The Legacy of Grief

And Why It Is So Important to Own Our Pain

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

I am still thinking about the people who lost their loved ones in the Las Vegas shooting massacre last Sunday night, October 1st.

Yes, still. It has only been a week.

Those left behind to grieve lost loved ones are on my mind because I was them. I know what they are feeling right now. The rest of the world may have moved on, but they are still in the thick of it, possibly paralyzed by sadness, scared about the future, and looking for answers on how they are going to live without their mom, dad, son, daughter, sister, brother, or best friend.

I know their pain. I have felt their pain; as I too lost someone in an unexpected, tragic accident. One day my mom was here, turning 60 years old, and the very next day she wasn’t. That next day changed my life forever... October 10, 2006, eleven years ago today.

The deadly weapon used to kill her was a truck, not a gun; but the person operating the weapon was unwell just the same. The driver was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of the accident, and so her impaired state caused her to drift off the two lane highway she was speeding on. When she swerved back into her lane, she over corrected and plunged her Bronco into oncoming traffic... slamming it head on into the car in which my mom was a passenger and killing her instantly.

My mom died lying on the asphalt of a rural road in Northern California at the hands of a woman not intending to kill her that day but who wasn't in the right state of mind to safely operate a vehicle that became a lethal weapon. There was no news coverage of the accident; and no villains were vilified nor heroes celebrated (although the driver did get sentenced to a year in prison). There were no hashtags prayers. Still, my mom's death changed the lives of her family and friends instantly, just as the deaths of those 59 people in Las Vegas changed the lives of their families and friends instantly, and forever.

In both cases, the irresponsible act of one single, troubled and unwell individual took innocent lives. The Vegas tragedy was just on a much larger scale and in a very public forum; and that act was committed with malicious intent. The added sting of knowing the killer intended to harm and kill people that day is one I was spared when my mom died; yet, the result of both events was the same - people were killed violently and unexpectedly.

Social media was ablaze this past week, with some people praying for Vegas, others demanding gun policy change, and still others protesting those demands by trying to convince the opposition that they should blame the individual, not the weapon. I know this is not true, but it seems like the people in the latter group are stuck in time somehow, like we are all still living in the 19th Century, when guns were shot one bullet at a time and were used primarily for protection from looters, robbers, and carpetbaggers. Their argument frustrates and confuses me, seeming archaic and inaccurate on so many levels. Yet above all the various protests, there were genuine sentiments of grief and many heartfelt pleas for stricter laws and demands to hold our politicians accountable for their failure to implement policies that they believe could have prevented this tragedy.

Now, over a week has passed, and most voices have quieted on all sides, save the various articles still being written and shared to further the debate on the subject of guns, media, and politics. It seems most people have moved on, resuming their normal output and usual consumption of media and going about their regular lives.

As I touched upon in Forever Changed, the only post I shared last week, our society functions on our collective ability to keep the tragedies of each day at arms length, and to prevent them from penetrating the armor we built up to protect us from daily doses of bad news, depressing statistics, and inconsiderate behavior by those around us. The Vegas tragedy was so tragic though that people could not help but let it into their hearts; and so they allowed themselves to feel devastated for a day or two, or three... just as they did when deadly shootings happened in Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Columbine.

But eventually, after a few days, maybe a week, most people expect themselves, and each other, to revert back to their normal routine of disconnect. Be it for self-preservation or simply for keeping their lives operating, they pull themselves up, look ahead and move forward, leaving the devastation behind, along with most of the emotion connected with it. After all, they would argue that they have to get out of bed, go to work, take care of kids, and contribute to society in the way they normally do and are expected to do. They can't afford, neither financially, emotionally or mentally, to curl up under the covers and allow themselves to feel sadness, fear, and powerlessness to the detriment of their careers, families, and self-images.

For about a week, praying for the families of the victims in Vegas or "keeping them in their thoughts" was the extent of what most people would allow themselves to do or feel. This is understandable, as it really is all most of us can do. The sad reality is that a week of prayers won’t give the lost loved ones back to those families, and heartfelt thoughts won't stop future acts of violence, irresponsibility, and loss that are bound to occur in a society full of people in pain that are taught to treat the symptoms instead of the roots of problems.

The people that were demanding stricter gun laws and policy changes may have felt more in control by "taking action" rather than just sending prayers. As admirable and empowering as this feels, it may not have any effect, since deeming something illegal does not mean people will immediately abide by the law and cease seeking out and possessing it. This has proven to be true over and over again by the whiskey and rye drinkers during prohibition, the pot and hash smokers of the sixties and seventies, the cocaine snorters of the eighties and nineties, and the crack, heroin and meth IV drug users of any decade. It is a well known fact that making something “illegal” doesn't make it unattainable; it just makes it trickier and more expensive to attain.

Too many people own guns already, or possess a large enough arsenal to sell them illegally and make a lot of money. So even if stricter policy changes are made, possibly banning bump stock devices that allow semi automatic weapons to perform like automatic ones, someone somewhere will still figure out a way to make, sell, and buy them illegally.

Aside from guns though, add to those illegal drugs listed above the issue of legal drugs - alcohol, prescriptions, and medical marijuana - that are over used and abused daily, and you have a whole other group of citizens that are taking lives via DUI accidents and drug overdoses in record numbers that dwarf the 59 souls lost in Vegas at the hands of one soul with an automatic weapon.

This man’s horrific deed has incited ideological arguments, intense anger, and (more than usual) political dissonance; yet adding to the debate on gun laws, the responsibility of the media, and the political failings of our leaders is not the purpose of my writing this. It is charged subject, with multiple facets and layers that don't add up to one definitive solution. It troubles me, but I am not entirely convinced that what happened in Vegas could have been prevented by stricter gun policies in a culture that, on the whole, glorifies violence, condones separatism, and encourages and enables the denial and numbing away of our emotions.

Instead, I write to share and process my experience of loss these past eleven years, and to grieve the loss of the people killed nine days ago. Their families are just beginning their journey into grief and loss, so I honor them and the difficult road toward acceptance and healing that they have just begun to travel.

Yet I also write to ask questions. To bring up that which most don't and won't talk about. To point out the way in which our society (dis)functions as a whole to the detriment of our collective mental health and emotional intelligence. Among all this discourse about policy and politics, where is the dialogue on the state of our overall wellness as a people, as a society, as a nation?

Wellness is a buzz word these days, as is mindfulness and meditation. But these concepts, and the efforts to implement them, only seem to surface in progressive communities and are often isolated to an individual's personal journey of growth and awareness. Self help - therapeutic, holistic, spiritual or motivational - is seen by the general public as an esoteric ritual reserved for yoga instructors, therapists, fitness and lifestyle coaches and their tribe of followers.

The fact is, there is nothing alternative or obscure about addressing our natural human emotions and our fundamental need for connection and love, or honoring our pain by approaching it with awareness, compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Where is the national agenda promoting true wellness in our society, outside of Western medicine's money making racket of drugging its people up on prescription medications? Where is a national dialogue confronting how to tend to people's mental and emotional well being without the use of drugs or other numbing methods?

There isn't one. There is no national dialogue such as this.

Sure, we have renowned alternative medicine doctors, writers, and self-help gurus, such as the late Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, and Eckhart Tolle who guide and teach those who seek them out through their books, articles and talks. We also have influential people such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Brené Brown who do the same with their powerful platforms, working in their own unique ways to show us how vulnerability and emotional intelligence is not something to shame or be ashamed of, but something to strive for, encourage and support within ourselves and our fellow humans.

There are also thousands of therapists and social workers doing their part every day, without the fame and glory of the former teachers and leaders mentioned above, to instill knowledge and awareness, promote courage and healing, and help people face and overcome their adversities without the use of prescription drugs, violence, or the usual numbing tactics coveted and accepted by our society as the norm.

But on a national scale, the need for and goal of true wellness, for the most part, is unaddressed in our society. In its absence, the crises of our culture is the perpetual numbing of pain and discomfort with a host of band-aids... anticipating and celebrating wine-o'-clock, ritualizing Sunday Funday drinking, zoning out on YouTube videos for hours, and binge streaming seven seasons of Game of Thrones in seven days, to name a few.

Numbing and denying our pain, instead of embracing it, leads to isolation and disillusion. Sharing our pain and our struggles in a supportive environment, instead of sweeping it under the rug, is the road to healing and thriving. The "rug" in its many forms - alcohol, TV, drugs, movies, video games, work, social media, sex, gambling, pornography, and retail therapy - has the magical ability to camouflage and cover up a lot of hurt and pain. Yet after the magic wears off, in a matter of days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, we are still left with the same hurt and pain, now increased exponentially. If left under there, unchecked and unresolved for too long, this pain can rot, decay, fester, and transform into something twisted and toxic, with the potential to erupt in violence; and in last Sunday's case, a shower of bullets.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave me in writing about my cyclical grief for my mom's death and the empathetic grief I feel for the families that are suffering tremendous loss right now? I don't know. All I know is I will continue to hold the victims of this tragedy close to my heart, next to the memory of mom, for as long as my grief needs me to do so. I am open to feel and accept it all. The grief, the pain, the disappointment, and the loss. I am a living testament to working through grief and pain by embracing and owning it, instead of concealing it away in a dark corner of my soul.

I will grieve, and when I am done this time around, I will remember and cherish my mom even more. I will recall how my kids brought flowers to her grave site on her birthday yesterday... how my son placed his colorful fall bouquet in the ground and uncomfortably yet sweetly wished her a happy birthday as he looked down at her grave marker... how my ten-year-old daughter chose red roses for her because through the years she has learned that they were her favorite... and how she hugged me tight and cried her first tears ever over for the loss of her grandmother whom she never had the chance to meet.

The legacy of grief.

It seems like an unwanted burden to bear, but it is really an invitation to expand our capacity to love.

Forever Changed

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Tragedies happen every day. A person dies in a car accident, another dies of cancer, and still another dies giving birth or while being born. Tragedies are ever present in our world, even if they don't happen right around us or we are not aware of them. If we were to take every single tragedy into our hearts and feel them as deeply as our own personal hurts, most of us wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning.

So we go on living our lives, hearing about these sad things that happen, and knowing there are infinitely more, and we don't really allow them to penetrate. At least not completely.

That is until something like the Las Vegas shooting happens, in which (so far) 58 people have been killed and hundreds of others have been injured, in what they are now calling the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and we cannot ignore it. We can't keep it at bay and try to prevent it from affecting us on an emotional level, as the scale of it is just too immense. The sadness and knowledge of the sheer waste of life that now pervades our reality is so heavy that it can crush us. The helplessness and fear that this violent act can manifest in us has the potential to cripple us from continuing on our day. Do we let it?

And here on social media, there is an added element of timeliness and appropriateness... it begs the question, should we really be posting pictures of our workouts or meal ideas within hours of hearing about this tragedy? Should we take a hiatus from our regular online social lives out of respect for those who have died and those families who have lost loved ones? I don't know the right answer, or if there even is a right one; but for me, I had written something last night that I was going to post on here this morning and now it just doesn't feel right to post it.

So for today, this is it. This is my contribution to the online social landscape. A solemn recognition of how devastating this act was, and how sad I am for those who lost a loved one last night. Their lives are forever changed by senseless tragedy, and my heart is aching for them today, and for our world. 💔

#foreverchanged

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

An Imperfectly Charmed Life in Perceived Paradise

As a mother of two and wife of one living for the last thirteen years in Malibu, California - "the 'Bu" as I never actually call it, but as many affectionately refer to it - I spend my days driving up and down the coast highway to and from school, ballet, violin, soccer and cartooning classes, with food market, public library, state beach and park visits sprinkled in.

I have two littles that are by my side for what seems like 99% of my day; and although I love them fiercely in spite of myself, I have an ever present desire to escape from the encompassing chaos they have brought to my formerly organized and efficient life.

I earned a degree in Film Studies and worked both amateurishly and professionally in the Hollywood film and television industry for ten years. I traded the insane hours and surrealistic existence of film sets and working in the vacuum of the studio environment for the cool coastal breezes and flip-flop mentality of beach living, a surfer husband, and the unique opportunity to help launch a surf/lifestyle company. My life and career made another drastic shift as I took on motherhood (enter the chaos), and I realized that parenting is a challenge that made my years as a single, career woman in the male-dominated film industry seem like a cake walk.

Born in Hollywood, California, I was raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, the daughter of a notable musical entertainer of the 1960's and 70's, spending most of my time in the swimming pool to escape the blistering heat of the San Fernando Valley, riding my bike, and running around our ranch property barefoot. I traveled to Las Vegas as a child as often as the members of the Rat Pack did in their heyday. My father headlined the main showrooms of all the major casinos along the Vegas Strip, and my siblings and I spent our time there swimming in the hotel pools, playing carnival games at Circus Circus, and wreaking havoc backstage in the halls and green rooms before the show. Making our own Shirley Temple cocktails and collecting autographs of the revolving acts of comedians and lounge singers opening for my dad's group, we were certainly a unique sight. A kid in Vegas in the 70's was like a nonsmoker in Vegas in the 70's - you didn't see many. It made for a memorable childhood; one ripe with drama and dysfunction juxtaposed with glitter and glamour... and sequins.

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In my youth while back in LA, I recall driving along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu on long treks in the family station wagon from the valley over the canyon through the mountain tunnels to spend the day making sand castles at Paradise Cove or playing in the waves at Zuma Beach. For me, then and now, the drive along this PCH was and is a wholly sensory experience, with sights, smells, and sounds that only the coast offers... the sharp horizon where vivid blues of clear sky and glistening water meet, the salt water scent in the air, and the seagulls cawing in the ocean breezes.

For many, the idea of Malibu sparks visions of palm trees, movie stars, and lazy days by the pool of a sprawling mansion, martini in hand... long sessions down at the beach, surfing the waves and lying in the sun... everyone here just "living the dream" in paradise.

This artwork, "Along the Malibu", by retro-realism artist Kerne Erickson, seems to perpetuate this concept of Malibu as a place of carefree amusement, breathtaking views, and extravagant luxury. In it, an elegant woman and her dog on the back patio of the historic Adamson House in Malibu is depicted in the foreground, and surfers at the world famous Surfrider Beach alongside the Malibu Pier can be seen in the distance.

This general perception, or shall I say misconception, of what Malibu unequivocally is like, isn't the whole story, especially not for this small beach community's year-round, non-gazillionaire residents.

It is also not what this blog is, or will be, mostly about. I don't live on a large estate, I haven't had any plastic surgery, and I don't regularily dine at Nobu with Sting (although I wish that last one was true).

These days, as I drive along PCH, I am not a young girl wearing a swimsuit and coverup (usually a ball cap and Uggs) blasting tunes on the radio (unless it's the kids' "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" music), or anticipating a fun, coconut suntan lotion-scented day on the sand (let's just say the scents in my kid-filled life are not of the tropical variety).

Instead, I am a woman who lives and travels daily along the 27-mile winding strip of Malibu coastline between the mountains and the sea, running errands, shuttling kids around, and doing my best to survive an imperfectly charmed life in a place perceived as "paradise" by those from the outside looking in. 

My life is, and has always been, far from perfect, despite how it may appear to others. We all have our challenges to surmount and certain circumstances to cope with; and the hope is to somehow find the grace, fortitude, and strength to take them on every day without giving up or cracking up.

Trying to create or keep up with the illusion of a "perfect" life is something that I have no interest in doing. So, I don't. Not in my life, and not in my writing. I had a big helping of that "need to be and look perfect" ideology thrust upon me in my childhood, as I often felt as if I lived in a fish bowl, and had to play a part that made me often feel seen but not heard; so much so that I perpetuated my perfectionist tendencies into young adulthood.

It took a while for me to finally learn that this way of life does not serve me well. But thankfully, I learned.

This is only my fifth post on this blog so far, so as I write, and as you read, I aim to always be as authentic, candid, and real as I can. It's the me that I am these days, for better or worse; and so that's what you're gonna get.