What is a Mother to Do?

Step outside today.  XoS

What is a mother to do? Within two hours drive from my quiet town, another quiet town has had unbearable and unbeatable grief whipped down on it with the terrible act of one poor young man on Friday, December 14.

What could I do here at home? What could any of us do to stay the outpouring of tears, grief and anger over a horrific act of violence wrought upon small children and the women who safeguard their learning day in and day out?

I was a She-Bear pacing my house, my lair, not sure what action could receive my growing need to do. On Sunday evening, after a day of adventure with my daughter in an effort to distract us from our helplessness, we listened to the prayer vigil in Newtown as we drove home. Hearing that boy sing a magnificent Muslim prayer followed by voice upon voice evoking the Divine, spreading comforting and inspired words over the chasm of pain that had opened in Newtown, we were riveted to our seats. Then, when President Obama spoke, we knew that we had to do something.

The next morning, I sent an email to my circle of women here in the Berkshires announcing that I was heading south to show up on the streets of Newtown to fill whatever need I could find. And if any of them wanted to join me, they could. I was willing to scrub the floors of the church kitchens or sweep the sidewalks. Within minutes I got word from my pal Gina that her friend Beth had a mission of bringing freshly baked apple pies to Newtown and was gathering bakers in the northwest corner of New Jersey to prepare the pies.

Moving at the Pace of Pie

I called Beth at 10:22 am. By 2:00 pm, Catherine was out of school with me in the car driving towards the turnpike. By 5:30 pm, we arrived at the home of strangers who quickly became friends. We rolled up our sleeves and learned what we were to repeat over and over again until the final pies came out of the oven. We helped bring the total number of pies up to 240 by 10:00 pm.
Mixing pie dough

Catherine cutting crusts
Beth M. Howard loading up the RV

There is great comfort in baking apple pies. I never knew the potential one slice of pie could have on a soul until the next day.

Last pies get loaded in to the RV

Catherine is heading off to Newtown CT with www.theworldneedsmorepie.com  and Beth Howard. XoS

We rose early on Tuesday to load Beth’s RV. Once my car was filled with baking supplies for the pies Beth hoped to make in Newtown this week, we left. Only a two-hour drive, but our hearts beat harder the closer we got in to Connecticut. By the time we arrived at the Newtown Youth Academy, we were no longer a group of people hurrying to our destination. We were people moving at the Pace of Pie, come to serve kindness.

We helped bake and serve 250 apple pies in Newtown, CT. Would you like to #easethegrief with #piefornewtown ? Www.theworldneedsmorepie.com. XoS

Yesterday stands in my memory as a day of cutting and serving the golden-crusted crowns of dough covered apples, rippled edges being picked up by fingers young and old to savor every last bite. It is a day of offering plates to people silenced by their grief only to stand together long enough to hear story after story of this remarkable time, this life altering experience, this effort- a groaning effort to encompass the shock and the living beyond that shock. Something about eating a slice of pie in the company of others eased the sad faces I encountered. The smiles of appreciation, the hugs received and given, the requests of pie for others, we delivered pies to those carrying the weight of a week full of wakes and funerals, of obituaries. The people of Newtown are attending more funerals in one small week than some people attend in a lifetime. One sweet teenager I talked with said he felt numb. As he carried along a slice of pie for his sister, he said he could not imagine why the media persisted in his small town. I told him that there are millions of people trying to figure out how to live with themselves, unable to hand him a slice of pie or walk the rainy street together with him. Those are the people CNN is reaching. A nation of people eager to help, desperately aching for this small town of strong sturdy community members who are showing us all how it is done.

Catherine and Janice are ready to serve

This is what my friend Maria Sirois wrote on Monday morning:

When tragedy strikes here is what we can do:

Feel what we feel so that neither grief nor anger become poison within us and so that others have permission to feel all that they feel.

Bear witness without flinching from darkness. 

Tell the truth.

Honor the ordinary heroes among us and those who do the difficult work of holding the story in all its despair and desolation, and those who begin the long hard job of clearing and cleaning, uncovering and naming as much as can be uncovered and named.

Hold onto the bits of light that emerge wherever they do so and from whomever.

Surround those who grieve with care that is authentic and wholehearted.

Love them up, feed them, show up and show up again. Bake if you can, drive if you can, buy milk, share your memories when they are ready and until then listen. Listen. Listen.  

And, however possible, be as a sequoia rooted in your conviction that none of us need go through this alone and certain that every twig, every limb, every branch holds the promise of spring even as it anchors the ice of winter.



This tree stands in front of the Edmond Town Hall where one of the many memorials gather flowers and tears.
Newtown Tree in front of Town Hall

I cannot say I have done enough. But I did something. And coming home to my quiet town, to my circles of friends, to my family, after having moved at the Pace of Pie makes me know that it does not matter who you help. All that matters is that you help. If you are like me, stricken with grief, pacing your house, disturbed by the commercialization of this holiday season more than ever for thinking of the families for whom this season will hold nothing but sadness for years to come- if you feel even an inkling of any of these things, then I urge you, I plead with you-




Find someone in your life, on your street for which the gift of a pie would change their day.


And, if you want to stand with the families in Newtown, bake a pie for a school teacher or a policeman or EMT. Find out who would be a first-responder in your town and go hand them a pie.


Or, even a shoebox of home-baked Christmas cookies.


The simple act of rolling out dough, melding butter and flour with your strength and care, sweetened with the summer’s worth of sunshine released by the apples inside that crust, you will create a gift that will be remembered for years to come.


One father, after walking past our Free Pie sign a number of times on Tuesday morning, finally paused and reached for a slice. ‘Pie says it all’ he grinned.

River bank

Today I walked along the Green River. The banks have changed with our heavy rains this past fall. But, those banks still run along the river, they hold the charging flow of water, the snags of branches, the swirling eddies around tree trunks. The banks of the river, just like our hearts, expand with every life experience, both joy and sorrow. The banks are changed. But the banks remain.

And so do we remain.


I urge you to let this terrible time change you. Let yourself be reshaped by the gushing waters of sorrow and pain, let yourself be expanded to hold this new level of awareness that Newtown is adjusting to a new normal. We are all different today than we were just last Friday morning at 8:30 am. I ask you to let that difference move you.


We can be standers-by or we can step in.


The fact that I could step all the way on to the sidewalk in front of the Edmond Town Hall in Newtown is a fact of geography.

The fact that you can make a difference in the life of someone in need, in your own neighborhood, remains up to you.


Will you let the shootings in Newtown change your life?


My friend Regena sent me this link. You can sign a petition to urge President Obama and Vice President Biden to take the action they know is needed for stricter gun control.

Beth M Howard in Newtown 12.18.12
Here is Beth reading us some of the emails she got on Tuesday evening. After only eight hours and at that point about 125 pies sliced, the townspeople were offering thanks. Here is Beth’s website. If you’d like to donate to The World Needs More Pie, for the efforts in Newtown, follow that link. Everything beyond Beth’s costs for supplies will be donated to grief counseling services in Newtown. This is double philanthropy at it’s best. By supporting Beth doing her work in the world, you provide a community with services that will be needed long after Beth and her RV pull out of town.


We can each leave such a lasting legacy.

May yours start with your heart.


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Showing 18 comments
  • Tammy

    My oh my, what a nice pie. Lovely Suzy. I only wish I was closer to be with you in this effort.

  • Jennifer Gandin Le

    No words. Just the bittersweet tears that fall over your words, over this changed world, over the immense loss and grief. I honor your giving, your love, your care. Tremendous project. Tremendous life.

  • Elizabeth Aquino

    I’ll treasure every word of this post. What wonderful people you all are — so filled with the divine, with Love.

  • janet

    feel blessed to have ridden along with you two and your rolling pins in spirit, and thank you for the call to arms (wide open).


  • Tasha

    It’s wonderful that you were able to help out in such a cathartic way! I am much farther away, but I did find it helpful to sign the white house gun control petition, and also one started by a dear friend of mine on signon.org, to be delivered to the CEO of the NRA, I will try to leave the link here: http://signon.org/sign/dear-nra-help-us-end

    Hopefully we can make some good things happen out of all of this, and I’m so glad pie was one of them.

  • Coleen Davidson

    S, so inspiring – you are in action, bringing your gifts to those in need with such grace and love.

  • r

    wonderful gift of love.
    applaud you believing cnn there to help

  • Michelle

    “Feel what we feel so that neither grief nor anger become poison within us and so that others have permission to feel all that they feel”

    I love this.

    Women coming together doing sacred work, you and your pies.

  • Suzi Birdsall

    I love that you did this. Just did this. Good for you. And I will bake a pie. xoxox

  • jenn

    thanks Suzi, you give new meaning to the aphorism about motherhood and apple pie being sacred. I’m glad you were able to bake those pies and see those smiles.

  • Thelma Zirkelbach

    Suzi, thank you for your beautiful story and your loving gift to the people of Newtown. I have been absorbed in the tragedy all week. My cousin, who lives down the street from Sandy Hook, found 6 children who escaped from the school on his driveway and took them in and comforted them.
    I think all our lives changed last Friday and I hope something good will come of this terrible tragedy.

  • maria

    there is no end to the love that can be shared – thank you so for making it real and heartfelt and I am sure you brought so many smiles inside the people you served. xxxMaria

  • Lori


  • magreen

    I am a girl from CT that just moved from the Berkshires to middle America for a random year – and I just want to tell you that I’m so proud of you. I feel so close, but so far away and it touches my heart to know that there are good people taking care of this community.

  • rhubarb

    Thanks for this. I totally agree with the whole pie philosophy – in fact that is how I came upon Beth’s site online. Sometimes I will make a pie for a particular person who needs it. Sometimes something bad happens and I feel the need to make a pie and give to someone…Once I was taking a pie to a community thanksgiving dinner — all cut up and wrapped individually. I took a wrong turn and then saw this woman sitting at a bus stop who just looked like she needed a piece of pie, so I asked her if she did, and she smiled and said yes. So I drove around looking for others who looked like they needed pie — didn’t take long but every one of those slices was needed.

  • ruth

    Im grateful for your heart, your driven mission and your writing. It is helping me feel and move through my anguish over this unthinkable tragedy. I froze. Your leadership is melting me. Thanks Suzi.

  • Stacey Engels

    suzi – it’s so nice to meet you. i will now think of you and the corps of loving moms, and tragedy and not accepting helplessness or separateness every time i eat pie. ~ stacey

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