About Me

  Patricia Hammell Kashtock

Aka: Pat Kashtock. Mother of three, wife of one. BA in Social Work and Biblical Studies. Graduate work at Virginia Tech interrupted, then derailed by oldest child’s brain tumor...

My life has not followed the course I planned. But I am not complaining. Pain is to be expected in a world broken apart from its Creator.

The miracle resides in the ability to find joy when least expected...


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Blogs of Note

Windows to the Woman’s Soul (W2WSoul)
Hope's Home
A Redeemed Life
The Writing Life
Kendall Harmon Titus 1:9
A Mom's Life
Robin's Nesting Place

Amen Me!

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For What It's Worth

Each life is a journey. The voices of many guides try to direct us, saying, “This is the path – walk in it!” Yet each one leads in a different direction.

I believe only one Voice can be true. That Voice will lead us in ways most unexpected, into worlds yet undiscovered. It will lead us up the hill, around the river and through the forest. And sometimes, it will lead without mercy.

Or so it seems.

I have made listening for that Voice and following it, my life’s quest. I will share some of what I have heard that Voice say with you. But I am not in the business of telling people how to think or what to believe. Each has to decide for himself. Only you can decide if you find the truth of the Voice in these words. And only you can decide how much it is worth to know the Voice, and follow.

But for me, it is worth the whole world.

And then some…

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Christmas 2015 Light Wars

Christmas 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

We allowed last year’s difficulties to rule out writing a Christmas letter. But that year fluxed into more of the same this year, so I write. There are times when joy abounds, and times when grayness crisscrosses the horizon like empty branches against a dulled winter sky. Times when life teems with opportunity; and times when opportunity eludes our most ardent search. Times of fullness and times of emptying. To everything there is a season. 

Yet some seasons seem interminable. 

Two days after the anniversary of Heidi’s death, Mike and Carolyn’s Mom, Augusta Kashtock Young, died. Her death blasted a hole through the fabric of our lives. No more long chats on the phone. No more laughing over something crazy. No more pure Jersey Italiano remonstrances of, “Whaddah ya wanna do that for?!” Those protests that never changed our plans, but did let us know she cared. My mother-in-law and friend is gone. It has been heart rending to see how deeply this has weighed on Carolyn. She and Mike were steadfast and valiant in their care of Mom. Like rocks…with shattered hearts.

Mom’s death culminated a year of losses of many kinds. Loss opened the very beginning of last year with the elimination of my staff position due to budget cuts. It was a small job, but all I had. The next month, on our granddaughter's second birthday, her her parents found her other grandfather dead on his bedroom floor. By all accounts, he should have been alive to celebrate. There had been no reason to expect his death.

Following this, tests confirmed Mike had prostate cancer. As we struggled to understand the various treatments, the news my Aunt Jane was near death completely blindsided me. I thought she was the same as always. Terrified she would die before I could see her, I bolted up to Jersey guitar in hand to sing for her. Thankfully, I made it in time to spend the last few hours of her life with her. I still can’t believe I will never hear her voice on the phone again, and I will not be able to ask her about our family history. 

We had a short reprieve when our grandson, Felix, was born in June and we were able to go see him. Six weeks later, Mike had surgery. Within a month, Justin landed in the hospital for a two part back surgery. We almost lost him when he went into respiratory arrest following the second surgery. Thank God, a nurse was standing at his bedside and able to revive him. He no sooner was back on his feet when Galen and Lacey hit the wall due to their infant’s inability to sleep. As Mike had not fully recovered and needed to work, and Justin was in no shape to go anywhere, I bounced down to South Carolina to try
to stay up nights with the baby. The first time I saw the two parents; they looked zombie like so deep was their exhaustion. 

Through all of this, Mike’s Mom, Gussie, battled a recurrence of her lung cancer. She seemed to be doing well, but cancer being the thief that it is, we headed up to Jersey for Thanksgiving, a couple days after I got home from South Carolina. The day after Thanksgiving, I sat with Mom and she kept saying how terrible she felt. Shortly afterwards, she was in the hospital and came home on hospice care. With instructions that she was not to be alone. This left Mike and Carolyn to tag team staying with her. Thankfully, FDA gave Mike permission to telecommute a couple of weeks at a time. 

For a while, he and I ran in two directions. I drove down to SC to help, and Mike headed up to Jersey. Throughout all of this, I had been frantically trying to figure out how I could get to Florida to see my Aunt Helen who had developed some health problems. Okay, finally, I thought. January I’ll go to our churches women’s retreat in Williamsburg, beg someone to take the sound equipment back home for me so I could head to SC, help a few days – then continue driving to Florida. Plans set. 

Only Christmas created a different story-line. 

As we started to leave Justin and Hillary’s house that Christmas evening, Hillary’s grandmother suddenly pitched head first down the stairs hitting her head on the hard wooden risers and losing consciousness. Lying  stonestill at the bottom of the stairs, she turned blue. In terror, we waited for the EMTs to arrive. After they took Gwen to the hospital, we scooped up Coralie so Justin and Hillary could head down to the hospital. 

When we got into the car to go home, I picked up my phone only to see it blinking like crazy with a quite a few missed Florida calls from both my cousin’s and my aunt’s numbers. That shouldn’t be. I started to shake. I told Mike I wasn’t sure I wanted to make this phone call. Then called my cousin, Karen. Her Mom, my last aunt and my good friend, died that Christmas morning. Thank the Lord, He prodded me to call her as I drove home from Columbia, SC, just a couple weeks earlier. We talked literally for hours, oh, about everything. Ordinary things. The same things we talked about my whole life, ever since her sister, my mother died when we kids were young. She seemed fine, like herself as always. I had no idea she was so ill. 

Only a couple weeks later, Mike’s Mom died. In what seemed like a blink, I had none of the older generation left on either side of my family, and my mother-in-law was gone. I’ll never hear those loving voices again, at least in this life. Yet this season would not even allow us a decent period of grieving. Because of a court ordered deadline for a project Mike is overseeing, work has been high-pressured and demanding, forcing him to work far more over time than regulations permit him to claim. He bordered on nearly total exhaustion. 

Then in April, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. In excruciating pain, but not realizing how serious it was, I hobbled around a couple months. But it was almost totally torn. Had surgery and once again poor Mike found himself telecommuting in order to take care of a family member. While I still lugged the cast around, one of the water pipes sprang a nasty leak, destroying the new ceiling in the sewing room. By September, I was finally out of the cast and out of the tall cam boot, and somewhat able to drive again, when I tripped and tore to tendon again in a new place. This needed a more extensive surgery. To add insult, the anesthesiologist nicked my vocal cords messing up my voice for a couple of months. Not only did I lack the comfort of being able to sing, but my voice was a wreck for the only available audition.

I’m still not allowed to walk any distance, let alone run or dance. This has forced me to drop out of working with the homeless ministry at McPherson Square in DC for many months. I really miss the street folk there. 

August came. Another flood from a pipe that broke while we were on vacation. We came home to a horrible smell of mold and we could not find its source. Unknown to us, a main beam had rotted through, aided by the handiwork of termites. The outside wall of the famly room was destroyed. Justin found it after the last service of our church as he went to put away the sound equipment.

The church we loved and belonged to from its infancy, died that day. We now have no church to call home, no real support system here. We have no place to easily go back home for the holidays as we had stayed with Gussie the last thirty-seven years. And for only the second time in twenty years, we are not doing music at church on Christmas Eve, a small thing but adding to the feeling of displacement. 

None of this was expected. For two years, loss after loss has blindsided us at every turn. Unlike Paul on the road to Damascus, we have not been blinded and knocked off our horse by brilliant Light. Rather we have been sucker punched by the darkness of a fallen creation. 

But -- Christmas is the season we celebrate the Light Who came to overthrow the world of darkness that assaults each and every one of us. Perhaps it is no coincidence we celebrate the coming of the Light of the world during the most light-starved days of winter. Fear lurks in dark corners because the darkness masks the evil trying to overtake us. Children instinctively fear the dark. Yet there comes a day when the darkness of grief or shame, fear and regret, overtakes us and holds us prisoner. We want to escape, but as surely as shackles restrain our legs, this form of darkness fetters our hearts tightly, and we can scarcely breathe. 

Too often darkness prevails. But long ago, the promise was given that we would be saved from the engulfing darkness.

 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The light now shines on those living in a land of deep darkness.”  

What, or Who, is the Light we celebrate this season of the year so full of darkness?

 “In the beginning, before time began, the Word, the Christ, already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him all things were made. The Word was the source of life. This life brought light to all people. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and will not ever overcome it.” 

Jesus came. The One who was with God, and was God, came as one of us in the way we all come; as a helpless infant. He suffered the way we suffer, even weeping at the death of a friend. He did not come to condemn us, but rather to shine His light into the dark corners of our hearts and minds. To be the Light that guides us when the way is too dark to see. He is the Light Who nurtures us, and strengthens us. The Light Who comforts us when all seems dark in that place grief and shame have overtaken us. 

He is always there, and always Light. In Him, there is no darkness; none at all. 

When fear assails, and sorrow overwhelms – remember this:

Light will always penetrate the darkness. It never works the other way around.

Christmas blessings to you and your families, and to every part of your lives

All our love,

Patty and Michael Kashtock



And the Snow Sang....

While writing today, I needed to type out a journal entry from the year Heidi got sick. It leaves me wondering again what she would have been like if her brain had not been shattered by thousands of rads.

Pat Journal 12/31       

Heidi’s Sara Beth story

Heidi was in bed this morning, confused as to which day it is. She very much wanted someone to play with, but no one comes around anymore. She laid there no longer able to get up on her own, and began to talk.

Sometimes I think about Sara Beth and we are running through a big field with flowers and lots of small animals and a blue sky. The sky is very blue. We play with the animals and have a good time. And Sara Beth and I are so happy. Then we go in to have supper together because we like to pretend we are in the same family.

And snow is falling down in the breeze all sparkly. It is tinkling as it falls as if it is playing a song.

And we sing songs together with the snow and go to bed in the same room. We say our prayers together. Then we reach out to touch each other. And we could almost feel what was in each other’s heart.”

At this point, her lip trembled just the slightest bit before she could finish.

“It’s hard to be away from your best friend.”


Mother’s Day Revisited

I stood there absorbed by the crimson rose one of the church kids had given me. “What would you like to do for Mother’s Day,” my husband asked.

“I’d like to take the flower,” I said.

So we drove out to Woodbine. As we walked through the wrought iron gate and down the stone path, the deep azure of the sky enveloped me. The sun shone bright, yet a knifelike cold pierced my skin and lungs. 

When we reached the site, we found a blanket of buttercups and clusters of tiny blue flowers. A gift. Planted by the One who knew I would understand. Not everyone would know the name of the small blue flower. And no one else could know that buttercups always made her laugh. Those things along with the contrast of the sun's brilliance to the frigid air began to swirl around inside and form into the thoughts below. Someday I will write “Buttercup Laughter.” But for now, even these years later, I still cannot do it. 

Mother’s Day

Posies by a gravestone peeking from its side,

     Tiny dots of blue with yellow deep inside

Little band of color stands in shades of green

    Planted by a Hand that for now remains unseen.


And on this day the bright sun

        barely warms my heart

The bright sun that hangs in heaven….

        where You once hung suspended

And it could not warm Your heart

      The bright sun could not warm Your broken heart… © Copyright Glyn Baker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


I stand here by the graveside, a mother lost in pain

yearning to see her child dance lightly once again.

Longings fill this place with empty solitude

where hope is whispered silently through periwinkle blue.


 “Forget-me-not,” the flowers whisper;

        as if I could forget

your love and lilting laugh

        and carefree dance

“Forget-me-not,” they whisper

        as a breeze strokes their blue heads

        And I think of another One

whose love I’ve known


“Remember Me,” You cry through flowers like the star

      that hung once in the night for another mother’s child

That child, You were also born to die too soon

      while a sword pierced her heart with an empty solitude.


“Forget-Me-not,” Your flowers whisper

        as if I could forget

Your love and joyful laugh

        and steady hands....

“Forget-Me-not,” You whisper

        And pain stabs my heart

To think I could forget the One

        Whose gentle love envelops me


And on this day the bright sun

        barely warms my heart

The bright sun that hangs in heaven….

      Where You once hung suspended

And it could not warm Your heart

      No, it could not warm Your heart

      The bright sun did not warm Your broken heart…


For the lyrics version see Mother's Day

Jean Watson helped me hammer the poem into a format more suited to a song. Then she wrote music for it. To hear her sing the whole song you can go here.


The Happy Cardinal

I put off dealing with stonecutters.  Just could not find anything that seemed right. Well, I knew what I wanted: a cardinal, some dogwood blossoms, and a cross. These had come to represent the full circle of Heidi’s life for us, so I searched. But I could not find a pattern that included all three. I couldn’t even find individual patterns that I liked.


Especially for the cardinal. All the cardinals the various stonecutters had to offer were either grim or prim. Not Heidi cardinals at all. Even in the worst of times, she was never grim-faced. And the only time you got prim from her was if you crossed her sense of right and wrong in just the wrong way. With a quick glance at you, she would stick her nose up and turn away with a, “Hmmmff…” Then stalk off.


Add stiff to that. All those cardinals were so stiff. Their cardinals stood paralyzed on dead branches, no movement in a single line. They evoked the opposite of Heidi’s buoyant personality. I wanted a happy cardinal. One filled with joy because he had finally landed home. Scouring the Internet, I could not find one anywhere.

 I figured I would have to create my own. So, I began to collect photos of cardinals in action that even approached what I envisioned.

But it had been a long time since I had put pencil to paper. Plus I rarely succeeded at drawing in the coloring book style required for cutting granite.

At the start of each day I would pick a pencil up, stare at the pictures on my screen, and overcome with self-doubt, let it drop back to my desk. Eventually I figured out what parts of which photos I wanted to use. In fits and starts, I drew the kind of cardinal I had searched for.

If you look closely, you will see he is smiling.





The stonecutter was excited when I handed him my home-drawn bird. He loved its joy and the movement, and said, “I can tell you what. I will certainly be using this again!”


I felt a little disheartened as I had drawn it for Heidi and liked the idea it would be unique, but also took joy in knowing my attempt would bring comfort to other families.


Line Drawing for a Gravestone


Diary from a Cancer Ward: Just a Mother

Pat’s Journal

 6/21/85 continued

          I’m so alone. Cut off. The world continues to spin on course outside of my daughter’s window. I can see it, but cannot reach it. A glass jar has dropped down to contain us. We can see out, but we cannot get out.

          The air inside grows thin. I have to find a way out soon, or we will die.  

  From the woods behind our house

          It is now late into the night and everyone else is sound asleep. I have been sitting on Heidi’s bed since the latter part of the evening – and praying. Only the rows of stuffed animals that line the walls and cover the bed almost burying the sleeping child, keep me company. The wind blows through the window, gently moving the Holly-Hobbie curtains. Light from the street lamp filters in and softly illuminates the lavender walls.

          Heidi has not once stirred, nor asked why I am here. Her swollen face sinks heavily into the pillow and she does not move with the normal movements of a sleeping child. Instead, she lay there stone-like. Coma-like.

          I pray with every ounce of strength and longing that I can pull up. I reach further and further down until I can reach no farther, for that is all I can do. I am not a doctor. I am not a surgeon.

          I am only a mother.

          So, I pray…

…for what else is left for me to do?


The Last Survivor Is Gone

January 14, 2011


Chica died today.

Seven years to the day after Heidi died; I found her tiny parrot dead on the floor of the cage, back in the one place she never seemed to go.

Seven years. Exactly. Too strange to be coincidence.

Like with Heidi, I thought somehow we could help Chica become healthy again. For thirteen years, we never had a problem with Chica other than one time nicking a new feather and freaking out over the blood that seemed to pour out. The vet’s cure? Pull the feather out. Oh, and one time she got caught in a toy. Thankfully, I was home or she might have thrashed herself to death out of terror. She started feather picking because of that stress, but a full spectrum light and a cage so jammed with toys she could barely move seemed to help her out of that.

 We never saw her sick even for a day. She hung on the sides of her cage and bounced up and down looking for head “scritches” and shredding her tail feathers in the process. Her gentle disposition allowed me to “share” her with the children that came through our home. Expectancy and uncertainty fought in their eyes as they stretched out a finger trying not to snatch it back. I loved watching those eyes widen with delight as the colorful bird stepped up onto their hands, and turned her head sideways to look at them.

Heidi took great joy in her pets. They comforted her when human friends were often few. Becoming severely handicapped in childhood tends to chase away most of one’s peers. Differences can seems frightening for children and teens. But animals don’t care about those. If you love them and tend them, they love you back. Thankfully, most of the pets Heidi had in the last several years, survived, all except for the first parakeet, Mango. He died a couple of months before Heidi.

She tried to cultivate and accepting attitude towards his death, but she took it hard. A sense of foreboding came over me about Heidi when he died, and I wondered if she thought the same.

Then a few weeks after Heidi died, two of her three remaining little friends followed.

Tamiel, her eighteen-year-old chinchilla went home with our niece, Chrissy. But he wasn’t well. I suspect he had been sick for a good two years. He exhibited signs that I now know indicate a fatal GI disorder in chinchillas. At the time, Heidi’s illness overwhelmed us and slight behavioral changes in a pet barely registered. We did not know that like birds, chinchillas tend to hide their illness. Three weeks and many vet visits after Chrissy took him home, Tamiel died in her arms. I really think the Lord may have kept Tamiel alive just for Heidi.

Three weeks after Tamiel’s death, the second parakeet, Battie, died. That left Heidi’s much loved green-cheeked conure, Chica. Like Heidi, Chica loved everyone. For years, having her chirp and bounce in our house was like having just a little bit of Heidi still here.

Then as summer turned to fall, Mike noticed Chica fluffed up and shivering. But that passed. Although I did not know enough about birds to get her to a vet, I felt alarmed, yet suspected the same overactive imagination that warned me Heidi was sicker than I thought was back at it again. Unfortunately, once again, it was right. But I doubt we could have saved Chica. Like Heidi.

For weeks, through holidays, trips home for my youngest brother’s wedding and Christmas, we nursed Chica. Back and forth to the vet’s, and the bills mounted. We shook and measured and syringed medicine down her tiny throat. We cooked up mash and painstakingly hand fed her when she was too weak to eat. I found she liked pancakes. So three times a day I cooked a mini pancake for her. We sliced apples thin and bought blueberry muffins. Anything to get her to eat. And we carried her around the house, tucked under the edge of a sweatshirt or held her in our hands under the warmth of a light.

It seemed like she was getting stronger.

The last night, she did not want to go to bed. Mike held her forever that night. I took her out again at around 1 AM and carried her. When I put her back, she climbed right to the top of the cage and bounced up and down, her head feathered all ruffled up forward towards me. “Chica,” I laughed. “Silly bird. It’s late. Go to bed.”

I left a night light on for her. Covered up poor Reepicheep so he could get some sleep, and went to bed. Mike said she was asleep in her hut when he got up.

When I checked on her, I couldn’t find her, and panicked. Not in her hut. Not on a perch. Could she be jammed in something?

Then back, in the far left corner of the cage, a place she never went, I saw a small bundle of feathers. I reached in and lifted her out, the tears for Heidi I had tried to hold back flooding out. Seven years, to the day, almost to the hour…




Rewrite of Jagged Edges Prologue

Jagged Edges:

 Patricia Hammell Kashtock




Jagged edges of the building, black glass and steel, push into the courtyard below. The sun, glinting off their angles, no longer seems to mock; but neither does it comfort. A woman stands contained within one of its edges, alone. Her sea-green eyes flicker with distant summers when ripples of water bubbled over her feet, making them sink into the warm sand.


Those days slip away from her memory and disappear. An angry ocean blots them out. The waves rise higher and higher. Then crash down.


Crushing, destroying, then calmly receding, the water drags all she once held dear off into its depths.


She stares over the edge. Crystalline images begin to dance on the speckled grass in the courtyard below her. Ponies jump and play dodge with barefoot children while puppies frisk between sun-kissed legs.

Her daughter turns a cartwheel among giant-sized daisies – then looks up. With eyes crackling and hair flying, she waves two-handed to her mother who stands at the window. Head thrown back, she laughs and spins with all the unbounded exuberance of seven going on eight. Suddenly she stops and leaps sideways to tag another scampering child.


Then, like soap bubbles bursting on the sidewalk, the children splinter off into nothingness.     


Slowly the images shift.


A different child dances there – the child of summers long gone. She speeds through complex steps, never faltering, never stumbling. Light sparks outward from the same-green eyes and gives strength to her steps. That joy will die too soon.


But for the moment, love enfolds the child’s dreams. The earth, moon, and stars are her tender playmates while two strong arms keep all her fears at bay.


Then suddenly, those arms are yanked away as a cannibalistic mass devours her mother’s brain.


Puppies and ponies and bare feet on the grass vanish in the cold wind.


The mother closes her eyes. Her shoulders slump as if they had lost the will to stand. For a moment, she rests her forehead in her hand; elbow supported by the other arm braced across her stomach. She tightens her mouth and tries to resist those things that seem all too well known… then waits in the darkness that sometimes seems better than sight.


But the darkness cannot hold us. Slowly my eyelids open. Standing up straight, I turn my head back towards the child cocooned within the white sheets, no longer able to turn cartwheels on the lawn below. I stare. Lifelines intrude into my daughter and emerge out again. And I think:


 It wasn’t all so long ago


Out of the Ashes - June 05, 2010

Families move on. Much like time, even great loss cannot force them to stand still. Often the wake from the loss surges forward and carries them to paces they do not want to go. Perhaps less frequently, it merely becomes a challenge one needs to tame.

But at no time, does it ever just go away.

Sometimes I wish it would. Then guilt pushes up through the choppy surface. And stares.

Yet to avoid celebrating new milestones in the wake of grief is to refuse the gifts from the Creator’s hand. While I am grateful that our initial heartbreak is a few years passed, I cringe thinking of a friend’ whose celebration comes while throes of unknowing grip her family.

Two families. Two weddings on the same day. One family where the loss of a child creates a persistent drone in the under currents. The other family living the nightmare of a son they cannot find.

We have moved on in a sort of a way, although often I feel tethered to something submerged just enough I cannot see its form. But I feel its weight as we drag it behind.

For the other family, at this point there is no place to move to because they do not yet know what they will move from – or whether they will have to move at all. Hope gives strength. But it can also be the knife that keeps the wound raw. Then again, when finality has torched one’s dreams, the acrid taste of the ashes left behind never quite goes away.

As I look and listen to our daughter-in-law to be, feelings of pride and tenderness fill my heart. Yet sorrow also resides there.

Mike will never walk his daughter down the aisle and place her hand into the hand of the young man God has chosen for her, knowing their Creator will watch over their life together. I will never joyously plan alongside of my daughter for that transitioning day when she steps into her new life.

We will never know the assurance of frequent time together a married daughter commonly retains. It seems that sons leave more firmly than daughters do.

And so I look forward with a mixture of pride and joy, and a sense of loss.


Horse Dreams

A song written and sung by a family friend, Jean Watson. Jean volunteers at True Vine, a stable dedicated to matching up rescued horses with special needs children. Jean says the bond that an incredible bond  forms between horse and child.

In her own words:

 I finally posted the "Horse Dreams" video made last summer at True Vine Equestrian Center. The song is a conversation between a 'special needs' child and a horse. I wrote it in memory of Jesse Branch who lost her leg to cancer but still found freedom on the back of a horse and eventually in the arms of her Savior. May we all come to realize that we were never meant to walk (or ride!) this life on our own!  



You can hear more of Jean's music at her website: http://www.jeanwatson.com/