MY GREAT, BIG, BEAUTIFUL GRIEF – An Optimistic Overview of the Aftermath of Tragedy and Introduction to the Blog

First of all, let me give a big, warm THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to stop by this blog.  A bit ominous in title, but I assure you, the content will be anything but.

Let me tell you a little bit about the origins and birth of Great, Big, Beautiful Grief

Currently, I am smack dab in the middle of my thirty-sixth year on this planet.  I have lived, what some would call, a pretty decent life; raised in the mountains of Southern California, attended college on the stunning Monterey Bay of the Central CA Coast, worked and lived in a vibrant LA suburb where I met my Minnesota-born husband, and now, currently reside steps away from the famous Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities West Metro along with a little human boy that we created.  I’ve experienced “good times, bad times, and everything in between” (c’mon, I had to throw in some Zepplin).  For all intents and purposes, my life has been pretty typical for a woman my age with my particular upbringing, and thus far, I’ve been okay with that.

Then tragedy struck on August 3rd, 2016, putting life into perspective in a way that it had never been before.

My beloved sister, three years my senior, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and on her thirty-seventh birthday no less.  For two and a half years my family and I watched as she fought a most courageous, faith-filled battle.  But on December 30th 2018, at approximately 4:45 AM, cancer won the battle, and she left this world, leaving behind her sweet, young family.

Life. Was. Changed.

It was heart wrenching, awful, a nightmare come true.  How could this have happened to someone so young, so vivacious, so good?  She would never get the chance to watch her children grow.  She’d never have grandchildren.  She’d never have the chance to check off items on her bucket list.  My parents lost a child, my niece and nephews lost a mother, my brother-in-law lost a wife, and my surviving siblings and I lost a sister.  Nothing about this was even close to being fair.

Still, it happened.  She’s gone, while we remain.

During my sister’s last few days on this planet, fighting through massive amounts of pain and fear of the inevitable, we were able to have a little chat about life.  I remember it as though it happened seconds ago.  It was a moment that will remain forever imprinted in my memory.

I was sitting on the edge of the couch in my parents living room next to the fireplace.  A fire was burning brightly.  The golden, California sun was sinking below the horizon, and a peaceful glow illuminated the room, dancing off the ornaments that hung on the forgotten Christmas Tree.  In my lap lay my sister’s delicate, balding, head.  I was gently stroking what remained of her once thick, full hair.  While we were enjoying the simplicity and familiarity of each other’s company, cracking jokes here and there as we often did, I asked her the question that I’d been afraid to ask throughout the prior two and a half years:

“If you could have changed anything about your life, what would it have been?”

In true Marnie fashion (that was her name, Marnie, which was born from a nickname for Margaret) she chuckled and quoted one of our favorite Monty Python scenes, “I’m not dead yet, MB!”

We laughed, loud, but towards the end it was hard for Marnie to laugh.  The cancer had completely infiltrated her lungs and each breath was a struggle. After hacking for about a minute straight, she was able to catch her breath and continued, “You know sis, I don’t think I’d change much, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things I haven’t done that I’ve wanted to do.  But there has always been a reason not to.  We’ve wanted to save money for the future, I was working, or some other factor always got in the way.  If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING; cars, house, things, so that we could have made more experiences.”

Upon hearing these words, I began my downward spiral of denial, that my sister would be able to experience life in the way she dreamed.  Some miracle would surely happen in the next forty-eight hours and her cancer would magically disappear.  The hair on her head would grow full and bright once again.

But that didn’t happen, and two weeks later we were laying her to rest.

Her words that day in the living room struck a very sensitive chord somewhere deep in my soul.  There have been very few people in my life who have spoken authentic words, born from their unique minds, that have truly resonated with me.  Marnie’s were the most profound by far; If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING.

And here we are today, nearly eight months since my sister’s passing.

My husband and I have made a number of noteworthy changes to our lives. We sold our unnecessarily-big house this past May, downsizing significantly.  We took over four car-loads of “stuff” to the local donation center.  We sold seven pieces of furniture.  I have a trip to Ireland coming up in October, and more trips in the works.  I switched careers to allow me more time to raise our son (who is a miracle and our only, I might add), and life has never been more blissful.

It. Is. Happening.  Each day I begin by focusing on the good. I wake up thankful, grateful that my son is alive and well, that my husband is such an amazing provider and support system, that I have so many incredible friends in my life, that I have a roof over my head, and that I have my health. Sure, there are days where I’m tired, exhausted actually.  I’m a working parent.  It comes with the territory.  Still, I’m powering through and am absolutely falling in love with the person I am becoming.

So, in conclusion, why is my grief great, big and beautiful?

It is simple. Grief brought me back from the dead.  Grief taught me that life is so much more than what we do for a living, how big our house is, or what kind of car we drive.  Grief taught me that love, compassion and forgiveness give meaning to our lives in ways we cannot comprehend until we’ve trudged through the deepest darkness.

Most importantly, grief taught me that we only die once, but we live every day, and for that I am forever grateful.




Stay tuned for more life hacks on how to LIVE LIFE after LOSS. You won’t want to miss it.

September 13th – An Insignificant, Significant Day

Today is September 13th, 2021. Nothing truly notable. I woke up. I fed and sent the child off to school, I exercised, I worked, I made dinner, I watched a show on HBO, and now, here I am. Sitting up in bed listening to the late summer/early autumn rain falling outside, and missing my sister.

My sister has been gone for precisely 2 years, 8 months and 14 days.

When she first passed, I didn’t think I’d survive the first couple of hours, then the first few weeks, then the following months, etc… but I did.

When people who had experienced loss constantly told me “It will get easier,” I didn’t believe them… but it did.

When people told me, “You’ll never move on, but you WILL move forward,” I didn’t believe them… but I did.

And even though I DID “survive,” and even though it has gotten “easier,” and even though I have “moved forward,” not ONE DAY has gone by where I haven’t thought of her. Will a day ever go by where I don’t?

I hope not.

She is the reason for SO many things in my life….

-The reason I’ve become a more patient person.

-The reason I laugh harder.

-The reason I smile bigger.

-The reason I love harder.

-The reason care more.

-The reason I get over it.

-The reason I forgive easier.

-The reason I breathe deeper.

-The reason I have more compassion.

-The reason I have more empathy.

-The reason I have become a far better version of myself than I ever thought possible.

Death, loss, and everything in between is TRULY a part of the journey. It can either be our greatest defeat, or our greatest teacher.

Yes, today is an insignificant day, but it is still a day I’m alive, and it is a day I am better.

Two Years

December 30th, 2018, 4:45am is when she left us.

But, December 29th was the last time I stroked her forehead, the last time I held her hand, the last time I heard her voice, the last time I cuddled up next to her as I would so often do in our youth, the last night I saw her alive.

Two years have passed, and I can still recount every single moment of December 29th, 2018, from the moment I awoke on that warm winter’s morning in Southern California, until 12:32am, December 30th when I made the phone call to my mom, telling her she had better hurry and get to the hospital, where I had spent hours next to my big sister, watching her labored breathing, massaging her bony legs, and laying with her when she needed a warm body next to her, for five hours straight, willingly, heartbreakingly, but oh the preciousness of those hours.

The last text from Marnie came to me at 7:16pm on December 29th with the words “Come here.” She wanted me there. What a tremendous honor that, as she was fading, she remembered he little sister, who looked up to her and loved her so much, and she wanted me there.

December 29th was when I rushed over to the hospital, ran to her room only to enter to one of the most heartbreaking sights I’d ever beheld; a mother saying goodbye to her three young children and her father, a husband who could do nothing by comfort their kids and hold them as they sobbed. I remember standing in the corner, breathing in this scene, knowing it would be a sight that would be with me, clear as day, until the day I leave this earth, a sight I would never wish upon my worst enemy.

December 29th was the last time I bent down, kissed her forehead, and told her, “I love you so much, Marn. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

That didn’t happen. At 4:45am on December 30th, 2018, I was awoken by our oldest sister, Jessica, who stood over my bed and said the words, “MB, she’s gone. Marnie’s gone.”

Shock. Denial. Anger. Fear. Sadness, a sadness so brutal, so gut wrenching that I can still feel my heart sink even as I write these words.

Yet, as traumatic as the memories of December 29th may be, I cherish each second of that day, because it was the day my life changed. It was on that day that I made a vow to myself to live each and every moment in the present, to treat each and every person I came into contact with with grace and love, to promise myself that I would strive to conduct myself with the utmost integrity, and to forgive myself for the future times I would surely fail, because downfalls are a part of being human.

The Christmas season will never be the same for our family, as it was the season we saw our dear sister, daughter, mother and wife endure her greatest suffering. New Years will never be the same as it was the day before New Years Eve that she went to be with the Lord. It hurts. That fact will always be.

But we have also found comfort in the joys of each other. We have learned the value of what being a family truly means. We have truly come to understand the power of giving. We have remembered the value of maintaining relationships with those we love.

December 29th and December 30th, and many of the days that followed were some of the darkest of my life, which taught us the most beautiful lessons of what it means to live a full, meaningful life…

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, IT IS WELL, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.”

Dear Humanity, We are Failing

Yesterday evening I was enjoying some quiet time in our “tree-house,” or so we’ve taken to calling the upper-level of our home. Perched at eye-level with the highest branches of a number of Maple trees, it is the only room in the third story of our cabin-like haven, and a perfect place to relax, work, write or think.

I find myself deep in thought often these days… Thoughts about the state of the world, about life, and love, and hatred. I think about friendship and the number of friendships that the current climate has dissolved. I think about values and virtues of my loved ones and acquaintances, and how I really love trying to understand why someone believes as they do (it’s like, each person is their own little history book, and I’m one of those people who LOVES to peel back the pages and start at the beginning).

Then, I often find myself crumbling into the abyss of my own mind. I internally weep for the lives that have been lost in recent months, whether from an invisible enemy or a visible one. I weep for the loss of compassion and understanding in a world of me-ness. I weep for the hardened hearts, so filled with anger, that are beating so blindly, not comprehending that other choices are available to quell that anger.

When this happens, when I find myself getting lost in a wood of depressive thoughts, I take to my pen (or keyboard, for the modern soul).

Through gentle tapping, and through a flood of emotions and words that I have so longed to communicate to the world, the following words were born, which I posted, in the late hours of last night, to the all-powerful social media site, Facebook, desperately hoping to communicate that what we currently are as a human race is the FARTHEST thing from humanity.

We. Are. Failing.

“The definition of humanity is the entire human race or the characteristics that belong uniquely to human beings, such as kindness, mercy and sympathy. An example of humanity is all the people in the world. An example of humanity is treating someone with kindness.”

So, answer me these simple questions: Do words filled with anger and hatred towards people who believe differently than you display “humanity?” Does rioting and looting communicate “humanity?” Does posting wretched words about any candidate running for a government office, despite what side you are on promote “humanity?”

This is not a “right wing” or a “left wing” or a “middle of the road” post. This is truth.

What is happening in the world is the opposite of “humanity.” What we are hearing communicated in the media is not “humanity.” The violence that is happening in multiple nations across the world, despite the reasons behind it, is not “humanity.” “Humanity” is treating ALL people of ALL races and backgrounds with KINDNESS.

There is NOTHING kind about ANYTHING happening in the world with regards to politics and race. And if there is, indeed, kindness still prevalent (and I KNOW there is) why are we not seeing it? Why are our news channels, our social media feeds and our conversations filled with the opposite of “humanity?”

Can we all just take a breath, and remember that all human souls breathing on this earth are part of the same species? Do we really want our humanity to crumble into oblivion?

Screw the media. Screw the narrative. I beg you to search your hearts for compassion and kindness. There is no other way we, as a species, can prevail.

So, I ask you this… Can you strive to make today the day that you come back to humanity by asking yourself, “How can I do this with love and kindess and compassion?

Imagine what a world it would be if we all took that approach.

COVID 19 – Grieving for the Way things Were, Embracing the Way things Will Be.

“How great it is when we come to know that times of disappointment can be followed by joy.” -Fred Rogers

Today is Saturday, April 4th, 2020.  The sun is shining bright, the air is brisk, the birds are singing, and the ice has melted away.  Spring is definitely in the air.

Yet, the world is in chaos. Businesses have shuttered their windows.  We no longer see friends sharing in an embrace.  Our schools have shut their doors.  What should be a busy time for Spring Break travel and the highly anticipated opening of restaurant patios have all but gone silent.  “Social Distancing” and “Shelter in Place” have become familiar phrases.  We are truly living in unprecedented times.

We turn on the news, scroll through social media, and are bombarded with the unfathomable message that “it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Read that again; it is going to get worse before it gets better.

I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine last week, and she said something that I’ve been replaying over and over again in my head, “This is hard and I’m struggling.  I’m not necessarily grieving for the world as it is,  but life will change.  It won’t ever be the same, and I’m already grieving for the world as it was and will never be again.”

So, dear readers, I’m not writing this post to further give into the sadness and despair that surely is encompassing every corner of the globe.  I’m also not trying to be insensitive to the fact that there is a very real and very deadly virus that is the cause of everything happening, nor am I going to comment on the many beliefs that this whole thing is being “overplayed” and is “nothing but a conspiracy.”

No, not today.

Today I want to encourage all of you to focus on the undeniable fact that IT WILL END.  IT WILL GET BETTER.  I believe with every fiber of my being that Fred Rodgers’ wise words will ring true.  I also believe that my friend’s grief, and the grief of so many others, can be reshaped to a sense of overwhelming hope.

Yes, the world WILL most likely never be the same.  The way we do business, the way we travel, the way we educate, the way we interact, will all undoubtedly change.

But I believe this change will be for good.

Even now, despite of the hardships we are all facing, love, faith and compassion have become ever prevalent.  I see an abundance of beautiful movements on social media that have been created to inspire hope.  Food, clothing, and cleaning product donations are popping up in random front yards with encouraging notes, “What’s ours is yours” and “Please help yourselves, we are in this together.” Multiple non-profits are being set up to help those who are facing a loss of income. Emergency and medical workers are receiving much deserved free child care. Friends are reaching out to friends to simply “check in” in hopes of providing a simple smile or a much-needed laugh… These actions are all SO incredible and most likely never would have been at the forefront had this pandemic not become reality.

So, my friends, let’s move forward with the knowledge that we are better together.  A hug will have new meaning.  A friend’s laughter will have a sweeter sound.  All of the small, insignificant details of our lives, buying toilet paper, going out to dinner, taking the kids on a play date will never be taken for granted again, at least that is the hope, right?

Let’s not focus on what has been, but on how this grave time will reshape humanity.  When we approach the bad times with love in our eyes and hope in our hearts, the end game will be a world changed, for the better.  I, for one, cannot wait to see that world.



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Do you have a grief story to share?  I’d love to hear about it! Email me at marybethmistretta@yahoo.com





Are you one of the unfortunate humans who walk the earth having experienced a significant loss? I’m talking about a loss; a close family member, a best friend, a parent, son, daughter, etc… You get it.
One aspect of loss that never ceases to amaze me is that SO many people become your “best friend” when life goes awry. Everyone cares. Everyone shares. Every. Single. Person.
Then, just as quickly as “those” people appear, they disappear.
This is the norm. I know I’ve been that person a time or two.
When someone passes, we all want to feel a connection to that person, whether it’s through true friendship, acquaintanceship, a family member, or one conversation we had with the deceased. We want to feel as though we KNEW them, that whatever time we had with them was meaningful. It’s the human condition, to want to be a part of the village, no matter how large or small that village may be.
My sister passed away just about a year and one month ago to the day. During that time, I must confess, it was lovely being the recipient of ample amounts of much-needed affection from family, friends and strangers alike. It was therapeutic to share in the memories of her life with others who knew her, her husband, and her children, or even simply knew of her and her story.  And for a couple months after her passing, it was heart warming to still receive phone calls and texts, just “those” people checking in.
Today, most of “those” communications have fallen silent, albeit “the few.”
And that is okay. EVERY life moves forward, and as much as I want to freeze those precious moments, those nostalgic conversations, those times where our village was strong, saluting one of the best of us, relishing in her memory, that’s simply not the reality of today.
And that is okay.
I know that there are grievers out there who harbor resentment towards “those” people who have gone silent. If you are one of those grievers, I say, forgive them. They got you through an incredibly trying time. Even if they didn’t know the deceased in the way you knew them, or even if they did, they were there. It’s only natural that, eventually, people will move on, assuming you are moving forward as well. Or perhaps they don’t WANT to bring up your loved one for fear of bringing hard memories to the surface. Or perhaps they have pushed that difficult time to the back of their minds. It was likely hard on them too.  As we all know, all people grieve differently.
For you, dear grievers, you too have brought new thoughts forward, but the loss of THAT person is never far from the front of your mind. And that, too, is okay. That loss will probably remain in the front of your mind for a while, maybe forever.
That. Is. Okay.
Remember them, and remember them hard. Remember their laughter, their tears, their voice, their virtues. Remember the good times, the funny times, the sad times, the times you can’t remember. Remember your love for them.  Remember how they moved you. Remember the person they helped you become. Remember the impact they had in your life.
To “those” people, those who have gone silent, we thank you for being there for us when we needed you.  Simply remember those of us who loved them best who are still suffering, trying to find a reason without them. Help us to remember the reason we grieve. It may have been over a year, perhaps more, but to us, it feels like yesterday. Each memory of them is still so fresh in our minds, it’s as though we can feel them, smell them, hear their voice as if they are sitting next to us. Please don’t forget about us. Even just a smile emoji helps.
To “the few,” you know who you are, the ones who still call, text, email, send a simple photo. Thank you. You haven’t forgotten us. You haven’t forgotten THEM. YOU are still there, firm in your faith and friendship. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
And so, dear grievers, thank the ones who stayed, forgive the ones who didn’t, and remember, always remember, the ones who are, forever, a memory.


The Year of Firsts

On January 22nd, 2019, I was nothing more than a hollow vessel perusing the surface of the Earth.  There was nothing in me that was not grief, anger, or sadness, as much as I wanted to be the portrait of the picture perfect, faithful servant, who wanted to very much to understand why the Lord took her away.

On this particular date, my sister had been dead for twenty-four days, and I had only recently returned to the state in which I lived, two thousand miles away from her grave site, two thousand miles away from my family, a million miles away from life before cancer.

She was gone.  I remained, what was left of me at that point, anyway.

Today is January 22nd, 2020.  It is a new decade.  Life obviously went on, even when I didn’t want it to go on.  Sadness and anger transformed, first into desperation, then hope took over, and eventually, an overwhelming sense of peace filled the last empty space in the once empty shell that was my soul.

Over a year has passed since that dreadful night when I held my sister’s bony hand, stroking her balding head, praying for a miracle, only to be met hours later with the news that she had taken her last breath.

So yes, 2019 was an entire year FILLED with firsts.

As she had passed on Dec. 30th, New Years Eve and Day 2019 were a blur of “I’m-so-sorry-for-your-loss” and “whatever-you-need-I’m-here” speeches, and and endless stream of meals being brought to my parent’s home, and endless searches for old photos, and funeral and celebration of life preparations.  Of course, for all of those, I am thankful, and always will be…but all of those moments are still a blur.

Then came Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, The 4th of July, what would have been HER 40th BIRTHDAY, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  They were all the “firsts.”  If you have ever experienced the loss of a treasured loved one, you know what I mean when I say “firsts.”  Although each and every day without that person is significant, those days that hold so many memories are even more so.  All of your childhood memories come flooding back with a vengeance so hard that it is difficult to breathe.  Every memory that pops up on social media makes you tear up.  Every.  Single.  One.

But I learned something as this year of “firsts” have come to a close…

Life goes on.

While each and every moment without her on this planet are soul-crushing, I have learned to smile again.  I have learned to treasure those relationships that mean something, and to say good-bye to those that don’t.  I have learned to live COMPLETELY in the moment and to not dwell on what “might be.”  Most of all, I have learned that death is simply a part of the journey.

If you are reading this, especially if you are in that time of “firsts,” fear not.  You WILL get through it.  It is a long, dark and dreary journey in the beginning, but it will pass.

Read that again.  IT. WILL. PASS.

I loved my big sister.  I love her still.  I miss her voice, her smile, her gentle ways, but she is still with me.  I talk to her daily.  I allow myself the tears when the tears need to flow.  I don’t apologize when the tears need to flow.  I am comfortable talking about her life, her death, and all that came after.  Through her death, and through the life I must now live without her, I have become a far better version of myself than I ever thought possible.


In loving memory of Marnie Banks: 1979-2018

Beloved Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother and Friend

THE EMERALD ISLE – A Glimpse into our Ten Day Journey around Galway

“The Irish: be they kings, or poets, or farmers, they’re a people of great worth. They keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth.”

We often hear the phrase, “travel moves you,” and while I have seen my fair share of the world, there has been no place that has touched my heart the way Ireland has.

It’s a land of legend, culture, tribulation, faith and pristine beauty, where the Atlantic Ocean batters rocky cliffs and brisk winds howl through the countryside.  The emerald grass and rock walls that paint the landscape tell stories of a time gone, but not forgotten.  The simple spirit of the warm-hearted, fun-loving people set my soul alive.  Gentle songs that have been passed down through generations drift down the cobblestone alleyways and linger in the salty, sea air.  Smiles abound, laughs are frequent, and a good pint of Guinness is never far out of reach.

Ah, yes. Ireland has most definitely moved me, every part of me.

I have just returned to America after a life-altering ten-day-journey of the Emerald Isle.  Ireland is the place of my ancestors.  My late grandfather, an O’Brien and descendant of the O’Briens of County Cork, never had a lack of tales of his family’s homeland.  My siblings and I grew up with stories of quaint villages, numerous Irish tunes and Celtic Legends.  It was the one place my late sister always wanted to see.  We had actually planned to visit when she “got better.”  Alas, she passed before we were able to fulfill her wish of visiting Ireland.

Witnessing the passing of both of these dear family members is what finally persuaded me to take a leap of faith.  No more “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t afford it.”  We have this one life, and what is the point of this life if we don’t do the things we want to do while we can still do them. So, my surviving sister and I, along with five of our dear friends, made the trip in honor of both my late sister and grandfather. The emotions were high and varied, but the love we now have for this country is deep, and inexplicable.

Ireland should truly be on everyone’s bucket list.  Not just because of the beauty that abounds, but because we can all learn from the Irish people on what “living the good life” truly means.  These folks have endured centuries of oppression, incomprehensible hardships, and have still managed to come out on top and enjoy life to the fullest.

We began our journey in Dublin, traveled by train cross country to the ocean-side city of Galway, and ventured to castles, landmarks, small villages, and, of course, frequented multiple pubs.  This blog will highlight some of our favorite places and will also offer some tips for travel.

Enjoy, and be awed.



After speaking with numerous travelers who had ventured to Ireland previously, and listening to information provided by countless travel podcasts, our group made the decision to fly in and out of Dublin Airport.  Many folks recommended Shannon Airport as well.  Our determining factor, however, was simple; funds.  We found it cheaper to use Dublin Airport, but I’ve heard many good things about Shannon, so don’t discredit it based on our choice.

With that being said, we found Dublin Airport to be highly efficient.  The staff are wonderfully friendly, the process of security and customs were quite simple and very quick, and there are multiple options for food and drink.


As Americans, the thought of driving on the opposite side of the car, the road, and witnessing how incredibly small the roads in Ireland are (I’m not joking, the roads seem more like trails to the American eye), we opted to take public transportation the entire time we were there, and are so glad we did! You can call a taxi from pretty much anywhere.  They also have Uber and similar services, although we found taxis and buses to be a more inexpensive option.

From the airport, we were able to hop on a bus which dropped us right in front of the Heuston Train Station in downtown Dublin.  The train ride was comfortable and only about 38 US dollars for a round trip ticket to Galway (*note: do NOT lose your ticket during your trip or you must pay for a whole new one).  By choosing to ride the train, we were able to save ourselves some heart-attacks, sit back, relax, enjoy an Irish Coffee and relish in the stunning views of the famous Irish landscape.

Once we arrived in Galway, we chose to walk, as the weather was pleasant that day, and it was only a fifteen minute jaunt through the city to reach our destination.  This allowed us the chance to take in the sights up close and personal.


While many folks who travel to Ireland use their time to drive around the country and lodge at multiple hotels, bed-and-breakfasts or hostels along the way, we decided that we wanted a “home base.”  AirBNB was the way to go, especially for a group of seven.

We found an amazing 1930’s townhouse within walking distance of EVERYTHING in Galway; Shop Street, the Salt Hill Promenade, historic sights, restaurants, pubs, bus stops and the ocean.  The cost was just over two grand for a six night stay.  Divide that by seven and it was about 350 US dollars per person.  Mind you,  this price included all of the essential amenities; full kitchen, washer and dryer, back yard, plenty of beds, a wood burning stove, undivided support from our hosts, etc…  It was so lovely and convenient!


TOP 5 MUST SEE/ DO in and around GALWAY

Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle – Wow!  Just, wow!  As any little girl growing up in the states, I had frequent dreams of being a princess in a castle, but the only castle I ever saw was Sleeping Beauty’s at Disneyland.  Ashford Castle was a fantasy come true, and while I’m nothing more than a commoner, they treated me, and all of my companions, as royalty.

For just over 60 US dollars, we were able to enjoy an array of delicious sandwiches, pastries, teas, champagnes, and unmatched Irish hospitality while enjoying the historic beauty of the grand estate.  Unfortunately, there was a hurricane happening the day we were there, so we weren’t able to explore the vast and picturesque grounds, but I could think of worse places to spend a stormy day.

*Note – If you are without a vehicle, the castle was able to send a shuttle directly to our AirBNB for round trip transportation, for a fee.  It was about forty-five minutes there, and the same back.  Well worth it.

The Cliffs of Moher Tour – Attention all Princess Bride fans!  Do you remember “The Cliffs of Insanity?”  Well, you can see the real thing in Ireland!  Indeed, this is the very place where they filmed that portion of the beloved cult classic.

We joined a day tour through The Galway Tour Company.  At only around 30 US dollars, they will pick you up in downtown Galway, and you will spend the day (from 10am – 6pm) learning the history of the area en route.  On the way to the cliffs, which are located in County Clare,  you will enjoy visiting Dunguaire Castle, The Burren, The Gleninsheen Wedge Tombs, and a stop for lunch in the small, traditional village of Doolin.  Once at The Cliffs of Moher, you are allotted about two hours to explore at your leisure.  Once time is up, the bus travels back to Galway along the coast road, perhaps one of the most beautiful drives in all the world.

The one thing I will say about the Cliffs of Moher; GO.  No matter how you get there. We frequently see pictures of awesome places in books, online and in magazines, but nothing can compare to the grandeur of actually witnessing these places in person.  The Cliffs of Moher have no words that can measure up to actually being there.  To see something so gigantic, so beautiful, so majestic, truly makes one realize the power of the natural world.

Self-guided -or- guided history walk through Galway City – Anywhere you visit in Ireland will be full of historic sites, so you can’t really go wrong wherever you are.  Galway, in particular,  has a cluster of these ancient places all within walking distance; the Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum, Eyre SquareLynch Castle,  and Atlantaquaria, just to name a few.  And all of these sights can be reached on foot!  On the weekends, be sure to check out the Galway Street Market, where Galway’s bohemian spirit comes alive.

Take a stroll on the Salthill Promenade – This 2km walk along the shores of Galway Bay is a favorite pastime for both locals and visitors.  Enjoy views of the Aran Islands, pass locals playing music, witness young and old alike taking a dip in the frigid ocean, or stop into one of the many local restaurants or pubs.

The Aran Islands – Speaking of the Aran Islands, take a ferry across the bay and spend a day frolicking on these ancient islands. There are a total of three islands that are located at the mouth of Galway Bay, and offer visitors a chance to see breathtaking scenery and glimpses into an ancient time that has long since disappeared from the country.  You can either purchase tickets before your adventure or can simply stop into one of the tour offices when you arrive.  Something to note, if the ocean is angry, the ferries will not run.


Ireland has stolen my heart.  The Irish people have shown me what it means to be genuine, to find hope and humor in any circumstance, to learn from, and cherish the past, while living fully in the present.  From the country’s modern cities, dotted with ancient remnants on every corner, to its thatched countryside cottages, to its grandiose castles, Ireland has captivated me, mind, body and soul.

In conclusion, I shall leave you with an old Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

How Death Made Me a Better Person


I’m not talking about my own death, obviously (although that’d be pretty cool if I was coming to you from the afterlife).  No, I’m talking about the death of someone I love, someone who knew me since the day I was born, someone with whom I grew up, someone who rejoiced with me on my happiest days and who held my hand through my hardest hours.

For the past three years, I’ve unfortunately become well acquainted with the cancer process, from understanding certain terms like metastasis, remission, and recurrence.  I’ve seen, first hand, how chemotherapy affects a body.  I’ve become an expert in researching alternative cancer therapies looking for that slight glimmer of hope that there must be something we are missing.  Most importantly, I’ve witnessed what cancer does to one’s mind, body and spirit, and how it alters the lives of the loved one’s of the person fighting.

Since cancer entered my family’s lives, I have begun to refer to my personal life in three stages; Before she was diagnosed, while she was battling, and after she passed.

My life before she was diagnosed was, overall, normal.  I’d always been a decently good human.  I tried to live life by the golden rule and enjoyed bringing happiness to others.  I went to work each day, made sure my family was fed, and enjoyed time spent with my friends.  I stressed about things like why my jeans didn’t fit me anymore, or what color to paint my house, or where I was going to buy my next anti-aging cream, things I now recognize to be exceptionally minute and unimportant in the grand scheme of life.  After all, I had never experienced true grief, true loss.  I don’t think I fully grasped what it meant to live life on purpose and to the best of my ability.

Watching how my loved one lived her life while she was battling, witnessing how she never stopped giving even though she didn’t have much to give, never stopped smiling even though she was frequently wrecked with pain, and never stopped having faith even though death was constantly lurking just around the corner, began to change something deep within my core.  I started noticing life around me, the simple beauty in how light glistens on the water, how the laughter of children sparks joy in my heart, how giving without expecting anything in return could bring so much peace to my soul.  Yes, slowly, the very fabric of my spirit was being altered.

My loved one’s death was the final piece of the life-changing puzzle.  After she passed, the first thing I did was book a trip to the number one place on my bucket list.  In my former life, I always had an excuse; I don’t have the money right now, I don’t have the time, I’ll do it someday.  When you have experienced deep loss, achieving all of those somedays become your goal, because what if we don’t have a someday?  Death can come to anyone of us at any moment, so why not live the life we want to live now?  What about that friend who has been wanting to get together?  Sure, you love them and enjoy their company, but you always seem to be too busy to make an effort.  What if they don’t have a someday?  Wouldn’t you be doing everything within your power to make sure you were able to see them one last time?  How about that person you pass on the street, who seems down and out?  Sure, you could pass them by and judge them for projecting such negativity into the world, but what if you smiled at them instead?  Perhaps they have just experienced the loss of a job, a romance, or a loved one.  Wouldn’t you want to bring them even the smallest ounce of joy, love or encouragement through the gentleness of a smile?

Through death I have become a more patient, more loving, and more dedicated person.  I no longer bark at my son when he is playing too loudly while I’m trying to get my work done.  He is only young once and those joyful squeals will fall silent all too soon.  I no longer get road rage on my drive to work in the morning.  Instead I use that time to focus on the ways  that I can do something good for someone today.  I no longer get irritated when someone cancels plans.  Perhaps they are struggling with depression, or were up all night with a screaming baby, and simply don’t have the energy to leave the house.

Witnessing the death of my loved one was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with, but it was also the greatest blessing I’ve ever been given.  Through witnessing her life, her battle, and her death, it brought new meaning to my life.  It made me love harder, give more, and feel deeply.  It made me compassionate to the hardships of others.  It allowed me the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important in life.

Overall, death made me a better person.



How Downsizing is Healthy for You, Your Family, and the Planet

It was a day like any other day.  I woke up, threw on some workout clothes, made coffee, saw the husband off to work, fed the child and dropped the child off at school, and prepared to head out for my daily jog.

Then, Ding Ding Ding went the reminder app on my smart phone.

I had completely forgotten that a friend and her husband were coming into town and would be staying with us for the night. Don’t get me wrong, I love these two people, but I knew that I could not welcome them into my home in its current state, with yesterday’s dishes in the sink, toys scattered throughout, unmade beds with dirty sheets, and bathrooms that hadn’t been cleaned in far too long.  At these depressing realizations, I cringed, my eyes started twitching, curses filled the air in my vehicle, and I reluctantly headed home for a full day of resentful tidying up.

Let’s start with facts.  There are three of us; myself, my husband, and our young son. Tell me how it makes sense that a family of this size needs a nearly three-thousand square foot home, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a three-car garage, and lots of crap that just sits around and collects dust.

Later that day, after five hours of mopping floors that were seldom stepped upon, vacuuming carpets in rooms we entered maybe once a month, scrubbing showers that had never been used, and dusting every damn item we had that served absolutely ZERO purpose, I called my husband and said that we were putting our home on the market.

I don’t really know what was going through our heads when we bought that home two years prior. Pre-child, we had never cared.  If we had a roof over our heads, and a few cool photos, we were happy. Then came baby, and hormones, and pressures of society, including urging from every person we came into contact with “that we really should upgrade.”  So, boom… an unnecessarily-large home was the result.

Fast forward to now, four months after we said adios to that monstrosity.  We have a home half the size, we have become regulars at our local donation center, I can clean this joint in a matter of two hours, our bills have been cut in half, and we have never been a happier, more fulfilled family unit.

Let me be very clear, our journey is our journey.  While we made the choice to downsize our lives, it might not be appealing to everyone.  I’m not here to tell you that we are better for making this choice, or that we are right, and you are wrong.  What I do wish to communicate, however, is that reprogramming your brains to go against what societal norms tell you to do might be the most beneficial road to finding your own unique happiness.  We live in a world that consistently tells us bigger equals better, successful and happy.

We are living proof that is not necessarily the case.

Aside from our personal journey to living a simpler life, let’s look at some very positive aspects of why downsizing, regardless of age, income or lifestyle can be beneficial to both your family and to the world.



Let’s start with the obvious.  Less house equals less maintenance; less yard work, less cleaning, less crap to fix, less, less, less!  If you abhor cleaning and upkeep like I do, this is a reason in and of itself to simplify.


Speaking of less everything, how about having less of a carbon footprint on the Earth. The smaller the home, the less energy you will expend.  Consuming fewer precious resources such as natural gas, water, coal and oil can have positive, lasting effects on our planet.


If you are budget conscious, downsizing may be the answer to all your money problems.  It’s basic real estate math; smaller homes tend to be less expensive in all aspects.  Since homes are priced by square foot, smaller homes tend to be priced lower than their larger comparable counterparts.  Plus, your bills will most likely go down since you are using less energy to heat and cool your home.  Perhaps its time to take that life-changing vacation you’ve been dreaming of?


If you have Netflix, I’m sure you’ve heard of Marie Kondo.  She is an organization expert who hosts a show called “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” where she travels all over the US to help Americans declutter their lives. In support of Kondo, an article featured on the ABC News website states, “Recent scientific research backs up Kondo’s method, and shows that having too many things in your home may not only make it difficult to find your keys, but significantly impact how you feel.”  When you downsize your life, decluttering comes with the territory.  Too much stuff (aka clutter) has been known to increase stress, decrease focus and productivity, and can lead to unhealthy eating habits.


In conclusion, you need to do what is best for you and yours.  You may be living a lavish life in your dream mansion surrounded by all your pretty things, because you worked hard to get there and that is what makes you happy, and that is a-okay!

But what I’m asking you to do is to take a breath, take a step back, and really think on this.  Are you there because it is what you want, or because it is what society told you that you should want?  Do those items you cannot live without spark joy, or are they simply there to fill space?  Do you feel happy or stressed most of the time?  Do you have the time and money to do all the things you want to do in life, or are you struggling because you are house poor?

Owning a home can be such an amazing investment, and I encourage everyone to own real estate at some point in their lives, but I also encourage people to own only what they need and what brings them true joy.  Imagine what a healthier and happier place this world could be!

family travel

It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Life – Steps to Finding Your Purpose and Making it a Reality

Great, Big, Beautiful Grief is heading into its second week, and oh, so many encouraging comments, follows, shares and, most importantly, an abundance of genuinely loving support!  Thank you to everyone who has reached out, read and absorbed.  It means the world and fills my heart with the utmost gratitude.

When I first introduced the blog to the public, I assured folks that “although the title was ominous, the content would be anything but.”  Well, sometimes the path to our most joyful destination, the place filled with sunshine and bliss, requires us to trudge through the dark, dreary valley first.

So far, we have discussed that grief is real.  Grief is highly normal.  We’ve talked about the five stages of grief.  We’ve talked about how each person deals with grief in their own, unique way.  I’ve shared some personal stories about my own grief journey.  Overall, lots of grief, grief, grief!

Therefore, I feel the time has come to blow up the happy bubble of inspiration and get cracking on that Great, Big, Beautiful Life portion of this Great, Big, Beautiful blog!

In recent months, I’ve turned into a massive podcast junky.  I’m not a techy-type and had truly never experienced podcasts before.  Books have always been my jam.  Anyhow, shortly after my sister’s passing, I became obsessed with listening to stories about Near Death Experiences (which I now understand to be quite normal for someone who has just experienced the death of a loved one).  My obsession with those types of programs soon transitioned to subscribing to podcasts pertaining to living a happy life, doing good and being good, and being your best self, (perhaps after all of those near death experiences, I wanted to be doubly sure that I knew where I would be going when my time here is up – yeah, some of the stories didn’t take place in Heaven). These programs have been incredibly insightful and have opened my eyes to new ways of being.

About two weeks ago, after I had finished showing a home to a client (I’m a REALTOR by trade), I was feeling the need to be inspired, once again.  Over the nearly two years I’ve spent as an agent, the world of real estate has been a never-ending rat race, and the pressures of being the biggest and the best have constantly weighed on my heart and mind. While it feels good to follow through with a transaction, to see the joy on a client’s face when you have found them the perfect home, the process leading up to it is an incredibly stress-filled obstacle of negotiations, persuasion and paperwork – ew.  Lately I’ve been questioning my purpose in this field, this life, more-so than I ever have before.  Am I truly making a difference, or am I just one of the several billion people in the world existing to work and die?

Anyhow, as I began the drive home, a million questions were swirling around in my mind while I browsed through the episodes of one of my newfound, favorite shows, The Good Life (highly suggest subscribing by the way).  In a particular episode I came upon, the hosts were interviewing a woman named Cathy Heller Reinstein, an aspiring singer/songwriter who took her talents a different direction and started a podcast called Don’t Keep Your Day Job.  Her message was all sorts of inspirational.  Basically, she encourages her listeners to figure out their passion, their purpose, and turn them into a profitable, thriving, full-time career.  I was hooked, and instantly started downloading her episodes, listened to each one, intently, with hope in my heart and one glorious thought in my mind; I actually can make a difference, no matter what I’m doing!

Today is a beautiful day in the Northern Midwest.  The sun is shining brightly, the leaves are beginning to turn, and a long bike ride was calling my name. I love being out in nature, whether on my bike or on foot.  It’s quiet, peaceful, and allows ample opportunity for reflection.  As I rode down the Dakota Rail Regional Trail, passing by lakes and lowlands, forests and pastures, I felt completely at peace.  I felt happy.

Then Mr. Brain took over, and I began to question myself; Why am I so damn happy?  This isn’t right?  Surely there must be something I should be stressing about?

Isn’t it funny how so many of us have conformed to the belief that life isn’t easy, and unless we are stressing about something, we must be doing something wrong?  Simply feeling happy and free isn’t normal.  Why is that?  Are we supposed to be stuck in an office, answering emails, wearing business suits, working a typical nine to five?  That’s the definition of success, right?  That’s how successful human beings spend their days, isn’t it?

But, why?

And here is another question for you, how many of you have a job where you truly feel like you can be your best self?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some people are where they are supposed to be and are fulfilling their life’s purpose, and that is amazing.  To those folks, you have my respect.  Bravo for making your passions a reality.

Then there is the other part of the working population, the dreamers who have succumbed to the norms of acceptable, societal standards, watching their life’s purpose slowly disappear in the breeze.

For as long as I’ve been a “professional” I’ve been a searcher, a seeker.  Sure, I’ve taken a few leaps of faith here and there, but always had the almighty dollar in mind, and therefore held multiple positions where I felt like I was dying inside, everyday.

Not anymore.

My sister’s illness and death opened a portal into a new way of thinking.  There really is no need to be stressed out every minute of every day wondering why we are doing what we are doing.  Here’s a couple of thoughts… do something else, or find a way to work your life’s mission into your job!  I’m thirty-six years young and I feel like, only now, do I truly have a firm grasp on what it is I’m supposed to do with my life.  THIRTY-SIX YEARS ON THIS PLANET and am just figuring it out.

And I’m cool with that, because each experience I’ve had, each career where I have felt my soul slipping away, has gotten me to where I am.  Cliche?  Maybe, but it’s the truth.

So, how do we take that leap?  Don’t we need the proper resources, time, experience?  Will our family support us in our quest to fulfill our purpose? Or maybe we feel that we can incorporate our mission at our current place of employment, but how do we accomplish this?

Stemming from my worlds of experience, and having recently tested the waters of these concepts, I’d suggest doing the following:

Step 1: Write down the top three things in your life that you are passionate about. Art? Helping others to improve their lives? Fitness?  WHATEVER.

Step 2: Brainstorm ways to project that passion into the world, perhaps by way of writing, speaking, traveling, researching, whatever you feel comfortable doing.  Truly take some time to think about what your strengths are. We live in an age where anything is possible, so tell that little doubting voice in your head to shove it.  YOU CAN DO IT.

Step 3: DO!  Seriously.  Just do it, whatever that it might be. For example, I launched this blog knowing full-well that I still had some kinks to iron out, but the path to purpose can be a process. Still, I just did it.  I’ll tailor what needs tailoring as I go.  I’ve also started to submit articles to magazines, as writing is a passion and an excellent way to project my energy and mission into the world, and low and behold, I will be having one of my articles published in a prominent MN publication this October!  As far as implementing my passion and purpose into my work-life, I’ve tailored my real estate brand to focus on living simply, as so to educate my clients to not miss out on life because they are “house poor.”

I’m. Just. Doing. It. Because my purpose is to shed light on a dark world, and I want to be a voice, even if it is just a small voice in a great big stadium, screaming at the top of my lungs that life is great, big, and beautiful if we only have the courage to make it so.