped get the tree out the back door and by 1pm, all traces of the holiday were gone - save for the stick of pine tar on my hands and the pine needles that inevitably show up for weeks after you thought that you had swept and vacuumed all of them up. 

We made it through the holidays. 

This was by far, of course, the heaviest and most introspective holiday I’ve ever experienced. The intensity was not always a bad thing. When I could step outside the weight, I felt a kind of existential connectedness. I could machinate joyousness. 

But today, with the Christmas lights boxed up and stowed away, I feel the familiar burn of sorrow in my lungs and my chest. Nora’s not coming back. Not ever. And just typing those words… overwhelms, stabs, suffocates with woe.

Around 5pm, we headed out to meet the Page family at the Duck Inn on Eleanor Street in Bridgeport. This was a restorative meal. Not only was the food incredible, we got to catch up with Emily, Mitzi and Tom. Our friend Becky knows the owner and he came over to say hi and totell us that Becky had bought our deserts for us. 

The truth is that you just have to push on. You feel what you feel; you don’t ignore the reality; but you push on. 

I’m interviewing Dr. Kathleen Smith next week, her book is called “Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety and Finally Calm Down.” While I don’t have anxiety, exactly, I think her ideas on managing anxiety are applicable to other psychological states:

“Our society treats anxiety like it’s a tumor. We want to cut it out, starve it, or shrink it into oblivion...But in today’s world, we know how much stressful events are out of our control. Your anxiety is a fellow passenger in the journey of life, so you might as well get to know this annoying sidekick. I like to think of anxiety as a smoke alarm. It’s annoying but also important. A smoke alarm is designed to protect me from danger, but sometimes it will go off when I’m cooking and there’s no real danger.” 

Credence to your sadness but belief in your ability to make meaning in the world as it is. Enjoying food and friends and missing her so, all of it tied up in your brain and your bones. 


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

  • W.S. Merwin

Sunday 1/5 

“And I, Richard, believe that even when we or someone we love does die, life has not ended; it is merely transformed. It takes great humility to admit we have suffered through this kind of darkness, because it often sounds like a loss of faith to those who have not endured it. But when everything we thought we knew has turned to “nada,” in the language of John of the Cross, we actually become more loving and compassionate human beings, for we no longer rely on our own light but upon the Light of the world living within us.”

  • Richard Rohr

My friend Kathy forwarded the above quote to me a couple of days ago, but I just read it today. Fitting for a Sunday morning when much of the world is going to places of worship. This experience has not made me yearn for a specific faith tradition, but it has re-opened a kind of spiritual wandering that began around the time I was Nora’s age. I would read The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, The Tales of the Hasidim, The I Ching. I’m just remembering that for my birthday (18, 19?) I asked for The New Jerusalem Bible and my parents bought it for me. Those books still sit on a bookshelf next to our books of poetry and philosophy. 

On the Haute Hijab blog, a guest contributor wrote about Islamic perspectives on grief. She had lost her two year old daughter and she writes:

“One of the interesting things about losing a loved one is that in its immediate aftermath, you start to see life and its transience in sharp focus. You no longer focus on the little things and realize what really matters – your own health, your family, your friends, community, etc. For me, a lightbulb went off in my head and my body screamed for me to press pause. I had been running on autopilot, commuting long hours to a job I hated, not taking time for myself or my health. The silver lining one can take during their grief is that he or she gets a deeper appreciation for Allah (S)'s immeasurable power. One day, someone that you've gone your whole life seeing is suddenly gone in an instant. It really humbles you and you suddenly feel very small in an expansive universe.”

In looking at other faith-based writings on grief, there is a similar thread that runs through each:

“I came to realize that the book on mourning was in part an instruction manual not on confronting death, but on experiencing life deeply.”

  • Beth Freishtat from “Death, Grief and Consolation: My Jewish Learning.”

“Like dying, grieving has its phases, and it is important to pass through them.

Similar to the phases of dying, grief can be characterized by numbness and denial, anger, great sorrow, depression, despair and confusion. Finally, there can be acceptance and even transcendence as sorrow has opened the door of appreciation and compassion. These phases are similar to those experienced in a rite of passage: separation, transition, return.”

  • Roshi Joan Halifax from “A Buddhist Perspective On Grieving.”

“Mindful of St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, whether we are wealthy or poor, ill or well, live a long or short life, God reaches out to draw us closer through every aspect of our lives. In that spirit, I am aware of a profound gratitude for all the good that has come into my life because of the journeys I was privileged to share with my friends.

Nouwen asks: “Isn’t ‘sending the Spirit’ the best expression for not leaving those you love alone but offering them a new bond, deeper than the bond that existed in life? Doesn’t ‘dying for others’ mean dying so that others can continue to live, strengthened by the Spirit of our love?” The real question before our death, then is not, How much can I still accomplish, or How much influence can I still exert? but, How can I live so that I can continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends?

That question shifts our attention from doing to being. Our doing brings success, but our being bears fruit” (pp. 37–41).

In this season celebrating the mystery of Paschal joy, in my dying as well as my living, how might I shift my attention from “doing” to “being”?”

  • Jenene Francis from “Jesuit Prayer.”

I’m reflecting on something my friend Isabel said about last week’s post - that doing something isn’t necessarily always better than doing nothing. She’s right. The shift in our attention from “doing to being” imbues our actions with wisdom, gratitude and a loving heart. 

Dr. Smith puts this in another context: “...It’s much more effective to have principles guiding you rather than outcomes you might not be able to control. Goals tell you why you’re working, but principles tell you how to approach each day and each monster.”

I took Benchley for a walk around 5pm and Patty Griffin’s cover of “Ruby’s Arms” by Tom Waits came on my mix and I couldn’t hold back the tears. This is what this is.

Monday 1/6 

More of the bad stuff this morning. It felt like a bleak weight was hanging on me. Usually working out helps, but that was only temporary. Because I had a busy workday, I had the emotional distance by noon or so to think about what was at play - other than the obvious.

I know it’s perfectly normal to be feeling this way,  but I’ve never had this experience. To feel the utter depths of your sorrow still, after so many days and months. When I take scope of the whole period, there is some logic at work. In the immediate aftermath, I was consumed throughout the days and weeks. Gradually, there came days and weeks that felt better - where I wasn’t sinking into extreme feeling. But the grief was never gone. The grief became staccato.

Last night and this morning it felt more like a wave - an encompassing dark. It felt like depression. 

Luckily, I have support. Anne had me this morning and when I got to work, my friend Elizabeth was there for me.

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

  • Stephen Fry

I’m having dinner with a friend tonight. Being with people almost always helps - for me at least. I know not everyone is built the same way. Science tells us that human beings are social creatures - we define ourselves within our relationships. I know that it’s easier to move away from rather than move towards people who are in pain - pain from loss, depression, their own medical issues. But I also know the rewards that one gets by showing up in someone’s life when they are down or hurting is an affirmation to choosing a hard good rather than an easy nothing.

“The biological influence passing from person to person suggests a new dimension of a life well lived: conducting ourselves in ways that are beneficial even at this subtle level for those with whom we connect.”

  • Daniel Goleman

Tuesday 1/7

We’re looking to finalize our first Nora’s Space workshop date with Lurie Children’s Hospital. We decided to start with friendlies - the nurses and palliative care team that knew us and Nora and are already interested in using improvisation as a way to better communication between caregivers, patients and their families. 

Also, we are close to being able to share some incredible news that pertains to the spirit park we imagined for Nora. 

At dinner last night, my friend Phil mentioned that although he never knew Nora, she has had an unexpected impact on his life. I’ve heard this from others and there is definitely a comfort to be found in the idea of her legacy. When I allow myself to think about the things I loved about Nora, I always end up focusing on her grounded kindness and resonant goofiness. She embodied all that is wonderful and free about play. 

Nora Leonard never met a playground that she didn’t want to explore. We’d be riding in the car on our way somewhere and if she saw a playground from the backseat, she would ask if we could pull over and check it out. She liked games and sports and swinging and climbing and swimming and acting and improvising. She moved. She volunteered. She said “yes.” 

She lacked cynicism and eschewed cruelty. 

I think part of her legacy will be a reminder that we should never lose our sense of play. 

“Genius is play, and man's capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.”

  •  William Saroyan

Today was another hard day. I have therapy tomorrow, so I’m hopeful that will help. 

I wonder if I braced myself so intensely to make it through the holidays that once we were past them, I found myself still facing the sad facts of what has happened to my family; what happened to Nora. It’s draining to feel this sad.

 “Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.”

  • Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday 1/8 

The honest truth is I’m struggling. I’m struggling not to go to dark places; I’m struggling to not dwell on some of the more painful moments at home and in the hospital; I’m struggling to wander through the day being fine in a meeting and then suddenly not fine in a conversation with a colleague. It’s like a quiet whiplash and it’s different than what I’ve felt before. 

Today was so busy, that it didn’t have time to dwell in the lightless space. I had three potential client calls and everyone was interesting, interested and playful; I had a great podcast taping; and I managed to stay on top of my workflow. 

Thank God for therapy. 

I talked to Fred about how hard this week was and went through the details of how I was feeling. 

She paused and said, “You know how Anne said you shouldn’t try to win at therapy? You also shouldn’t beat yourself up for failing at grief.” 

It’s amazing when a small piece of wisdom can release a weight that’s been sinking your shoulders. 

It’s not linear; days are going to suck; other days will be fine; all of this is true at the same time.

“We are all failures- at least the best of us are.”

  • J.M. Barrie

When I got home, Nick and Anne had just returned from seeing “Little Women” at the Music Box. Nick also had his first professional audition today for a television series that’s shooting in Chicago. He’s set up a handful of informational interviews with theatre folks we know about his post-college plans of stage acting in Chicago. One of those conversations led to a call with a casting director who brought him in to do an on camera read. 

Parenting, I think, is both the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to do. If you can cover off on the providing a roof and food side of things, making sure they know you love and care for them is the most powerful thing you can provide. I know I’m being overly simplistic, but giving your child a sense of psychological safety gives them a fighting chance at being a curious and happy adult. And, on the other side, seeing your child in pain tears at your heart and your soul; it unearths your deepest worry. I remember after Nick was born, recognizing that for the first time in my life my own well being no longer came first. What a gift. To surrender all the armor you have built over time to not be hurt and know that it’s truly a better way to live. 

“The real questions for parents should be: "Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?" If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn't exist, and I've found what makes children happy doesn't always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”

  • Brene Brown

Thursday 1/9

I’ve been a part of a bunch of client conversations over this week that are surprisingly candid, where individuals are refreshingly open to talking about “the things one doesn’t talk about” in a business setting. 

A friend of mine who is an academic, recently posted this on social media:


“Everyone is going through something.

One of the most eye-opening exercises I teach is to ask all students to anonymously disclose something that is going on for them that interferes with their learning. I tell them that I will read these cards aloud. Those who wish to do so write on a 3x5 notecard. It’s optional so a few hand in blank cards. Most write something.

As I read the cards, you can hear a pin drop.

We hear about sick or dying relatives. Hidden disabilities. Adjusting to getting a coveted job offer. Struggles with depression. Falling in love. Social anxiety. Unrequited love, regret, shame, divorce…

“I worry that my university admission was an error.”

"I think I’m the only.... [conservative, feminist, trans, black, Latino...],"

Everyone is going through something.”

I feel the privileged blessings of being in a position (my age, my role, what I’ve gone through, my gender, etc…) that I can have vulnerable conversations with colleagues, friends and - now - clients. There is, of course, a balance here that not everyone knows how to toggle between. But to take the risk of sharing your pain as a way to be understood and to signal that you wish to understand someone else, that’s not something that has traditionally been identified as a business skill. It should be. 

“Human beings, whatever their backgrounds, are more open than we think, that their behavior cannot be confidently predicted from their past, that we are all creatures vulnerable to new thoughts, new attitudes.

And while such vulnerability creates all sorts of possibilities, both good and bad, its very existence is exciting. It means that no human being should be written off, no change in thinking deemed impossible.”

  • Howard Zinn

Friday 1/10

It’s been a long, hard week. 

Looking past the weekend, next week will have its own unique rhythm. We are going to be making the big announcement Wednesday about Nora’s spirit park; Nick goes back to college Thursday afternoon; and I’m giving a short speech at the Rizzo Foundation benefit on Thursday night. 

Nora never got to meet Anthony Rizzo, although he did send us two #TeamNora photos - one in which he was definitely hungover. But his work on behalf of Lurie Children’s hospital is truly remarkable. He does not phone this in. He is at the hospital a lot and the organization does so much good work on behalf of the kids. He was one of Nora’s favorite Cubs players before she got sick and her admiration for him grew even more once she got thrust into a world where no kid should have to go. 

None of this is fair. But I can’t dwell on that. 

Instead, I try to focus on all that we can be grateful for: from the work of the Rizzo Foundation to the friends who have rallied around us; the incredible caregiving teams to the support from the Chicago Waldorf community. 

I am most grateful for Nora. She was a gift. 

“All gifts are temporary. I unwillingly surrender this one. And thank you for it. God. Or world. Whoever it was gave it to me, I humbly thank you, and pray that I did right by him, and may, as I go ahead, continue to do right by him. Love, love, I know what you are.”

  • George Saunders from “Lincoln in the Bardo.”


Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 12/28

I feel like I ran a marathon that lasted a week and now I have to run another one. 

Anne, Nick and I went to the movies yesterday afternoon and saw “Knives Out,” which all of us adored. Interestingly, I don’t think Nora would have been as enthralled as we were. She was just on the cusp of appreciating twisty talky movies. After the film, we had to stop by Second City to scan and send the rental papers for the house in Michigan and after coming home to feed the dog, we went to Due Lira in Lincoln Square for a delicious dinner. It was a great day that the three of us were blessed to have together. 

And now it’s Saturday and I can see us heading towards a new year. The newspaper’s are printing their year in review moments which only makes me reflect more on the trauma of this year. Sometimes it seems like Krista Tippet and I are having a psychic connection. Her podcast this morning was with psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk whose area of study is trauma. In particular, he talks about how trauma lives in the body and that we can’t simply rely on talking our way into healing or, as he calls it, finding a way to bypass “...the tyranny of language.” 

He says:

“So we have these two different parts of our brain, and they’re really quite separate. We have our animal brain that makes you go to sleep and makes us hungry and makes us turned on to other human beings in a sexual way, stuff like that. And then we have our rational brain that makes you get along with other people in a civilized way. These two are not all that connected to each other. So the more upset you are, you shut down your rational part of your brain.

When you look at the political discourse, everybody can rationalize what they believe in and talk endlessly about why what they believe is the right thing to do while your emotional responses are totally at variance with seemingly rational behaviors. We can talk till we’re blue in the face, but if our primitive part of our brain perceives something in a particular way, it’s almost impossible to talk ourselves out of it, which, of course, makes verbal psychotherapy also extremely difficult because that part of the brain is so very hard to access.”

So a traumatized person can self medicate or, essentially, divorce themselves from their bodies. He goes on:

“One way of doing it is taking drugs and alcohol, and the other thing is that you can just shut down your emotional awareness of your body. And so a very large number of traumatized people whom we see — I’d say the majority of the people we treat at the trauma center and in my practice — have very cut off relationships to their bodies. They may not feel what’s happening in their bodies. They may not register what goes on with them. And so what became very clear is that we needed to help people for them to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies, to start having a relationship with the life of their organism, as I like to call it.”

This led him to study the positive effects of yoga and other physical therapies on those who are living with the effects of trauma. 

It’s not lost on me that I’m writing about this on the day I work with my trainer Jessica at Galter. I am so happy that I was able to both get the financial support and summon the mental and physical will to do this weekly and daily work. I’ve not missed a training session or morning workout in three months. I’m not losing weight but I’m gaining strength, balance and physical focus. Starting in January, Anne and I are going on a Paleo diet to drop the pounds I need to drop. 

Van der Kolk writes: 

“The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable. Each patient demands that we suspend our sense of what is normal and accept that we are dealing with a dual reality: the reality of a relatively secure and predictable present that lives side by side with a ruinous, ever-present past.”

Intellectually, physically, spiritually - we are faced with an existential duality that we ignore at our peril. We do this because it’s hard and there is an element of our culture (a banal and insidious element) that tells us we are good or we are bad; that we are healthy or we are unhealthy; that we are smart or we are stupid. When, in fact, we are all those things at once in dizzying and varying amount of degrees. The ultimate challenge you find yourself in when confronted with true despair, is to simply, lovingly allow yourself to be happy. 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

  • Viktor Frankl

Sunday 12/29

I was feeling pretty blue this morning. That just happens throughout a day or week. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive a handful of gifts from friends in the mail - items that see us and Nora in the backdrop of this first holiday without her. I made reservations at the Duck Inn for next Saturday so that we could have dinner with Emily, Mitzi and Tom Page before Nick goes back to college. We drive up to Michigan tomorrow afternoon. The doing is important for me. This was true before all of this happened. I also tend to be an overprotective father - also true before all of this happened. Case in point: I just called Nick on his cell phone (he was walking to the Albany Park Starbucks) to warn him that there was a police chase happening just south of us (people were reporting it on Facebook). 

Right after Nora died and I was feeling all of the feelings, I would cry out to Anne that it was my job to protect her and I didn’t; that I should have been able to save her. Intellectually, I know that this was all beyond my power, but I needed to give voice to the darkest thoughts I was having. My sincere worry was that if I didn’t say the thing out loud, the feeling that I was to blame for this would only root itself in my unconscious - an apposition of blame and grief, corrosive to any sort of healing. 

It was so grey today, in every sense of the word. So it was a pleasant surprise when two of our friends sent us books - just lovely tokens of thought. One is called Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart. It’s a graphic memoir about the untimely death of the author’s young daughter. The other is Bessel Van der Kolk’s book “The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In The Healing of Trauma.”

At first I assumed our friends Frank and Rachel had read yesterday’s blog and sent the book. It took me until early evening to figure out that I hadn’t posted yesterday’s blog about Van der Kolk yet. 

Now I know that the likelihood of our friends listening to the same podcast is, well, very likely. But, still… I was actually going to order that book when we got back from Michigan. Now I don’t have to. 

One of the books I did order was Robert Macfarlane’s 2003 book “Mountains of the Mind,” because I’m somewhat obsessed by his work.

“The true blessing of the mountains is not that they provide a challenge or a contest, something to be overcome and dominated (although this is how many people have approached them). It is that they offer something gentler and infinitely more powerful: they make us ready to credit marvels - whether it is the dark swirl which water makes beneath a plate of ice, or the feel of the soft pelts of moss which form on the lee sides of boulders and trees. Being in the mountains reignites our astonishment at the simplest transactions of the physical world: a snowflake a millionth of an ounce in weight falling on to one's outstretched palm, water patiently carving a runnel in a face of granite, the apparently motiveless shift of a stone in a scree-filled gully. To put a hand down and feel the ridges and score in a rock where a glaciers has passed, to hear how a hillside comes alive with moving water after a rain shower, to see late summer light filling miles of landscape like an inexhaustible liquid - none of these is a trivial experience. Mountains returns to us priceless capacity for wonder which can so insensibly be leached away by modern existence, and they urge us to apply that wonder to our own everyday lives.”

When I think about 2020 - a new year, a new decade, a new normal - reigniting wonder and awe in my everyday life feels like a worthy goal. I don’t need gobs of money to do this. But what I will need is deliberate and focused intent, an open heart and a willingness to say yes to things I would normally say no to and the same willingness to say no to the things I would normally say yes to. It’s amazing how easily we can decide to do the easier thing over the better thing, just as we can do nothing when doing something was always the better choice. 

Monday 12/30 - 6:30am

I just miss her so much. 

I typed those words about 20 minutes ago and I honestly don’t have more to say. 

Monday 12/30 - 9:30am

I worked out and I feel better. We’re taking Anne’s car to Michigan because it has more storage space, but she needed an oil change so I took it in to Jiffy Lube. I was at my most incompetent self - went into the wrong entrance, couldn’t open the hood, took my keys with me into the waiting room so they couldn’t start the car, etc… And the staff couldn’t have been more kind and patient with me. This would become a theme for the day. After the oil was changed, I turned onto Irving Park Road and went into the Jewel for a few items. The bagger and checkout person were so incredibly sweet and funny with me. I left the grocery store and suddenly realized I was driving the wrong direction. Grief brain. 

Monday 12/30 - 8pm Michigan time

We got the car loaded and set off for Michigan in the early afternoon. Benchley was freaking out for the first half hour or so but eventually chilled out. We’ve stayed in this house twice - one of our favorite pictures with Nora was taking on the back steps of this house. Anne recalled trying to retake it with her as a teenager and she was not into it. 

We set up Benchley’s crate and had dinner at the Bentwood Tavern, which was really good and the server was excellent.

We struggled to get a fire going (wet kindling) but Anne figured it out and we’re listening to one of my playlists and hanging quietly as the snow has just started to come down. We will be joined by the Libera/Liss clan tomorrow night for New Year’s Eve. 

I’m glad we’re here. Nora loved these trips and dealing with the elements (fire, snow, woods) allows us some space to focus on things other than the sadness.  Benchley has settled in and seems to like his new surroundings. 

Enveloped by trees and hearing the crashing waves on Lake Michigan, we are recognizing what nature teaches us: we are minor characters in an epic tale of living, love and loss. 

“Single trees are extraordinary; trees in number more extraordinary still. To walk in a wood is to find fault with Socrates's declaration that 'Trees and open country cannot teach me anything, whereas men in town do.' Time is kept and curated and in different ways by trees, and so it is experienced in different ways when one is among them. This discretion of trees, and their patience, are both affecting. It is beyond our capacity to comprehend that the American hardwood forest waited seventy million years for people to come and live in it, though the effort of comprehension is itself worthwhile. It is valuable and disturbing to know that grand oak trees can take three hundred years to grow, three hundred years to live and three hundred years to die. Such knowledge, seriously considered, changes the grain of the mind.”

  • Robert Macfarlane

Tuesday 12/31

A winter storm came last night and we could hear the howling winds all night as we were drifting in and out of sleep. There were still some embers burning in the fireplace last night when Anne came to bed, so she brought Benchley into our room - so we had a 100 pound Bernese Mountain Dog in between us for most of the night. Luckily it’s a big bed. 

I got up around 6am, fed Benchley and took him out in the backyard. The winds were around 40mph and there’s a drifting layer of icy snow on the ground. It looks like we’ll get a few more inches of snow tonight. Fine.

“The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches.”

  • E.E. Cummings

Thrashing winds, a pitch black morning - it all seems on point as a way to say goodbye to this year. This year. 

We had lunch at the Beer Church (it’s really called that) and met with our friends BJ and Candy, which was an utter delight. Grabbed a few more things from the grocery store so we could hunker in for New Year’s Eve. Joe, Julie and Jacob landed around 3pm in Chicago and headed to Lakeside. 

I’m loathe to assign some sort of encapsulated meaning to this night, the end of this year, the end of this decade. There’s been enough ends. There has been too much pain. But there’s been more love than I knew was possible and I am not one of those people who thinks we are teetering on the collapse of humanity. Yes, it feels like madness. But the kindness is there if you look hard enough for it. 

So no summing it up. No markers of significance. We have soup on the stove, music playing, wine to be uncorked and a fire to be lit. 

I can feel her. Maybe you can too.

Tuesday 1/1/20

This New Year's morning looks very different to how we went out of 2019. The winds that were tearing through the woods around us became perfectly still; the waves that were crashing onto the sand are gone and Lake Michigan is still and serene; the sun is shining. It’s like a different world.

We marked in the New Year with a roaring fire, a spread of amazing food, wine, scotch and a lot of stories. 

Nora was central and not with tears, mostly. 

Benchley was in his crate for most of the night, but I took him out for a walk around 10:30pm. We cut down a side street where many houses were entertaining - it’s so much darker here and most of the houses have huge picture windows so that you can see all the natural beauty you are surrounded within. So I could see into the various parties that were taking place. It was oddly comforting. Voyeuristically reassuring: life goes on. 

“For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice.”

  • T.S. Elliot

Since it was a late night, it was a late rise in the morning. We met up with Joe, Julie and Jacob in Three Oaks for a mexican breakfast. After coming back to the rental house, Anne took a nap and the rest of us went down to the beach to walk to The Hideout (which is what the Libera/Liss clan is calling their cottage). The walk was lovely - the sun keeping us from getting too cold - we remembered all the trips up here where the three kids would just dance through the waves with such utter joy. 

We got to The Hideout and they’ve done an amazing job refurbishing the place. It’s actually the perfect getaway spot for a couple - fully operational hot tub, grill that’s hooked up to a gas line so you don’t have to worry about getting propane tanks, two decent sized bedrooms. We walked down Lakeshore Rd to get back to our house and we will be heading to The Heston Supper Club for Dinner.

I’ve been getting pictures all day from my colleague Nicole - who, true to her promise, wore Nora’s Malnati’s shirt as she explored the Grand Canyon on this New Year’s Day. It’s such a beautiful reminder that all of this is so much bigger than us - but, also, that we can create the connections we need to live happily, hopefully. It starts with intent, but the intent is not enough. One needs wisdom and then comes action. And the cycle never stops because the world and you keep changing. 

“I have learnt that magnitude of scale is no metric by which to judge natural spectacle, and that wonder is now, more than ever, an essential survival skill.”

  • Robert McFarlane 

Thursday 1/2 

Last night we had a fantastic meal at the Heston Supper Club. We were talking to our waitress at the end of our meal about how green the Club was. She said that in addition to the paper straws, they keep all the vegetable scraps and give them to the local farms for the animals to eat. She said that the Club was far more eco-friendly than her previous employer. She worked for 14 years at Red Lobster. She then told us one of her horror stories from that job.

An extremely obese man came in for the all you can eat shrimp. He had eaten 300 shrimp and was literally drinking the scampi sauce out straight out of the serving container when he had a heart attack. They called for an ambulance and while they were waiting for the ambulance… he kept eating the shrimp. And he died. This scenario is entirely reminiscent of a sketch from an old Second City Detroit show. Except it wasn’t shrimp and scampi sauce, it was a monte cristo sandwich and ranch dressing. 

We went back to our rental to sit in front of the fire. I conked out around midnight. 

It was still dark when I woke at 8am. We had to clean up, pack and be out of the house by 10am so I made a pot of coffee and woke Anne. We were on the road by 9:45am.

Anne, Nick and I all agreed that it was a good trip. Not too long, not too short. It gave us space in nature to be with our family and reflect both on the past and what’s ahead of us. Even this morning, letting Benchley out into the backyard - feeling the grip of the cold on my face, hearing the rush of the waves off the beach below and the echo of the wind through the leafless trees that stood like primordial stilts stretching into the sky. I love living in Chicago, but the soul needs its time away from cement and steel. 

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

  • Mary Oliver

Friday 1/3

“Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. Instead, I knew I was going to die—but I’d known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell. The way forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”

  • Paul Kalanithi

The quote above comes from the book “When Breath Becomes Air,” which was written by a neurosurgeon in training who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 36 and chronicled his final days. Our friend Heather sent us the book which arrived last night. I was leafing through it this morning when I came upon that passage. 

I had therapy last night and I brought up to Fred that I had felt stuck during our last session. As we explored why, we skirted around the concept that Kalanithi expresses in the quote. Since we started our sessions, we talked about who Nora was, what she meant to me and our family - her friends, her school; we talked about coping mechanisms and living with the loss - a permanent and unregenerate deprivation. The work of being and doing in spite of the worst thing happening.

But in the last few sessions, we’ve talked about the paradox of needing to be seen in our suffering while also needing to not be solely defined by the loss. 

She asked if I felt guilty when I experienced joy. No. I don’t. But with the new year upon us and over the time I’ve been working on my body and my spirit, I have become keenly aware of my ability to tell a story that makes sense of my place in the world. The problem is that the story is only partially true. 

If I want to live my life as fully present as I can, I need to make peace with the mess of it. I need to roll around in the complicated muck of assumptive and imperfect meaning making. I not only need to figure out what’s not true about the stories I tell myself, but what my personal unreliable narrator was protecting in the first place. In short, I have work to do on me that was work I needed to do when Nora was healthy and everything seemed relatively fine. 

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self—which is absorbed in the moment—your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. That is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter. Yet we also recognize that the experiencing self should not be ignored. The peak and the ending are not the only things that count. In favoring the moment of intense joy over steady happiness, the remembering self is hardly always wise. “An inconsistency is built into the design of our minds,” Kahneman observes. “We have strong preferences about the duration of our experiences of pain and pleasure. We want pain to be brief and pleasure to last. But our memory … has evolved to represent the most intense moment of an episode of pain or pleasure (the peak) and the feelings when the episode was at its end. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains.” When our time is limited and we are uncertain about how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. The peaks are important, and so is the ending.”

  • Atul Gawande


Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday December 21 - 

I was feeling some tightness in my back and neck on Friday and it was still there when I met Jessica for our training session this morning. She reminded me that my body is still in response to the trauma of the last year - all of it - and this shouldn’t surprise me. She firmly believes that our bodies talk to us. So we did a bunch of exercises that helped unknot me. The last set of side lunges were really hard but I felt much better after I finished. 

After Anne got home from shopping, the three of us decided to go to Cross Rhodes in Evanston. We also went into a bunch of the shops on Main Street including Dave’s Rock Shop which has been around since 1970. I used to live at Main and Sherman. Anne, of course, used to live in Evanston when she was in college. We have a lot of history in that poorly designed town. 

Things are both familiar and foreign. Nick and I watched the Patriots/Bills football game while Benchley made his way between the three of us for pets and I put on a new Spotify holiday mix for Anne while she cooked. It’s just that she is missing. Her absence is louder than I can describe and magnified by the beauty of the season: the lights dancing off the windows of our front porch; the flowers that have been sent to us over the last week, filling our dining room with scarlet red and wintry bounce; the bright ice shaking in the kitchen as Anne makes a cocktail called “A Lion’s Tale:” 

  • 2 ounces bourbon

  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

  • 1/2 ounce allspice dram

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup (or less, to taste)

Familiar. But not.

Because all the light has a shadow, of course. 

 “Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop.”

  • St. Augustine

Sunday 12/22

“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”

  • Michael Chabon

I really enjoy being a Dad. I’m not good at all the Dad things: I can’t build stuff or help with math homework and, perhaps oddly, I never felt all that comfortable in the realm of the other Dad’s at school events and the like. Somehow I conceded in my brain that the other Dad’s were real Dad’s and I was a facsimile of a Dad. Of course, I now know that everyone thinks that way. We think ourselves fraudulent guardians of our children, because our culture reflects a perfection that is in itself a gilded deceit. In Manhood for Amateurs, Micheal Chabon writes: “This is an essential element of the business of being a man: to flood everyone around you in a great radiant arc of bullshit.”

Nick needed some sneakers, so we drove to Skokie to DSW - we had this ongoing bit with Anne and Nora: A couple of years ago, we were out shopping and we came across this store and found incredible deals on shoes. Plus, as Nick notes, you don’t have to deal with weird shoe salesmen. When we got home, we told Anne and Nora how they had to go to this store. And Anne and Nora were like, “Um, we buy all our shoes from there and have for years.” So Nick and I would regularly talk about the shoe store we discovered, if only to get an eye roll from one of them. 

After shopping, we went to Hackney’s on Harms. This is a thing that we miss - the shared family experiences and in-jokes. Nick mentioned at lunch that it makes him sad that Nora didn’t get to spend time with his girlfriend Becca, who loves to play board games. Nora always wanted to play board games and the boys were never much interested. Finally, she would have someone to play games with. And, as we surmised, they would have become fast friends. 

In the same book, Chabon writes:

“The daily work you put into rearing your children is a kind of intimacy, tedious and invisible as mothering itself. There is another kind of intimacy in the conversations you may have with your children as they grow older, in which you confess to failings, reveal anxieties, share your bouts of creative struggle, regret, frustration. There is intimacy in your quarrels, your negotiations and running jokes.”

I don’t know if we made this decision consciously, but Anne and I were always transparent and truthful with both our kids. When we were driving to Hackney’s, I mentioned to Nick that I used to get stoned in the woods on Harms with my friends when I was in high school. Both kids knew all the crazy shit I did when I was a kid and I suspect it has some influence on why drugs never held an important place for them - either as an act of rebellion or as a popularity ploy. The fact that pot is only becoming legal when I have absolutely zero interest in it is a bit of an irony. Ever woke, Nick reminded me that as a white guy the illegality of pot was never going to put me in harm's way. At the hospital, if the subject of the North Shore came up, Nora would tell the nurses, “My Dad went to New Trier, but don’t worry, he’s not an asshole.” 

I think my stories were important to tell as an act of parenting. Allowing your children to see your imperfections gives them space to understand that they are imperfect creatures as well. And that they will change when they grow. We don’t have to be fixed by our lot. 

I am so unceasingly proud of both of my kids. I don’t worry about them, not really. I am excited to see what stories Nick will make for himself and I know we have to tend to our Nora stories like vigilant dramaturgs. All of this has changed me and I do feel it’s for the better, although I’d rather have my less perfect self with my girl by my side.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

  • Haruki Murakami

Monday 12/23

I woke up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. When I stepped outside for the papers, it was unseasonably warm and a lucent crescent moon was looking down on me. I tried to take a picture, but it doesn’t do justice to what I’m seeing with my own eyes. I wonder if Nora is talking to me. I feel like she is.

We got to hang out for a few hours with the Eastwood Avenue gang last night - including two of our friends who moved away a few years back. These are people who knew Nora as well as anyone, and I’ll admit to some pangs of sadness as her friends who were noshing and chatting in the kitchen, descended the stairs to the basement, only to hear their laughter echoing up into the living room. She should be with them. We all know this. It doesn’t need to be spoken.

Still, the joy of being with these excellent humans outweighed the melancholy. I think we lose something in our limited definition of “family.” Bloodlines feel antiquated and narrowing when we consider the circles of care that make up our daily lives. These people were and our family. They feel the sting of our loss. It’s their loss as well. It’s all of our loss, really. I’m sorry for the many of you who didn’t get to meet Nora. She was such a sweet and funny girl. 

“There's no point in saving the world if it means losing the moon.”

  • Tom Robbins

As I was leaving the house this morning for a 6 month check in with my cardiologist, I noticed that someone had hung a package on our doorknob. I opened it up and it was an incredible piece of art from our friend Leslie. Various different shapes and styles of letters spell out each of our names. The “A” links Anne and Nora, the “N” links Anne and Nick, the “K” links Nick and Kelly, and the “Y” links Kelly and Benchley. There’s a poem:

Everything Is Waiting For You

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice. You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the

conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  • David Whyte

My blood pressure is a little high and so is my cholesterol; I could stand to lose twenty pounds or so. The nurse who first examined me said, “I have to ask this, are you feeling any sense of hopelessness or depression?” “Well… no, but… “ I had to tell her and then tell the doctor in rotation before seeing my cardiologist. Everyone was quite lovely and empathetic. Especially over the course of this year, I feel witnessed by the doctors and nurses. So many of them have become our family as well.  

Last night we were having a spirited conversation with our neighbors about the political times we live in and the typical pinings of the more liberal wing of our democracy (that’s us), who simply can’t understand why anyone would condone the kind cruelty of speech and action that has been normalized by this particular president and enabled by his supporters. The same conversation about living in two different worlds sparked someone to say that, “they don’t care.” Anne had a strong reaction to that. She offered that they do care. They care about their children and they care about our children - even if it doesn’t seem so through the spectrum of social media and ramped up political talk. They don’t seem so because of our distance to one another. Anne mentioned that if we learned anything in this year its that more of us care for each other than we really know; more of us are willing to enter a scary and sad place to witness our friends in their darkest hours; more of us want the same things: for our families to be safe and healthy, for our traditions and values to be respected, for our ability to find strength and connections in our communities. 

The problem, of course, is when we feel those wants are being taken away, stolen even. And since time immemorial - those looking to protect their wealth and power have made bogeymen of one set of people (usually the already marginalized) to fan the flames of fear. Fear is the great distancer. 

We are starting to prepare the house for my family and our annual Christmas Eve party. Anne’s cooking more cookies as well as the sweet and spicy snack mix that she makes every year. All the presents are wrapped. I have never ever felt so happy and sad at the same time. Truly. It’s an emotional state unknown to me. Living between a smile and a sob. 

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”

  • Jonathan Safran Foer

Tuesday 12/14 - Christmas Eve

I wanted to wake up early today, so I set the alarm for 5am. Unlike the last two mornings, there was no shiny moon waiting for me. The fog was so dense that I couldn’t see any further than a few houses down the street. It’s surrounding our home like a blanket. 

“Nobody complains about all the fog. I know why, now: as bad as it is, you can slip back in it and feel safe. That’s what McMurphy can’t understand, us wanting to be safe. He keeps trying to drag us out of the fog, out in the open where we’d be easy to get at.”

  • Ken Kesey, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

After pushing myself a little bit harder during my morning workout, I started getting the house ready for tonight’s celebration. There were mountains of dog hair to contend with, table extensions to be inserted and the folding up of Benchley’s crate which we moved to the third floor attic - we’re pretty certain he will bark up a storm tonight. 

Anne sent me out for a second round of shopping and I prepped some kindling and wood logs in the backyard firepit for later tonight. It was good to be busy.

A number of people have reached out today to let us know they are thinking of us and Nora. Those messages are always well received. Anne ran into our friend Janet at the Whole Foods, whose home was daycare for both Nick and Nora. Of course, they both ended up in tears - to the point that the cashier came out from behind the counter to give Anne a hug. 

We heard from a handful of the nurses from 17, including Michelle whose Corgi pup was recently born to a litter that only has girls left.  She asked if we had any good ideas for a girl’s name when she gets her pup in a few weeks. I feel in my bones that Nora is smiling through Michelle and her long-dreamed about Corgi. I know she would want to be here with us, but I’m sensing that she is where she is and she is at peace with that - not as fate, but as truth inside the nature of things. As I was typing this, the doorbell rang and it was Nick and Nora’s early childhood teacher Laura. She brought us a beautiful angel ornament and hand dipped candle and a story. I don’t think she would mind me sharing:

“A few weeks ago I was pouring over my resources in search of the right story that my students (4 and 5 year olds) could eventually perform (they love to act out stories). In my little Christmas book, I came upon the nativity play. I had written notes in the margins. And there was Nora’s name. She was the star angel. It all came back to me. I cut out a golden star from my watercolor collection and attached it to a dowel. She wore a sparkly crown made out of star-wired garland. She and her classmates wore silk capes. Nora was a star in every way.”

I’m fighting hard to keep my thoughts and feelings in warm memory, grateful for my girl and not succumb to self-pity or maleficent sorrow.

Wednesday 12/25 - Christmas

It was good to have the family over on Christmas Eve. Sarah, my nephew Ross’s girlfriend, drew a pig in a blanket and framed it for us. One of Nora’s favorite things for the holidays was to make pigs in a blanket. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gift and we put it next to the picture of Nora, Benchley and Anne that sits on our living room desk. 

It’s Christmas morning and I’m just so deeply sad. 

I knew this was coming, but there is no amount of emotional preparation that can help you stave off the amplification of the loss on this first Christmas with her gone. The absence of her on this morning is profound in its weight and grim ornament. 

So we just felt what we felt. And when Nick woke up and came downstairs, exclaiming “Merry Christmas! Let’s open the stockings,” we did our Christmas thing.  We went a little overboard this year on gifts, none of us knowing what the balance of the day would feel like. 

After stockings, we opened presents. When I opened Nick’s present to me, I lost my breath. He had taken all the quotes I’ve written in these journals and had them bound in a paper book, adding a few selections of his own. He included a Seamus Heaney poem, the last stanza of which is:

“I thought of walking round and round a space

Utterly empty, utterly a source

Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place

In our front hedge above the wallflowers.

The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.

I heard the hatchet’s differentiated

Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh

And collapse of what luxuriated

Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.

Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval

Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,

It’s heft and hush become a bright nowhere. 

A soul ramifying and forever

Silent, beyond silence listened for.”

I was able to give Anne the present she wanted. She had asked for a bracelet with Nora’s name and a crescent moon on it. I couldn’t find anyone online who could make what she wanted, so I emailed a woman who I had bought a number of items from at the Lill Street Gallery. She also moved in across the street from us a few doors down a couple of years ago. I asked if she had suggestions on where I could get the bracelet made and even though she is on maternity leave, she said she would make it herself. In addition to being a neighbor, she’s a Waldorf mom. So last week she showed up with the beautiful bracelet and I got to meet her six week old daughter, Naomi. All of us cried when she gave it to me (baby too). 

It’s so strangely and unseasonably warm here today. Nick and I took Benchley on a long, long walk over to Horner Park. There were pick up basketball games, kids playing in the playground and lots of runners and dogs being walked. 

Anne’s making  slow roasted roast beef, red wine and mushroom sauce, popovers, mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower. I bought us two bottles of a 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape that I decanted mid-afternoon. 

I pulled out the china and silver set, the goblets for water and wine glasses; grabbed the Christmas crackers and folded the red cloth napkins.

And I set three places. 

I started to put a candle at Nora’s place, but that just stung more. I had a candle going this morning in the tin lantern that Nora’s teacher Laura gave us. So I got another candle, put it in the lantern and lit it. It’s not an eternal flame. It’s just a flame for Nora. 

The rest of the afternoon was a mix of tears and traditions. Anne made a smoked trout dip that we put out as appetizers and we made martini’s while listening to a new holiday mix I made. The smells coming from the kitchen were redolent. 

When the table was full, we popped the Christmas crackers - wearing our silly paper crowns and telling each other the terrible jokes that are a holiday staple. Anne said we should make a toast and I said we all knew who we were toasting. And we ate an incredible meal. 

After I finished cleaning up, Anne had a good idea to keep us from descending into melancholy. We watched John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, a brilliantly funny comedy special that kept us laughing instead of crying. 

“...laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.”

  • Joni Mitchell

Thursday 12/26

Woke up late, for me, and basically ate last night’s dinner leftovers as this morning’s breakfast. It’s almost 60 degrees out in Chicago and it’s nearly the end of December. 

Nothing is as it should be. 

We really appreciate all of you who sent messages, it absolutely makes a difference. There is another Waldorf parent who lost her daughter 19 months ago. She wrote on Facebook about how hard the holiday is for them. She wrote, “So this is Christmas and we are left with our grief.” 

I know for so many, they can’t comprehend what she is going through. It saddens me to my core that we do. Not the exactitude of her grief - which is unique unto her and I don’t begin to think I can know it through and through - but understanding the grief of losing your child and the ensuing celebrations where their permanent awayness is stuck inside every room you walk into. 

There is no escaping what isn’t there. 


A known absence.

If you didn't know it,

it would be nothing,

which it is, of course,

a nothing of another kind,

as acutely felt as a blister,

but a tumult, too,

in the region of the heart and lungs,

an emptiness with a name: You”

  • Siri Hustvedt

It’s been almost 150 days since she left us and it still hurts like hell. Will it hurt like this in 300 days? 500 days? Forever? What I think will happen is that it will hurt differently at different times and in different contexts. 

There is still a kind of vehemence in how she was taken away from us that is hard to shake. I think back on the months of chemo and surgeries and tests - an inordinate suite of invasions that she faced with tender force of will. She was so strong. And her death does not contain an ounce of weakness. It was what it was and it was time because it was time.

Nothing is as it should be. It simply is. 

Friday 12/27 

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

  • Dorothy Day

I did not sleep well last night. Body and mind restless, I woke up around 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Last week, I mentioned to Anne that I was feeling a bit stuck at my last couple of therapy sessions. “So you should talk to her about that,” was the advice she gave. I’m realizing that because of the holiday, I didn’t have a session this week and, indeed, I need to talk to her about where I am and where I am not. 

I’m not depressed and I’m not hopeless. But this last week has unearthed the fact that there is still trauma and junk that I have been choking down; anger that operates at the edges of my understanding, sorrow that touches everything. 

I keep myself busy in order to bury it. But in the quiet of a morning when I can’t sleep, it is ineluctable. I can tell myself a story in which I’m healing and growing, but I can also tell myself a different story; a story in which I’m masking barrows of hurt. I suppose all of that can be happening at the same time, but I’m keenly aware of my tendency to push the bad stuff down. The problem with that, of course, is that the bad stuff becomes more tenacious over time spent ignored. 

“There is no great reward for being emotionally withdrawn, no pity prize for bottling your frustration. No one is coming to congratulate your chronic self-repression. By opening up, maybe you will inconvenience some people. Maybe you will trigger some conflict. Maybe you will be rejected, criticized, judged. Everything comes with a price and everything has its compensation. Authenticity may require pain, but it also opens the doors to joy, creativity, self-respect, empathy. Self-repression, on the other hand, costs you all the beauty of the world in exchange for a prison of comfort. Is it really worth it? Isn't it time to break free?”

  • Vironika Tugaleva

We decided to rent a house in Michigan for 3 nights over New Year’s. Anne’s sister and family will meet us there. Nora loved going to Michigan and we’ve stayed in the house we’re renting twice before. It’s right on the beach, with a fireplace and tremendous views of the sunsets. They also allow pets, so we’re bringing Benchley with us. 

Getting out of the city and spending some time walking through the woods and beaches and dunes or in front of a fire with the full lake in front of us should be good. Just as you can push your feelings down, you can drop your body into isolated spaces. Walking in the world is scarier, more suspect and we’re liable to get hurt in some way. Which means walking in the world also contains awe, delight, communion, love that we didn’t know was waiting for us. “Left foot, right foot.”

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.”

  • R. Buckminster Fuller


Eleanor’s Story

Site created on September 8, 2018

At the end of August, Eleanor Leonard was feeling pain in her back and stomach. What we thought was a pulled muscle turned out to be cancer of the liver and lungs. She started chemotherapy on Friday September 7 - that process will take place every Friday and Saturday for three months. It is most likely that she will need a liver transplant. But we'll get there when we get there. Meanwhile, we are  focused on the process in front of us day by day.

We were able to leave the hospital on Sunday September 23 and bring Eleanor home. 

We have excellent doctors and nurses at Lurie Children's Hospital. Thanks to everyone who has reached out through text and social media. We are blessed to have you all in our lives. #TeamNora

Kelly Leonard, Anne Libera, Nicholas Leonard and Eleanor Leonard