Friday, December 23, 2005

As I sit here and ponder about Christmas, my heart somewhat heavy at missing my loved ones that have passed on to the next life, I am grateful for my family that is still here, for everything that I have and for all the wonderful people who have come into my life both physically and cyberally (is that a word?) for whatever reasons.

I am a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason, and while I may not know the reason I truly believe that God never makes mistakes so I have faith that whatever it is, it is for my best interest because God only wants the best for all of us.

So as we mingle with our family and friends and partake in all this holiday season has to offer, let us not focus on the things we do not have and let us not forget to be thankful for everything we have.

And above all, let us remember that JESUS is the REASON for the SEASON.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah to each and everyone of you.

Love & Peace,

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dealing With Loss through the Holidays

With the holidays approaching and the memories of my departed love ones never far from my thoughts, I reflect back to that first holiday season immediately following the losses of my mother and son, and remember how I dreaded the holidays as they neared.
My mother died in August and my son in September of 1994, so the first holiday without them was Thanksgiving. Prior to 1994, as a family tradition, we spend every Thanksgiving holiday, matter of fact now that I think about it, every holiday at my mother’s house. Because of that, I had no idea of what we would do now that she was gone.
As the holiday drew nearer I began to experience feelings of panic, of insecurity and fear, feelings that seemed to intensity daily. I began to wonder if I would be able to endure the pain of facing the holidays without my love ones as I was certain the pain I felt from those losses would surely increase because my love one(s) were not here to share the holiday with.
The feelings of fear, pain and insecurity began to interfere with my daily thinking process and before long I was not able to focus on one thing for any length of time. This meant that some things either went undone, they weren’t done correctly, or if they were, it took longer for me to complete them.
When Thanksgiving Day finally arrived, I opened my eyes and realized that all of the fears and insecurities that I’d experienced had already reached their peak. I discovered that I was no more fearful or felt any more pain than I’d felt the days, weeks and months preceding the holiday. I realized that all of these feelings were because of my anticipation of facing the holidays without my love ones.
I realized that everyday, whether it was a holiday or not, the pain was no more or no less than what it had already been since losing my loved one(s) holiday. I also realized I’d been living every day without my love ones since their deaths and since I had already survived those days, weeks and months, I knew I would survive Thanksgiving too.
With that realization, the feelings of fear and insecurity didn’t overcome me as the Christmas holiday neared and so too I survived Christmas as well. I’m certainly not saying that I wasn’t sad or I didn’t miss my love ones. I assure you I did. But the anticipation of the holiday didn’t add to the pain of my losses. The pain’s was already there and to some degree, I believe it will always be there.
After surviving my first holiday season without my love ones, I haven’t experienced the type of fear or anxiety over an approaching holiday, birthday, or other special day that I shared with my love ones. I have accepted the fact that my loved ones aren’t with us physically. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be with us spiritually.
I’ve learned that once I accepted that fact I can now face anything that life throws my way. But I did not get to this process of acceptance overnight. It took months of attending Grief counseling in a group setting where I learned the process of grief, and prayer.
I’ve learned to rely on my faith in God. I realize that with God’s help, I could make it through anything, to include the loss of my parents, a child and other special people that impacted my life.
Through my faith in God and my quest for understanding His word, I feel that God was not responsible for the death of my love ones as God is the giver of life. In John 10:10, He states, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,”so He is the one who could help me to get through the loss of my loved ones.
I credit my faith in God for being where I am today in the grief process. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been able to accept (the final stage in the grief process) the loss of my loved ones.
When I am weak and feel that the pain is too much to bear when I think of my loved ones not being here, I turn to God and ask Him for strength and courage to make it through any moment of weakness or sadness.
It is only with the passage of time that will lessen the pain associated with the loss of a love one. There’s so much truth to the saying, “Time heals all wounds.”
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and a holiday or other special day is approaching and you feel you cannot cope, I urge you to seek some type of grief counseling. Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you going through can help you make it through the this most difficult time.
Eventually you will be able to face any day, even the holidays knowing that your loved ones are not very far from you. Once you do, you will be able to accept what has happened. You’ll eventually realize that as long as you live with the love of your loved one(s) in your heart, they will always be with you and will live through you.

Love & Peace,
Vanessa A. Johnson, Author
When Death Comes a Knockin', A Self-Help, Inspirational Book About Loss and Grief Available: Author's Website:

Friday, October 21, 2005

Vanessa A. Johnson, Author and Now Speaker Too!

At my first booksigning in March of this year, I was approached by the Community Education Coordinator for my parish. I was asked if I'd be interested in leading a class on grief for the upcoming Fall Semester (a paid position). I agree, and the class was announced via their community booklet. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused those plans to be postponed at least until the Spring, according to the Coordinator.

A week or so following the hurricanes, I received a call from the Coordinator asking me to be the guest speaker at their Women's Club meeting on October 20th. I could make the speach on grief, the Coordinator said. Of course I agreed. I was told I could also sell my books afterwards.

As the date neared, I printed pages and pages of information on the subject of grief. I copied the table of contents from my book on loss and grief trying to prepare myself. And I prayed and prayed. As I said, this was to be my first public speech and I'll be the first to admit I was nervous as HELL.

On the morning of the event, I nervously repacked my book case, making sure I has enough books (the coordinator said to expect between 40-50 in attendance), and promotional materials (ink pens, magnets, brochures and business cards).

When the group convened for a 10-minute break, I said a quick prayer that I wouldn't have a brain freeze when I get up there, as I was due up immediately following the break. As the Coordinator introduced me, I again said a quick prayer to be able to pull this off. From years of being a certified instructor on my job for the past twenty or so years, I remembered a few things I'd learned in my years as a Supervisor on how to be an effective instuctor. 1) Don't just stand there and lecture to the students. 2)Include a funny story or two, to personalize the talk and 3) Involve your audience in the discussion. Doing these things make the time pass and help further the discussion.

I laid my papers on the poduim. I remember looking down at it right after I began speaking, and that was the last time I looked at it. I incorporated what I knew from my job and before I knew it, I had the group laughing, commenting and asking questions on the subject, some cried as they released pent up emotions both due to loss (death) and the stress of the hurricanes. Many heads nodded in agreement to what I was being discussed. I knew the subject of grief could be a hard topic of discussion, and I used current events (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and incorporated them into the discussion. All of the attendees were from my parish, so I knew firsthand of the stress/distress associated with the hurricanes and explained how grief isn't just associated with death.

Before I knew it, my talk was over and I was getting a standing ovation. When I sat down, I was immediately surrounded by many who wanted to purchase copies of my book and many who wanted to ask a question about the grief process or say individually how much they enjoyed the talk. The event was a huge success in my book. Not only was I paid for this speech (woohoo!), I was asked if I'd return at a later date and do another talk, to which I agreed. I was also approached by the president of the Women's Club about joinging the group, and by the president of the New Orleans Chapter of RWA about joining them. The Education Coordinator said again how she'd still like me to lead that class on grief and loss in the Spring for Adult Education. (Can you see me cheesing up in here!)

I guess if there are morals to this story, they are: 1) have faith in yourself, 2) know your subject matter, 3) rely on what else you know, and 4) know how to pray.

Here's talking to you.

Love & Peace,


Monday, September 19, 2005

Waiting With Baited Breath on Hurricane Rita

As many of you know, and for those of you who don't, I live right outside of New Orleans and the area has been hit by the most devastating natural disasters recorded in American History. If you're from Mars or Jupiter, then you might not know what I'm speaking of, but if you're anywhere in the Continental United States or other neighboring country, you know I'm speaking of Hurricane Katrina that struck on August 29, 2005.

Here we are three weeks later, and we are possibly faced with the impending threat of yet another Hurricane. Rita is her name. Most people who live inside Orleans Parish has not been allowed to return home yet to survey the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Over the past few days, they were given a glimmer of hope of possibly returning only to hear Mayor Nagin annouce that the reentry plan has been cancelled and for those that did make it in to the West Bank of the River (Algiers) have been warned that they must make preparations to leave by Wednesday as we await Rita's passage over southern Florida and enter the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest newscast say that Rita should reach hurricane force winds tonight as Southern Florida once again gets pounded. And those of us that live along the southern coastline (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas) wait with baited breath as Rita decides her destructive path.

I have seen the pictures first hand, and heard some of the stories from inside sources that will never make the headlines of some of the happenings in and around the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina struck. Sad, just sickeningly sad and utterly unbelieveable I tell myself.

I, being an employee of law enforcement community, must stay behind and mann the fort, while my family once again gathers precious belongings and head for higher, safer grounds. This has been the 'norm' for me for the past 28 years. Many people have often asked me through the years, why I must stay. To them I say, "Somebody's gotta do it." I've been doing this so lone, it's almost second nature to me now although I admit, my heart aches as my family pulls out of the driveway.

Once they depart, it is not long before I suck it all up, and head for my 911 Center, which will become my temporary home until after nature unfolds its wrath. So once again, I sit, and wait and in between sitting and waiting, I pray. But I pray for this entire area, because as much as I pray the storm bypasses us, I know that someone will be in Rita's path, but for all that we've suffered here in southern Louisiana, I know that this area may not be able to withstand a mild thunderstorm, let alone a major hurricane.

I guess there's not much else we can do either way, except pray. I'll be praying for us but I asked each and everyone of you to pray for us all as well. God speed!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

An Eye Witness to Hurricane Katrina

It's been over a week since Hurrican Katrina spread her wrath over the Gulf Coast line and disrupted the lives of many, while destroying the lives and livlihood of many more. I have been employed by St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office since 1977 and I've spent all of my time in the Communications Division, now serving as the 911 Dispatch Supervisor. Being classified as 'essential personnel' meant that I was one of the many who had took an oath to remain at my post for the duration of the storm.

We were placed on active standby a few days before Katrina was expected to make landfall somewhere along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama. Many, if not all of us nervously packed our family members and precious personal belongings and sent them away to safer, higher grounds since most, if not all of the area is below sea level and with the levels of water predicted to accompany Katrina, well, let me just say it was not a pretty picture being painted by the our Emergency Operations Center and the National Weather Service.

For the first time ever, half of my department's employees were being evacuated to East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department for safe keeping. This just goes to show you the mindset of my administration. Eleven of us stayed behind to hold down the forte.
At 2300 hours on Sunday, August 28, 2005, the winds were beginning to increase so much so that we decided it was time to shut down the operations in the 911 Center and take cover in the main courthouse building. My Dispatchers manned the dispatch area in the basement of Emergency Operations Center, while the other employees bunked down on the 3rd floor of the building.

At 0100 hours on Monday, August 29th, everyone settled down on the army cots in what used to be our Criminal Records Division/II Division. At approximately 0330 hours, I was awakened by the sounds of a constant alarm sound. The room was completely dark, but being familiar with my surroundings as I was in the room behind what used to be our Communications Rom, I fumbled my way out into the hallway to find more darkness with only the sounds of the alarm penetrating the air. For approximately 5 minutes I stood there, as my mind began to wonder if the courthouse had been evacuated and I'd been forgotten as the alarm that was sounding obviously hadn't awaken anyone else.

In the darkness I managed to find an icechest in the hallway and decided to sit and wait as I didn't know what else to do. Shortly thereafter, I saw a light heading my way. One of the IT guys had awakened to the sound of the alarm on the servers behind where I sat. He informed me that the emergency generators had failed. He then handed me a flashlight and I walked the hallways looking for other signs of light as he disappeared in the room where the servers were. Soon, a dear friend of mine, who's married to a Major in the Sheriff's Office walked out. We chatted for a few and then she said she was going back to bed. I told her I was headed down the three flights of stairs to get a look at the weather, that we could hear rumbling and whistling through the concrete walls of the courthouse. She declined to join me and told me to be careful as the stairwell was really dark.

Just then another member of my department joined me and we descended the darkened stairs. Once downstairs, we saw that members of the EOC and other parish officials were already down there, standing outside the double glass doors to the courhouse's back entrance. We found some chairs and decided to wait the storm out there. Every now and then we'd walk outside to get a feel of the weather. Before long, many of us found ourselves making bets about how long it would take for the awnings to be ripped off of one of the office trailers housed by our Public Relations Division, or which tree in the area would be the next victim to snap like a toothpick and topple over.

For hours we sat and watched the wrath of Hurrican Katrina unfold right before our eyes. Then it was announced that we should discontinue using restroom facilities until the generator could be repaired for fear it would back up into the EOC. Many of us ignored these warnings. You know how it is, tell us we can't use something and regardless of the consequences, mother nature will kick in quicker that you can blink your eyes. Before the morning dawned, I knew I could not function without bathing, so I informed a co-worker that I was going to sneak back up to the third floor and take a quick shower. As I undressed, and stepped under the trickling cold water, I suddenly heard a loud boom. Shivering, I showered and as I was getting dress, my co-worked came to check on me.

We later learned that the loud noise I heard was part of the roof being torn off the courthouse. It would be much later that we learned it was the work of a tornado that caused the destruction to the roof of the building. It's funny now that I think about it, but can you see the headlines now, "Sheriff's Department Employee Bares It All During Hurricane Katrina." LOL! Thanks God, I still have my dignity too!

Sustained winds got as high as 120 MPH at times where we were and as the sun rose, it was scary and errie, yet a wonderous site to see Mother Nature in action. Hours later as the winds and rain calmed a few deputies were dispatched to survey the area, for damage. I don't believe there wasn't a street in St. Charles Parish that didn't have trees down across them. The entire area was out of electricity. When it was cleared to do so, some of us got in my Jeep to check on our homes after learning I had a pecan tree sitting on the back of my house. Practically every house had some of the shingles blown away, while others had other property damage.

But with all of the devastion many of us suffered in St. Charles Parish, in no way can it can be compared to the destruction caused to our neighbors in Orleans as water rose to record levels across the entire New Orleans area almost completely covering the tops of roofs as the levee along the 17th Street Canal burst, to our neighbors in Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemine Parishes, Grand Isle, LA, Biloxi and Gulfport Mississippi as well as areas in Alabama, where complete towns have been completely washed away, huge riverboat casinos have practically disappeared off the face of the earth. May of the surrounding states have opened up their arms and embraced our fleeing neighbors, trying to bring a sense of normalcy to the evacuees.

Today is Saturday, September 10, 2005 and it is twelve days since Katrina landed along the Gulf Shores, and the last of the evacuees are finally headed for safety in other states. But for the many that have gotten out, there are countless others who weren't as fortunate. As Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco pleaded to our government for help, it was days before anyone heard their cries and responded. It was even longer for federal agencies began responding with basic necessities of food and water. Many sat squatted on the roofs of houses, apartment buildings, along the high rises of roadways, bridges for days, some literally dying of thirst and dehydration. It is believed that many will be found dead in the attics of their homes or trapped in cars and other things at the bottom of the waters. Twenty five thousand body bags were ordered for the city of New Orleans.

It is rumored that hundreds of NOPD officers walked off the job, in addition to a few who committed suicide shortly after Katrina exited the city. The water has slowly begun to recede in the affected areas, but it will be a very long time before life can and will return to normal in many areas. Many have declared thay are not coming back to New Orleans, I believe there will be many more who will return to the place they have called home, to New Orleans, the city that is world reknowned for it's culture, for it's food, for it's heritage, a city known as The Big Easy.

Life has almost returned to normal for us in the outlying areas surround New Orleans, well as normal can be anyway. Me being a product of the 50s, I can remember the wrath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969, and through the years, those were the two named storms that many boasted about as being the worst but I believe now when you hear anyone talk about hurricanes, Katrina will certainly take the number one spot as worst storms ever experienced. To me, it certainly was a site to see and I don't think I will ever forget it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

VeeJay Does Disney

During the week of August 6 - 11th, I had the opportunity to visit Disney World in Florida for a week of fun and sun with my husband and 6 year old daughter, Alexis. This was not my first visit to Disney World. I converged in Fantasy Land during the summers of 1988 and 1989 with my son, Haven.

While a lot of the sites had not changed in the 17-year span, much has been added to further the delight of wide-eyed munchkins like my daughter. But children aren't the only ones I saw as I overheard 'oohs and ahhs' of the elders hiding under the premise of escorting the little ones. Yes, I admit, I silently uttered a few oohs and ahhs of my own.

Before long, the writer in me emerged as I sometimes paid particular attention to sights, sounds, colors, that one day might find its way into one of my stories. I captured images on camera, collected brochures, spoke to strangers while waiting in lines...

The temperature was scorching, to say the least. It rained practically everyday we was there but none of this was enough to stop the onslaught of people from around the world as they poured into the various amusement sites of Magic Kingdom, Disney's MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot, many clad in plastic rain gear, while others wouldn't dare let a little rain spoil their fun.

I'm sure I did enough walking during these four days to last for rest of the year. This is definitely one place that every person (child and adult) must visit at least one time in their lives. With all of its glitz and pagentry, particularly during the nighttime spectacular parades and shows, it is definitely a magical place that will cause you to forget, if only for a short time, the state of the true world we live in.

While there, I didn't think of how many murders were occurring in my town, what bills needed to be paid, what deadlines I had to meet, what was happening back at work. Yes, I took advantage of this time and allowed my mind wander into the carefree world of make believe as I smiled and waved at all of the people dressed in the characters of Mickey, Minnie, Goofey, Tigger, Pooh, Lilo, Stitch, just to name a few, passed by. When I rememberedmy camera, I snapped their photos too. Yes, it felt good to release the cares of the world and partake in the world of make believe, even if only for a short time.

Now back home, I feel reenergized to tackle real life once again. Back to life and back to the world of writing.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to offer autographed copies of my non-fiction book, When Death Comes a Knockin'. While I must admit, the book sales I had...well, let's just say they could have been better since I was set up for approximately 6 hours as hundreds of attendees from the National Fraternal Order of Police Conference were immensed in the food, spirits and fresh air along the River Walk in New Orleans.

I handed out a slew of brochures, business cards, book marks and pens, all with either my book info, or places where my book can be purchased; as well as promo items for other authors who have graciously sent me promotional items. In addition to book sales, I met a lot of interesting people. My book is a self-help, inspirational book about loss and grief. During the course of the evening, at the urging of a concerned husband, I spoke to his wife about the recent loss of her sister and the emotions she was experiencing due to the recent death of her sister to cancer which resulted in a book sale, and a girl who had lost her mother a month ago, another book sale. Other sales went to people who simply stated they were avid book readers.

In addition to the book sales I did have, I met a mot of interesting people, namely a funeral director, two gentlemen who are the directors of grief counseling and grief notification for their agency (who also purchased a book), a critical care nurse, and a director of psychology for the state of Kentucy, etc. Why am I mentioning these, you may wonder. Because all of these could result in further book sales for me, as my book would be a perfect fit in their areas of expertise.

The point of this whole post. I'd like to stress that while book sales are great, and while every event migh not net the books sales you desire, be prepared to at least hand out your promo items to attendees, and greet every person with a smile as they pass your table and pick up your promo item. Who knows how many sales or other opportunities might lie ahead for you from that event.

Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome of that event. Only time will tell if any other sales will be garnered from the event. But I can assure you of one thing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!