Drake’s 2nd Cake & Being There

Drake Birthday 4

This past Thursday, my nephew Drake would have turned two years old. The loss of that baby boy turned my safe little world upside down and rocked me in ways I didn’t know possible. Before this I was nearly emotionally invincible, nothing could touch me on my best days. I had my health and family. Everything else was secondary and still is. Even at two years after the sadness of his loss, I still carry pieces of that time with me… in everything I do.

Every time I see his perfect little sister, I think of him.
Drake Birthday 3
My daughter shares some of the sadness, though she was still young when he was born. The story that nearly broke me was told to me by her kindergarten teacher after I’d joined her for lunch this past Friday. I guess during class they are now having a somewhat ‘open mic’ time where the kids can get up and talk about anything they wish for 10 seconds. Think “I got a new puppy”, “My tooth is wiggly” or “I brought an oatmeal cream pie in my lunchbox”. Well, my reserved (doesn’t talk in front of the class) daughter brought herself to come in front of the class and announce that “Today is Drake’s birthday and he is my cousin”. To you, that may not sound like a lot, but it just made me swell with pride, yet sink with tears.

It was no surprise that my daughter wanted to have full control (imagine that) of the cake we’d make for Drake’s 2nd birthday. Last year, I took the reins and fully enjoyed spending hours making the perfect cake. This year, she wanted to have a cake she could decorate and it needed “white frosting that tasted like ice cream” and chocolate for the cake. Easy enough right? The cake came together perfectly, as usual. The Hershey’s Cocoa “Black Magic Cake” is the only chocolate cake recipe I use. I put it in a half sheet pan and bake it at 400 degrees for 15-17 minutes. This cake is wonderful and moist.
The frosting I chose was simple “Swiss Meringue Buttercream”. This frosting is my favorite, EVER. I love mine lightly chocolate, but my daughter insisted on white frosting. This frosting is delicate and fluffy, and not too sweet. It is made by cooking egg whites and sugar to 160 degrees, whipping the heck out of that mixture until cool and thick like marshmallow cream, then adding cool/yet soft butter 1 TBSP at a time until all incorporated. The end result is fluffy, nearly marshmallow-like frosting. I could, did and will continue to eat this with a spoon. It is perfect. Much like my sweet little nephew.

Her cake decorations were simple, a few sprinkles and sugar pearls and we were done. I thought it would be full of candy, sprinkles, frosting blobs, etc. Not this year, she had a vision of course. A thoughtful pinch here and there worked perfectly for her. We all enjoyed it, even though that day is the saddest day of the year.

Drake Birthday 2
My favorite part of the day each year is going to the cemetery and releasing balloons. This year we wrote on them with a marker, I really liked that. If you have a tradition for a time like this, would you share it in the comments?
Drake Birthday 1

Supporting Families Who Have Suffered the Loss of their Child

No one ever writes about how to support people when they lose a child. No one. There is no manual, no handbook and the shock of the situation can send a normal, good hearted person into a complete tailspin. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last couple of years that may help you. (These are simply my opinions as the support person, take them as you wish. I have not lost a biological child, but losing my nephew is as close as that will ever feel for me.)

If you’ve lost a child, know that I’m in your corner, and I’ll fight for you and be your person if you need me. No one should ever have to endure the loss of a child. No one. Everyone thinks that I am the ‘tough’ person in my family, with broad shoulders to carry the emotional ‘burden’ of others. I may be this, but let me tell you… my sister is the tough one and she honors her son with grace and dignity every single day. That, friends, is the definition of tough.

(I would like to thank my friends Rob and Tiffany for being there for me and helping me know what to say and do in the days immediately following the loss of my nephew. Going through the loss of a child themselves and then choosing to help me is something I’ll forever be grateful for. And I’ll always remember their precious daughter Madilynn 1-10-08)

#1. Words are powerful. Choose them wisely. Less is more. *Saying things like: “Oh, your baby is in a better place, in heaven.” or “God had bigger plans for your child”, isn’t really the best thing to say in the immediate times after a loss. To the parents, the best place for their child is in their arms, healthy and alive. Also, refrain from asking “Oh what happened?!” as this is pretty invasive, if you ask me. Even if the sentiment is well intentioned it isn’t the most appropriate question. Explaining things this painful over and over (even for me as a support person) is extremely difficult. Short phrases like “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m deeply sorry” fit just as well and leave the opening for the giving of more information up to the parents, if they desire.

#2. Just be there. *Once I realized this was not a situation I could do anything about, or ‘fix’, I simply did anything I could to make things easier. Lend an ear, snag some groceries, clean the house, make a meal. Let your ‘help’ be your work, not always just your words, advice and so on. It felt good to accomplish something that I knew would help my sister to feel better. The burden of regular chores becomes greater when grief sets in. Having those done was a weight lifted. Also, friends sending meals was so wonderful. I still remember every meal that showed up, exactly what was in it and who provided it. I will never forget and continue to be thankful to those people.

#3. Don’t forget. *I still take time to visit the cemetery regularly, my children write notes to their cousin and we take them there. We also buy a small real fir tree from the local tree farm and my children decorate it for Christmas in December. On his birthday each year, I buy him a pair of basketball shoes in the size I think he’d be for the specific age. I plan to do this for as long as I’m alive. Sending a card to the family on the birthday is always appreciated. It is nice to know that people remember the life of the child, I know this because I see how delighted my sister is to receive notes. Even in the darkest times, a message of hope can lift a person’s spirits quickly.

#4. How many kids do you have? Understand that after there is a loss of a pregnancy, infant or child that the family wants you to recognize their angel. I have two nieces and two nephews (3 on earth, 1 angel)… in casual conversation I don’t go into the story, but I never forget to include Drake in my mentions of family. And… just  because a family has been blessed with another child/children after a loss, this does anything but ‘make it better’. There is no magical recovery, especially when another child is added. It is a blessing, though still painful at the same time.

#5. If you are ‘the person’, find yourself a ‘person’. If you are the trusted person in the position of being the ‘strong one’ to hold up someone through this type of difficult time, find a person that you can count on to be there for you too. You will need it. Being brave, supportive and tough all the time for others can become pretty unhealthy if you don’t allow yourself to grieve too. My husband, kids, Mom, Dad and dear friends helped me immensely. My struggle in my eyes was nothing to compare to being a Mom and losing a child. (Since I was the sister to the mother who had lost a child.) So I passed my sadness off quite a bit, which ended up being the WRONG thing to do.

#6. Find some therapy. Any healthy kind of therapy.
If you need to talk to someone, do it. If you need to crochet blankets, find a soft chair and crochet-away. Bake a million pies or write a million words. If you notice, I started this blog about 6 months after this event in my life. Writing and sharing recipes = my therapy. You read my therapy every time you open my blog. So, thank you for doing that. Thank you.



Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Pillow-like soft vanilla frosting typically seen on wedding cakes. Less sweet than traditional American buttercream, this frosting is my favorite and tastes a bit like marshmallows and vanilla ice cream!
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings: 1 half sheet cake worth of frosting
Author: Cristen


  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks Butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract


  • In a stainless steel or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, add egg whites and sugar. Whisk until mixture reaches 160 degrees.
  • Whip warm egg white and sugar mixture until completely cooled, about 10 minutes. The mixture will be stiff like marshmallow cream.
  • Add butter, one tablespoon at a time while mixer is on high. Mix until each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Add vanilla. If frosting is somewhat loose at this point (likely wasn't all the way cool when you added the butter) chill in the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes to firm up before spreading.
  • Spread over cooled cake. Decorate as desired. Keep this cake in a cool place (room temperature is fine), as the frosting is a bit delicate. *Don't make this for a 4th of July cake that will sit in the sun.


Bake the cake in a half sheet pan at 400 degrees for 15-17 minutes.
Hershey's Black Magic Cake recipe may be found on the Hershey's cocoa box or at the link above.
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  • Reply Alicia Schmitt May 2, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Oh Cristen, my heart goes out to you and your family. What a wonderful cake and great reminders after great losses.

  • Reply Bridget Proctor May 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm


  • Reply Aunt Colleen May 2, 2015 at 9:07 pm


  • Reply Jessica May 2, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    What a touching post about every topic covered. It’s hard to know what the right thing to do or say is during grief. Use your work instead of your words – that’s a revolutionary description of what is helpful during grief. Sending good vibes to you and yours. It sounds like you have a very sweet, strong and emotionally intelligent daughter on your hands. Not surprising!

    • Reply Cristen May 2, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks so much Jessica. It is so difficult to understand how to help, as every situation and person is different. I agree, that work instead of words can help people more. Even just the remedial things like folding a load of laundry or dusting the mantle. This also goes for the “Let us know if there is anything we can do.” Most of the people I know would never think to ask for help, no matter the circumstance so going the extra step in doing something, instead of saying something is always appreciated. I can’t wait until you have that baby of yours. I popped over and read a million posts on your blog today. I love it. :) I’m checking out the Trip Advisor IG account, and yes I’ll go to the Maldives with you!

  • Reply Kelly Wilson May 2, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Cristen you are such an awesome young lady. You, your family, Tanna’s family and your mom and dad are all special to my family and I. Keep sharing your recipes talents and words of experience and wisdom Beautiful. ♡♡♡♡♡♡ I’m sure you have helped many.

    Kelly Wilson

    • Reply Cristen May 2, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      Oh Kelly, you are too kind. I hope I can help one person by writing this. Your family is just as important to us. Thanks for stopping by and reading. XOXO

  • Reply Wanda May 2, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    We lost our granddaughter, Ainsley, 4 years ago at the age of 3 1/2 months. It was unexpected. So I understand.

    • Reply Cristen May 2, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      Oh Wanda, I’m so sorry to hear that. I will be thinking of you. Are there traditions you celebrate each year for Ainsley?

  • Reply Rod Slings May 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    A beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing. Your therapy has become my therapy.

    • Reply Cristen May 2, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      Thank you so much Rod, it has been so nice to connect with you since I’ve begun this journey. Family forever! XOXO, Cristen

  • Reply crazyfarmlife May 2, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Wow amazingly powerful post. Thank you for sharing

  • Reply Max Armstrong May 4, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I stumbled across your superb post. We have a friend who is a neonatologist and a daughter who spent a few years as a neonatal intensive care nurse. I have always said that the care they show the child’s family is as important as the care given the baby in trouble. I still believe that, now 27 years after we, as parents, walked into a NICU.

    • Reply Cristen May 11, 2015 at 2:55 am

      Oh Max, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it so much.

  • Reply Ashley M-K May 7, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Absolutely perfect. Your loss makes me so sad and your tips at the end are what people need to hear. Sometimes their words of advice (although well intended) are not what we need. Most of the time someone to hold our hand and help us out in other ways means so much more than words.

  • Reply Susan Boyer Ward May 17, 2015 at 2:47 am

    I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way, be there and listen, and take cues from the person suffering the loss. I lost my son 12 years ago. On his birthday, we celebrate “Dan’s Dessert Day”. Dan always thought that whatever was on anyone’s plate was fair game, so we have some desserts and anyone’s dessert is fair game! So watch out for the forks! Then we usually end up by telling Dan stories. It’s a great way to celebrate this day and keep his memory alive for my children.

    • Reply Cristen May 17, 2015 at 2:52 am

      Oh Susan, I’m so sorry about your son. What a wonderful way to celebrate his life and keep his memory in your hearts. Thank you so much for sharing. Cristen

  • Reply ceil slings April 30, 2016 at 3:26 pm


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