Tears On The Side of the Road


I stepped out for lunch today and a passing ambulance forced me to pull over to the side of the road, release a few tears, say calming words to myself, then head back to work without my lunch.

The lights. The sounds.

The fear. The pain.

The knowledge.

An ambulance.

The sight and sound of an approaching ambulance still places a paralyzing and debilitating force field over me.  It’s been almost 3 years since my husband’s death, and still, I’m unable to function when I encounter an ambulance. I wrote a little about this fear and pain HERE but felt like I needed to write more after today.

The sirens of police and fire vehicles don’t instill the same ache in my heart. Somehow, those sights and sounds vibrate at a different emotional frequency. But the ambulance?  That shiny stallion of red, white and silver makes me cringe. They make me blink rapidly, grip the steering wheel until it hurts and release a wave of tears.  I frantically scan the area to see from what direction it will come so that I can move out of it’s way.  The quicker it passes, the quicker I can have my meltdown.

An ambulance on active duty symbolizes the morning my husband died.  An ambulance with its lights on and its sirens sounding symbolizes a trip that will change the trajectory of someone’s life for the best or for the worst.



When I see an ambulance, I am taken back to the morning of June 9.

When I see the flashing lights, I am back in the passenger seat of the Prince George’s County SUV where I watched those lights glisten and bounce across the hood.

When I hear the sirens, I am reminded of how frustrated and angry I was as the cars along Martin Luther King Highway and Route 295 would not stop or yield for the ambulance to have an unobstructed path.

Following behind speeding police cars and a caravan of ambulances, the seven minute ride to the hospital felt like hours.  During those seven minutes, I observed and ingested all the sights and sounds of that ambulance.

Although the doctors would later list my husband’s time of death as 8:20am, I had known before we left our home.  I had known before the paramedics walked me to the SUV, helped me inside and buckled my seatbelt, as if I were a small child.  I wasn’t a panicky, scared mess; rather I was eerily calm and almost robotic.  During the ride, I did not think of his death.  Strange, but I didn’t.  I thought about every single other thing related to the ride. The freshly cleaned dashboard of a rather new County SUV.  Faded posters for old music concerts hanging from telephone poles with rusted staples.  A dog chained to a chain link fence that had seen better days.  A drive through line at McDonalds with 3 yellow cars in a row.  Those are the things that caught my eye.  Those random things and the psychedelic flashing lights.  Although the wonderful paramedic supervisor who was driving tried to engage me in some gentle conversation, I could hear nothing over the roaring sound of the ambulance that we were following. And I did not allow one single tear to fall.

In some ways, the paralyzing fear that ambulances can still evoke makes no sense to me but I do understand that our minds and hearts process things in different ways, at different times.  Behind a smile and a genuinely happy moment, there are always moments of grief just below the surface.  Grief never ends.  It’s a never ending journey.  You don’t get to accept or decline your entry to the journey, but you do get to decide how you wish to travel.

The Journey

I know that it’s very hard for those who have not experienced some sort of great loss to truly understand this.  I can honestly say that I didn’t fully grasp it myself until I had to.  Even as I smile about the amazing things my son says and does, even as I enjoy the new dating experiences that I am having, even as I continue to write and experience victories associated with that, my heart remains deeply bruised.  Queen Elizabeth gets credit for the quote, “Grief is the price we pay for love” and that’s such a weighty statement.

One big thing that I have learned is to allow these moments to wash over me, to hurt for as long as it takes, knowing that I can survive to make it back to the “other” side.  Give a loved one a call today and share your heart with them, if only for a minute.  You never know when someone else needs to hear a warm voice on the other end of the line.  And on a personal, selfish note – the little moments count and the peace that they will provide you in a future storm is priceless.



Happy Birthday Daddy

A running joke in our family was my father’s love for Outback Steakhouse. No matter the occasion, DaddyTDJ would suggest Outback.  This tended to work out well because once my husband, MrTDJ, joined our family, the 2 shared an affinity for Outback.  Lucky us!  It wasn’t my favorite place, so I often found ways to convince them both that some other restaurant would be a better choice for a number of reasons (distance, wait time, etc). But for birthdays? Nope!  LOL!  Neither could be talked out of a visit to Outback. Last year, for DaddyTDJ’s birthday, he told me that he just couldn’t look at it the same since the death of MrTDJ.  **sigh**  And, he was very aware of how much the 9th of each month affected me.  So, for his 62nd birthday, we headed to Longhorn Steakhouse.  I only managed to get one picture of LittleTDJ and his grandfather.



Since LittleTDJ is a budding comedian just like his father and grandfather, we had a great afternoon! Less than a month later, we would receive my father’s diagnosis. And 3 short months later, he left this earth. I haven’t been able to write alot about my dad since his death.  At some point I will, but it hasn’t come yet.  LittleTDJ? He talks about his granddaddy all the time and although it’s hard, that makes me smile.  And through at all, my amazing son’s haunting words bring a small measure of wonder and comfort:

LittleTDJ Quote

Not a single day goes by that I don’t think of you. We went to Longhorn tonight for dinner but it will never be the same without you.  Happy 63rd birthday Daddy!


Coming in April – Listen To Your Mother, the Anthology

I’m so excited to finally be able to spill the beans about THE BOOK!!

Yes, an actual book. The nerd in me is supremely happy that this has come to be.  Born of the creative genius of Ann Imig, the Listen To Your Mother show has grown from one stage in Madison, WI to a national movement coming to 39 cities in 2015!  This season is especially exciting because the very first Listen To Your Mother anthology is being released on April 7, 2015.  And, drum roll please, your girl will be in it.

My first acknowledgment as a published author!  Wow! Sending hugs to my inner circle, fist bumps to my virtual friends, and kisses blown to heaven, while I smile and tear up at the same time.  You can click HERE to see the list of all the amazing contributors to this book.  That list???  I’ve been lucky enough to befriend many of these ladies through the Listen To Your Mother project and they are, quite simply, bad asses.  Bad asses UNITE!

If you’d like to pre-order a copy, click HERE.  Don’t worry – I’ll be sure to remind you a million times from now until forever.





In Her Defense, I Defined My Journey

Alone_MrsTDJ.comSo, I got dissed a few weeks ago.

Yup, dissed.  Old school 70’s and 80’s babies can appreciate the deepness of a wound that requires me to use a form of the word dis.  After the dis, I allowed my feelings to be hurt for 1.2 seconds before shaking my head from side to side while laughing to myself.  Looking back, there is no sting; just clarity.

Let me tell you what happened.  I’ve been pretty open about my struggles as a widow.  It’s been a challenge to find the right amount of support for myself.  I’ve been of the mindset that a grief support group for those who have lost their spouses was something I needed.   I tried many (ok, just three) groups and I didn’t like the way I felt in any of them.  In all the groups, I was the youngest person by at least 20 years and the only person with a young child. I certainly don’t believe in a distinction amongst those that are grieving; a loss is a loss.  After the loss of someone special, the living must survive.  Of those that survive, only the strongest and luckiest figure out how to craft their lives into some semblance of normalcy. 


I figured that in a room full of other widows/widowers, I’d be able to share, acknowledge, commiserate, seek solace, give encouragement, etc.  I thought I’d find a “tribe” with these folks.  Sadly, I did not.  Our general issue (loss of spouse) was the same, but nothing else was.  Those facing retirement, grandchildren the age of my son, and people who intentionally choose to never have another love had nothing in common with me.

After the local/in person attempts, I figured, let me try these here interwebs.  A few keystrokes, a little help from Mr. Google and ta da – online grief support.  One specific group on the book of faces seemed promising.  Let’s call the group something generic like “Young Widows” (not the real name).  I was intrigued by the word “young” in the title, hoping that it would mean there would be folks between 20 and 50.   Boom! I found them.  People in their 20s and 30s, pushing forward at work and home, young children like LittleTDJ, etc.  For about a year, I hung on the periphery of this group, finally diving in a few months ago. It felt good to seek specific support and offer direct encouragement to those who were in the early days of grief.  I made a couple of buddies in the group and I was generally pleased with my interactions there.  From time to time I noticed overly negative messages and tones, but I tried to ignore them.

Things reached a fever pitch when a young widow from the Midwest, let’s call her Katie, announced that she had just gotten engaged. She seemed like a super sweet woman and her new fiancée sounded like a good guy, who had been very respectful and understanding about honoring her first husband.  I was the first to post a message of congratulations along with a prayer for love, peaceful times ahead and space to forever grieve her first love while allowing her new love to soar.  Folks!!  You’d have thought I called somebody’s mother a female dog! Within minutes, the thread had over 30 responses with the same consensus – Katie was a dishonest, evil heifer who never loved her husband and I was scum of the earth for wishing her well in a new marriage.  Folks started saying that we were bad wives and bad mothers for not wishing we had died instead of our husbands and for not wanting to remain single forever and die soon to join them

Huh?????  Say what now????   What????


After I got past the general shock, I took a few minutes to re-read the comments that were coming in fast and furious.


The more I read, the more I knew that I had to respond.  I needed to say something for poor Katie.  I needed to say something for myself!  I knew that I needed to make my response coherent, emotional and rational all at the same time. I don’t normally get my feathers ruffled in online forums, but this was different. The attacks against Katie and I had taken a very mean and personal turn. I composed in Microsoft Word first, then cut and pasted into the FB group.  I didn’t know what I was really trying to say except that I knew I had to say something. To speak up for myself, for Katie and for anyone else who felt too intimidated to speak up.  And then I realized that I needed to share my words here because, well, I feel like I tell you guys everything.  LOL!

This is exactly what I wrote:

Whoa! Can we please ease up with the personal attacks?

I stand by my original message of congratulations to Katie and her new fiancée.  As happy as I am for her, I’m saddened by all the negativity that her joyous announcement has spawned. 

She’s in LOVE folks.  LOVE!  Isn’t that what this group is all about?  The love that we each had for our spouses?  The deep and endless hole of sadness over the loss of that love?  The universal love that we feel for one another since becoming united in this awful category?  Not one of us, if asked, would have chosen to join this support group, but look around folks, we are here.  Who amongst us would not rather have our spouse back?  But you know what? It’s not happening!!!  They aren’t coming back. Our lives cannot return to THAT kind of normal ever again. 

However, that’s just it – our lives!  We are still here.  We are alive.  For that, I remain eternally blessed and thankful to God.  Yes, we have pain, and sadness, and loneliness, and tears, but we also can have joy, and humor, and fun, and yes……..LOVE.  I know that my husband loved life, and he loved me, and he would NOT want me to spend the rest of my life sad, depressed and alone as a result of his death.  Nope, he loved me too much for that. 

So the question is – how much do you love yourself? 

Do you love yourself enough to take the risk of finding love again? 

Do you love yourself enough to step out of the shadows to show your heart to another person? 

I call bullshit on anyone who dares pass judgment on Katie or I, and how much we loved our husbands.  And the ridiculous idea that we are bad mothers? Ha!

Sitting in forever solitude while worshipping a personal shrine to your dead spouse doesn’t make you any MORE of a widow than it makes us. 

Crying daily, wearing black and choosing to never date, have sex or remarry does not mean you loved your spouses MORE than Katie or I. 

Choosing to remain unhappy and wishing that you would die means that you need HELP!! 

I salute Katie for making the step that many are afraid to make.

Within 30 minutes, the thread grew to over 100 responses and I was called all kind of bad names that I choose not to type here.  Katie sent me an inbox message thanking me for understanding and stating what she couldn’t get the words together to say.  One particular comment made my blood start to boil and I found myself typing out a not very nice response, but when I tried to hit post, the craziest thing happened




The book of faces told me that I couldn’t because I was no longer a member of that group.  But………but………I was a member 20 seconds ago. 

I quickly logged out of the website and logged back in.  I scanned all my groups on the left side of the screen and did not see the “Young Widow” group.  Da hell is going on?  I clicked over to my notifications and I could see alerts from the heated conversation.  I tried to click one and got the same dang message.  Not a member of the group. 

Well, don’t that just beat all?  Those funky admins kicked me out of the damn group.  My opinion was so unpopular that they felt the need to permanently remove me from their online community.  Wow.  Just wow.  Katie messaged me again to say that she couldn’t tag my name in the response that she was typing, so I told her that I had been booted.  I let her get angry but warned her against venting to the group if she still wished to stay in the good graces of those folks.  She and I are still online buddies to this day, and it’s delightful to sit on the sidelines as she approaches marriage again.

Although I have a strong personality, I’m not always the most outspoken person.  When I have something to say, you’d better believe that I’m going to say it, even if my opinion doesn’t side with the majority.  We were each granted with a brain and life experiences that have hopefully armed us with independent opinions.  I’ve never succumbed to the pressure of agreeing with the “cool kids” in order to keep the peace.  That’s not how I roll.  Yes, I was defending my buddy Katie, but really, it was more.  In her defense, I ended up defining the next part of my journey.  Thoughts and feelings that I’ve had, but had been unable to put words to suddenly sprung forth with ease.  So yeah, I allowed my feelings to be hurt for 1.2 seconds, and then I laughed myself to the point of tears.  That’s exactly the kind of “support” I don’t need.

I stand behind EVERY. SINGLE. THING. that I said in the group message above.

My husband died – I DID NOT.  I do not wish to die.  I am alive (and sane) through grace and mercy.   Even if he didn’t occupy my heart and my memories, my husband will forever live on through my son.  My hopes and dreams for our future are in no way proportional to the immeasurable love I had for my husband.  I pray that I meet a fantastic man who can appreciate, embrace and love the wonderful child that my husband and I made.  And, I pray that I will once again discover romantic love and experience the joy of being a wife.







The Gravity of Grief

My Guys

I’ve been unable to write for several weeks. As the frequency of my sad days and migraines increase, I must acknowledge today as one heck of a “Throwback Thursday.” Today, September 4, 2014 marks what would have been my 10th wedding anniversary.  Wow.  I wrote THIS on my anniversary in 2012 and THIS on my anniversary in 2013.  Today also marks 2 months since my hubby left this earth. Oh, and did I mention that my son started kindergarten last week?

The world is swirling around me and I’m struggling to not fly off the edge. My Daddy and my husband have given me 20 years of memories together, but few photos.  The one above is one of my favorites, the day my Daddy graduated from the police academy.  The grief that I feel upon losing each of them is very deep and very different.  In the months preceding my dad’s terminal illness and death, I believe that I was actually coming to a place where my good days outnumbered my bad.  That’s not so true anymore.  I’ve found a way to get up and go through the motions (sometimes), but things are heavy and dark.  I remain eternally grateful for my family and friends.  There’s no telling where I’d be without them.  And even as those closest to my dad face their own grief on his recent passing, they undoubtedly worry about and check on me consistently.

Writing normally brings me comfort, but I’ve been unable to do so until about two days ago.  The words ran from my fingers to the keyboard and I felt a release of sorts.  Part of me has been afraid to  let the words flow. This morning I felt the pull to put something on the blog.

My Daddy and my husband are linked in a different way now.  My two guys are gone.  And as I grieve the death of my father, I am pulled back into the early stages of grieving my husband. If only we could learn and follow in the footsteps of amazing children like my son.


LittleTDJ Quote



Honoring My Daddy

After a tough battle with cancer, my daddy aka Daddy TDJ here on the blog, went home to be with the Lord. In my best moments, I smile and imagine that upon his transition, he was greeted by a host of family and friends, including my dear husband.

The services for my father, Thomas A. Dunn Jr., were held this past Saturday and I was compelled to write something.  Since then, several people has asked me to share my words, so I’ll post them below.


TADJ Final

“Good morning everyone,

My name is Taya Alissa Dunn Johnson, the only child of Renee and Thomas A. Dunn Jr.

Does anyone remember that commercial where the daughter and father were performing a cheerleading routine together?  How about the instagram photo that went viral a few months ago of a father doing his daughters hair?  Those images seemed to shock so many, but not me.  Those images reminded me of the best parts of my childhood.  The idea of the active, involved father was my normal.

My parents raised me in a household that was filled with love, respect, open communication and togetherness.

Riding a motorcycle with him at age 2?  Yup.

Braiding my hair before school?  Yup, my daddy.

Sitting in chairs half the size of his body to attend imaginary tea parties? Yup, my pops.

Family game night and chinese take out once a week? Yup, my family.

As close as I was to my mother, I was truly Daddy’s little girl, from birth until the day my daddy passed away.

Growing up as an only child allowed my mother, father and I to build an airtight bond that deepened through the years.

My father has always been at my side, for my highest victories and my lowest defeats.  He was the kind of man that provided for his family in word and deed.  He would help you in any way you needed, and definitely find a way give you a hard time about it later.

My father had the kind of personality that made you want to meet him, laugh with him, choke him, hug him, slap him, then laugh again while wondering when you would see him again. He had a way of making everyone feel like they were instant friends.  His voice, his smile and his laugh pulled you in and endeared him to you within seconds.  Every friend I ever brought home adopted my parents as their own.

When my parents divorced, I didn’t feel the same type of hurt that most children feel.  Not to say that I wasn’t hurt, but I knew that my world would be ok.  I was surrounded by love in a way that some people never experience.  My two families were much more like one huge family that included neighbors, friends, co-workers and strangers.  My parents experienced a brief period where there friendship was strained, but ultimately, love conquered all.

The death of my husband two years ago shook my family to its core, especially my close, immediate family. My father, my mother, my mother’s partner Katheryn and I were dazed and grief stricken.  The tragedy allowed the four of us to rely on one another in ways we never imagined.  And at the core, the love that my parents instilled in me from birth was present.   We worked to help one another heal and we worked together for my son Marcus.  Over the year and a half, my father was ill and recovered in our home.  And when I say “our home”, please understand that I’m referring to the house in which I live along with my mother, her partner Katheryn, and my son Marcus.  I watched my mother’s partner open her heart and our home to my father and I saw love.  I watched my mother care for my father during his dying days and I saw love.

I thank God for the 62 years that my father lived and I appreciate the father that he was to me.  From the moment of Marcus’ birth, I’ve been thankful for the grandfather that he was. Although I disappeared a little, watching the love that my father gave to his grandson showed me another side of him as a man.

Many have called me strong and I know that a great part of that comes from the great man who was my father.  Rest in peace Daddy. I love you now and forever.  I hope I continue to make you proud.”


Thomas A. Dunn Jr.

Sunrise – March 9, 1952

Sunset – July 4, 2014


Daydreaming of Him

Daydreaming, Aretha Franklin

“He’s the kind of guy that would say

Hey, baby let’s get away

Let’s go some place, huh

Where I don’t care

He’s the kind of guy that you give your everything

You trust your heart, share all of your love

Till death do you part”

I don’t sleep very much.  And by not much, I mean about 3-4 hours per night.  From time to time, I take the advice of my therapist and let prescription medication help so that I can give my body, my mind and my soul 8 hours of uninterrupted rest.  While most people are comfy and cozy in their beds, I’m sitting in my bedroom thinking.  Just thinking. And writing. And sometimes crying.  Less crying that I wrote about here, If You Think You’re Lonely Now, but there are still some nights that are worse than others.


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Listen To Your Mother Baltimore – 4/26/14

FB Cover

Listen To Your Mother Baltimore is about 1 month away!
Have you purchased your ticket yet?????????
Are you still unsure just “what” Listen To Your Mother “is”?  It’s a national series of original, live readings by members of the community, shared on local stages in 32 cities.  I spoke during the 2013 Listen To Your Mother DC show and felt strongly about producing a show in Baltimore for 2014 (and beyond).  If you’d like to see my performance, click HERE.

The show is an opportunity for a group of individuals to share their unique perspectives on motherhood – the good, the bad and the ugly.  In an effort to empower the community, 25% of the ticket proceeds will be donated to the House of Ruth Maryland, an agency committed to helping victims of domestic violence.

Click HERE for all the details on the show! If you are anywhere in the vicinity, come on out and support our efforts.

I’d love to hug ya!!







My Little Guy Turns 5

fivecandlesThere is a tiny part of me that can’t actually believe that LittleTDJ turns 5 years old today.  I’ve been accepting and rejecting this for the last couple of weeks.  Five years old.  A milestone of a birthday.  His birthday makes me reflect upon a time when MrTDJ and I didn’t think that we could have children.  It makes me smile and giggle about the shocking day that my doctor and I learned of LittleTDJ.  In less than an hour, a routine doctor’s appointment to discuss my inability to conceive turned into me seeing the first heartbeat of our already 14 week old baby.


My eyes water and my nose tingles at the memory of my husband rubbing my pregnant belly while we tossed around names that were horrible compound words using our first and middle names. My pregnancy was an amazing time.  I felt like the most beautiful woman on the planet and my husband reminded me daily that indeed I was.  We had so many ideas, dreams, fears and plans for the little boy we would bring to this world.  Our precious boy roared to life on January 13, 2009 at 11:03am.  The lyrics to a Yolanda Adam song pop into my head, “You’re my little darling child, seeing you makes me smile, God Bless the day he sent my little angel to me.”

And an angel he is. Our son has shared his light, his love and his laugh with everyone he has encountered for the last five years and it has been amazing and enlightening.  As a part of his autism spectrum disorder, there was a time were MrTDJ and I were worried that LittleTDJ would never speak.  Even typing that sentence makes me howl with laughter.  When MrTDJ passed away, our son was barely verbal. Today?  I don’t know where he gets the energy to talk as much as he does.  He is special is so many ways that I can’t describe because typing through tears is tough.

There is a part of me that remain angry that my husband is not here, but I continue to work thorugh those emotions.  Our baby boy is growing and thriving because of God’s grace and mercy.  He is sustained in ways that I didn’t think possible.  I hope and pray that my husband is smiling upon the beautifully complex child that we created.  Rest well MrTDJ because our son surely, surely carries you in every fiber of his being. Happy birthday my little prince!





Who Wants To Take The Stage?

Hey blog family!  I hope and pray that you all have been well.  A few things have been marinating in my head, so I’ll be sure to share on the blog soon.  Remember a few months ago when I told y’all about the live production that I was bringing to Baltimore??  I’m happy to announce that the Listen To Your Mother Baltimore show that I’m co-producing officially has a date and venue!!!!

We will be taking the stage on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 6pm at the Harry & Jeanette Weinburg Auditorium on the campus of Mercy High School.  Tickets will go on sale soon.  I wrote a few thoughts over on the show’s local city blog.  Click here to read it and get all the audition details.