2017 Innovative Educator Award

2017, Dan, Family, Joy, Marriage, Parenting

With Father’s Day this past weekend I was thinking about what I wanted to write about my amazing husband and even more amazing father to our boys.

Last Tuesday, Dan received the Michel J. Farrell Chair in Honor of Thomas N. Southard’s Innovative Educator Award by Shady Side Academy and my excitement and pride for him were the exact words I was looking for to describe the incredible man he is.

For those that have the privilege of knowing Dan, or Mr. Stern, you know how infectious his personality is. He exudes what it means to be a positive role model. The children that he has taught, since beginning his teaching career eleven years ago at Shady Side Academy, have embraced our family because of the support, encouragement, and positivity that Dan has given each school year, each summer at camp, each year that he’s moved dormers back into the dorms, each day he’s stepped foot into school, or out the door onto campus.

This year has been especially hard, having to return to the classroom after our son Toby died, but he did it. Each day and week was not as easy or tolerable as other years, but he persisted, with grace and professionalism because of the gift he has, because of his dedication to his students. He has more patience than many and his ability to turn a situation at a breaking point into the most amazing learning experience is something that I admire most about this man.


I have had the pleasure of spending moments in his classroom each year and the energy and joyful passion that each third grade class has held, continues to grow, year by year.

Third grade 2017.JPG

Moving Up Day is always a special one in our house because after the day is done I get to hear about who he saw – what parents stopped in, what students came to say “goodbye” and what lifers came back and spent time laughing and reminiscing in his classroom. Whether we are attending an SSA function on one of the campuses or enjoying the city of Pittsburgh, we are continually stopped by parents, grandparents, boarders, faculty, camp counselors and students who always greet Dan with a hug, and handshake and a smile. “Hi, Mr. Stern!” I can see it in their faces, they are truly grateful for the positive impact my husband has had on their lives. He smiles, laughs, and can remember every single one of their names. Every single one. That is a gift.

moving up day 2017 1

He is a modest man, he will not make a big fuss about this award. So I will. He deserves the fuss. He deserves the acknowledgement. He deserves the “Congratulations.”

Shady Side Academy – to the administration, faculty, staff, dorm community – our friends who have become family – to the families that have supported Dan, the legacy families of SSA whose children have all gone through Mr. Stern’s Third Grade Classroom – Thank You! Thank You for acknowledging this amazing teacher’s talents and for encouraging him to continue with his passion and cheering him on along the way.

Dan, the roles and projects that you have taken on, even started at the Academy, since you began teaching in 2007 are woven into every chapter of our life. I have watched you, year by year, continue to succeed, learn, grow and open the door for others – students and faculty – that you have been a role model for.

graduation 2008

You are the best example of a husband and father and Lucas and Toby are so very lucky to have you as their dad. I am blessed to stand by your side as you continue to “knock it out of the park” and show me how to take chances, go for it, and even if it’s not the right fit – have fun while you’re doing it! Luke will have a million high-fives for you and our precious Toby is looking down from Heaven, smiling, saying “Hey, that’s my Dad! He’s the best!”

IMG_2611 (2).JPG

When receiving the award, these words were used to describe Dan, “to be an innovative teacher means to be a motivating teacher.” That could not be more spot on.

Congratulations on the recognition of your excellence, dedication and service to the students of Shady Side Academy and other Pittsburgh families with whom you have crossed paths over the last eleven years!

Cheers to the next decade of teaching!




The Farley-Kluger Initiative – Parental Bereavement Leave

2017, Creating Change, Family, grief, loss, Parenting


Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back

Over the last 10 months I have come across other grieving parent’s stories, whether at in-person meetings, from acquaintances that know someone who has lost a child, and through online forums and blogs supporting the bereaved community.

There have been parents who’ve had to return to work three days after their child has died – THREE. Three. Some were given 7 days and for the employer, that seemed gracious. Other parents who weren’t mentally ready have been given an ultimatum – with the end result being the loss of their job. Some have chosen to quit their job because the pressure of being back into a position and being at the top of their game was what was expected, but not anything close to what they could handle.

I cannot even fathom these situations. I hardly remember the weeks following Toby’s death. I didn’t drive for almost a month. I avoided the grocery store like the plague. Even just stepping out into our yard what a feat because I was petrified someone on our street would stop to talk to us, not knowing that Toby was no longer there.

We, Dan and I, have been blessed that the concept of returning to work was not on a 7 day time clock. That was one prayer we didn’t even know to pray, but an answered one that we now thank God for continually.


Today’s FMLA allows (up to) 12 weeks off unpaid for the birth of a child, adoption of a child, care for a sick family member or an injured service member. There is nothing for parents whose child or children have died.

In 2011, grieving dads Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley started the Farley-Kluger Initiative to Add Loss of a Child to the 1993 FMLA, in honor of their children, Katie and Noah Farley and Erica Kluger.

Any parent or guardian who is employed needs time to grieve and return to work to organizations they are loyal to, in the best condition possible.

In honor of those who have lost children or know someone that did, please take a look at this petition – SIGN ITSHARE IT – and ask our leaders in Congress to put aside differences and show compassion for those that grieve now and those that will in the future.



Here is an excerpt for the letter that I wrote to accompany my signature on the Farley-Kluger Initiative petition:

“As a bereaved parent who lost our infant son, Toby, nearly 10 months ago, I support the The Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act/ The Parental Bereavement Act of 2017 and the efforts to modify FMLA to include any bereaved parent who is in need of the support and benefits that are outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act. Bereaved parents should be allowed the time to resurface from this life-altering event, or at least get to a place where going to work helps bring some sense of normalcy back into their lives, and not have to rush back into it before they are ready. There is no healing from the loss of a child, but requiring parents to return to work because they need their salary and benefits to continue to support the everyday needs of a family is just wrong. I encourage you to give this issue serious consideration for those of us who now, and in the future, will be living with children in Heaven.”

As we continue our initiative of incorporating The Little Fox, a primary focus of our work is to build support and education around the lives of bereaved parents. The Farley-Kluger initiative hits right on the head of these issues that are a passion of ours and something we want to be able to support and CHANGE. Just like I said a few weeks ago “uncomfortable conversations create change.”

This is just one step to creating that societal change. And, it’s a big one. Please be a part of making this happen!

Disclosure: While we are very much in support of this amendment to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, we want to make it clear that following Toby’s death we were blessed to have employers that allowed us the time that we needed and supported our family.

Happy FIRST Birthday, Toby! 

2017, Family, Joy, Toby

Dear Toby, 
Happy First Birthday, sweetheart!! I woke up today wanting to run to your room to sing you happy birthday and kiss your chubby cheeks. I’m sure Luke would be right at our feet jumping to grab you and singing with us. 

We have spent nine months talking about you in between the sorrow, but in between the tears we’ve been imagining the milestones, too. Your first time rolling over. Clapping. Pulling yourself up. Holding your favorite toy for the first time. Sitting up. Eating fruit – would you like bananas? We know from experience that Luke was not a big fan at first! Reaching for your toes and sucking on your fingers. We know that you are doing all these things in Heaven and we’re cheering you on here, on Earth. Even the ones that will be coming soon – your first steps! Your first words, probably dada, but I’m hoping for mama at a close second. Your favorite books or songs – give us signs to what those are and we’ll read them and sing them for you. 

Your brother adores the ground that daddy walks on. I have a feeling, from the bond that we shared, you may have been the one to be my shadow, my sidekick. But there would be no denying you were your fathers son. Identical twin, down to the natural hawk your hair had, from the moment it was brushed after a bath. You are so beautiful. 

You were the one that made us a family of four. You came into our family with such ease and – JOY! There’s no other word to describe it. You fit right into the mix from the day you were born and we continue to have moments, with each passing week, where that joy and synergy of our family of four is present in our home. 

We are so proud of you, Toby, for everything you did for our family and everything you continue to do as a messenger of Heaven for people here on Earth. 

Today, on your birthday, we will sing, have cake, light candles, have mass said in your name, cry, hug, celebrate and remember that perfect little boy that made us parents again. Made Lucas a brother. Made our family whole. 

We love you, Toby! Happy Birthday, my sweet boy! Today is your day – do something amazing. Enjoy your cake! Smile for mommy, daddy, Luke and the rest of your family and friends who celebrate your life and thank God for the 12 weeks you were here on Earth. 

More hugs and kisses than 12 months could hold – 

love, Mommy 

Nine Months

2017, Family, grief, loss, Toby

My Sweet Toby,

We miss you so very much. I have spent this past week fighting the flashes of time. Fighting the pain that each memory brings. I have tried to prepare myself for this very week. But, as with the last nine months, there is no way to shield my heart from the pain that comes with the love we have for you, our son.

We continue to have people tell us that you are in the best place. You are taken care of. A place more beautiful than we can imagine. You are smiling. I believe you are, but that does not make me want you here any less. It does not make me smile without crying. My heart still breaks because I cannot hold you.

I cannot believe it has been nine months since I held you. It makes me angry that it has been that long. I miss you. I want to know if you miss us, but I don’t want you to be sad. I don’t want you to wonder why we can’t see you or why we don’t talk to you if you’re right beside us in spirit.

It makes my heart ache to think that you are here, but I can’t see you or hold you. I’d give anything to give you a hug and a kiss. To sing you to sleep or turn on your music box on the crib and watch you watching the fish swim. We haven’t been able to turn that on since you died. I stood by the crib just the other day with my hand on the button, but I couldn’t do it. I was afraid of what would happen if I turned it on.

I’m sorry that Dad and I have not been as strong this month. We are having a really hard time accepting the reality of you not being here, especially with your first birthday being three days from now. We love you, Toby. We try so hard each day to be strong for you and for Luke. You boys are our reason for taking another step. We try to do hard things every day, not because we want to, but because we know you would want us to.

We feel you with us. We know from what Luke says that you are with him often. We ask the angels to take our love to you. To tuck you in each night with hymns, kisses and sweet dreams. We pray that the last nine months have been filled with beauty, grace, love, and happiness for you. That you have been able to provide joy and smiles to many, as you travel the path that God has paved for you. One that we don’t understand, but one that we are trying to trust, through the unimaginable pain.

We hope you hear our prayers, Toby. We hope you feel us missing you and know that while we count the months that you have been gone from our arms, we see them as days closer to the time that we are reunited with you in Heaven. We love you more than you could ever imagine, Toby. No amount of time will ever change that. We miss you more than you will ever know.

love, Mommy

Was always so curious, even at a few weeks old.


I’ve Been Preparing for This Week

2017, Family, grief, loss, Parenting, Toby

….or so I thought.

This time last year I was counting the last 7 days of being pregnant with our second baby boy. Thanking God for a healthy pregnancy, for a healthy baby, and praying for a healthy delivery.

I have been preparing myself for this week for awhile. Praying. Writing. Meditating. Distancing. But I’m not ready. I haven’t been able to walk into any room in our house this evening without crying.

The memories. His beautiful smile. He was always so happy. I want to hear him laugh.

Just like for Christmas, we should be picking out a toy he would like for his first birthday. Not standing at the bakery counter trying to explain to the ladies that we want a memorial cake made for our son, who would be a year old. Them looking at us with pity in their eyes as Luke tells them “We need a cake for my brother, Toby” without hesitation. And then they say, “Maybe you could draw something out and bring it back to us, because we’ve never done something like this before.” I just smile and walk away, as Luke says “Where’s Toby’s cake?”

I can feel my heart breaking again. I sat at mass this morning with Luke in my lap, staring at the altar. Wondering again, what Toby was doing in Heaven? What would he be doing if he were here with Luke and I right now? Sitting in my lap? Playing trucks with Luke on the pew? There is just always something missing from our life. Every single minute of the day.

I found this image today and it has tugged at my heart. 

I’m going to use this as hope this week. We need lots of hope. And prayers. Our hearts are so deeply missing our sweet Toby. Our handsome, soon-to-be, one-year old.

The Great Smoky Mountains Trip Highlights

2017, Family, Parenting


We were fortunate to be able to take a trip in March to Tennessee to visit and explore the Great Smoky Mountains. The mountains were good to us – we had an amazing time and will be returning (once a season if I had my wish).

I wrote a series, being featured on Pittsburgh Moms Blog about our trip. It focuses on how family friendly this area is and all it has to offer from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg and everywhere in between.

Part One can be found here: Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.

Part Two can be found here: Dollywood 

And, Part Three: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Thank you to Pittsburgh Moms Blog for featuring this trip. Also, a huge thank you to Dollywood and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for sponsoring our day at each of your attractions while we visited Tennessee!

If you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation spot that’s an easy car-ride, offers lots of indoor and outdoor activities and can keep kids of any age busy, consider visiting The Smokies.


If you have questions about our trip or the places we visited, send me a note or leave a comment below.

Also, if you’ve visited this area before and have recommendations for other readers, please let us know! Like I said earlier, we plan on returning (very soon). 🙂

One Year in Our Home

2017, Family, Home, Lifestyle

Today marks one year of being home owners. That’s crazy. I think about this time last year and we were so excited for so many things. I remember sitting in the car with Dan at Howard Hanna’s office after we “signed our life away” and holding this ring of keys and thinking about what was in store for us. Our families thought we were crazy – buying a home and having a baby, within 10 days of each other, and then 6 days later moving. Nah, it’ll be a piece of cake.

I was watering the plants out front last night and Dan was cutting the grass in the back yard. Luke was eating a popsicle on the front porch. I looked around thinking I don’t think I’ll ever leave here. Sure, when people purchase a house for the first time I’m sure they think “it’s just a starter.” But this house holds so many things in just the 365 days of it being ours. This is the only place Toby ever called home. This is a neighborhood that we were strangers to, but neighbors opened their arms and hearts to us at the most devastating moment in our life. These are strangers, that became friends and say to us “we know there’s an angel just for Kelvington Drive.”

You know how people say things happen for a reason? I believe it. I believe before we could even imagine it, this is where we were supposed to be. I believe over the two years (our agent Linda Weithorn is probably nodding her head somewhere while all of you are gasping) of looking and thinking “is it the right time?” the deals that fell through and the details that didn’t align with what we wanted for our family, it was all for a reason.

I have this piece of artwork downstairs in our house that says “May our home always be too small to hold all our friends.” The last year has proven that it is that and beyond – and for that, I’m so grateful.

Thank you to everyone that has visited us in our first year here. We look forward to opening our door (and porch) to many more friends throughout the summer and beyond.

There’s a lot of things that are questionable to me anymore, but this purchase we made a year ago is not one of them.

When I come home at night, it feels right. It feels like home.

Here are a few photos from our first days in our home. ❤


International Bereaved Mother’s Day

2017, Family, grief, loss, Parenting, Toby

“A mother is not defined by the number of children you see, but by the love she holds in her heart.” 

Today, May 7, is International Bereaved Mother’s Day around the world. A day to recognize the mothers who have lost a child or children. A day to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to mothers with empty arms and a broken heart, that could be sitting right next to you. 

Please take a moment to read my letter to other grieving mothers on Pittsburgh Moms Blog: 


If you are a mother who is a part of the bereavement community, I am sorry you are here. But please know, you are not alone. 

Sequential Why’s and What If’s

2017, Family, grief, loss, Parenting, Toby

I hate this day. I hate going to bed the evening of the 23rd of each month. I hate waking up the 24th of every month. My motions and routine are clouded by continual flashbacks of August 24th. I can see the events of that day play out in my mind. Every step I take this day, of the last eight months, I am constantly questioning life.

What if we would have left earlier that day? What if we would have been later? What if I hadn’t gone to work? What if Dan had not been at school? What if I wouldn’t have changed Toby’s outfit at the last minute that day? God knows I have idea why I decided to change him in the first place. What if? 

Luke is at the “why” stage of his toddler years. The last few days have been a constant barrage of questions. As he was quizzing me on the way to daycare this morning with sequential why’s, my mind drifted. I thought, if I could have a day with God, I would probably sound just like Luke.

Why did you take Toby? Why could he only be here for 12 weeks and 5 days? Why did you give us this perfect, healthy, beautiful, happy baby and then take him away with no explanation? Why couldn’t you let me tell him good-bye? Why did you take Luke’s little brother? Why do you keep placing circumstances right in front of Dan and I, that to us, seem like nothing but slaps in the face? Why do we have to live our lives without him?

Why? Why? Why? Why? 

The months of March and April proved to be an emotional roller coaster. Things happened, but provided no answers for why Toby died. His headstone arrived and was placed at his grave, unbeknownst to Dan and me. While it is beautiful, just as we hoped. Seeing his name on it, bring so much emotion and sadness, it’s exhausting. The emotional wounds re-opened, the trauma resurfaced.

I am, we are, dreading the month of May. It will begin the months that will overlap with the time that we had him here on Earth.

With the weather getting warmer and the time changing, I have been trying to run again in the evenings. It hasn’t been going well. I go about a mile and my legs get very heavy, my hands start to sweat. I stare at the ground directly in front of me and I hold the tears in for as long as I can. Until I just give up. I shouldn’t be running alone. He was with me, in the stroller, right in front of me – staring at me while we ran. I would talk to him, ask him if he saw the trees or the birds. Tell him what was around us or how far we had gone. He would smile at me. I would smile back. Now the space in front of me is empty. It’s a constant reminder that I will never see him smile again.

August 18_Running with Mom

Running together at the park, August 18, 2016.

I pray. Every. Single. Day. He is smiling. I pray, that he sees Dan, Luke and me smile and that he knows behind each smile is a wish and an ache that he is was here with us. This constant ache in my heart that no amount of joy will ever take away.

Toby, we miss you more than any words or actions could describe.

God, why can’t you just bring Toby back to us?

Music – A blanket thru grief

2017, grief, loss

I’ve had a few people lately ask “what is helping?”

Every day is different. Every situation needs a different crutch or band-aid. I thought that maybe these songs could help someone else, as I’ve searched many times for song lists that help others through grief, only finding a few.

Music touches the soul in a special way. Sometimes it lifts me up and sometimes it causes me to break, but even in those lowest moments I still let the song play. If it is causing that much emotion in my heart and mind, there is something there that Toby wants me to hear.

Im already there

Here are some of the songs that I’ve found help me. I love this line “Sometimes our soul needs a soundtrack.” For right now, this is mine:


Beam Me Up – Pink

Amazing Grace – Peter Hollens

There, There Katie – Josh Gray

Jealous of the Angels – Donna Taggart

Stars – Grace Potter

Who You’d Be Today – Kenny Chesney

Waiting on an Angel – Ben Harper

Outskirts of Heaven – Craig Campbell

Make You Feel My Love – Adele

I’m Already There – Lonestar

They Will Be Done – Hillary Scott


What songs have you used to help in your grief journey? Maybe they remind you of your loved one, or have lyrics that give you hope?

Please share in the comments below.