From Daughter to Mother in a Year

 

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

 
Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

This is the face of a new mother.

Not new, as in minutes new; but new, as in ten months into it new.

This is the face of a mother without a mother. A woman who was a bit lost in the world, after losing her mom and birthing her first child, almost simultaneously.

It’s not a particularly uplifting image or story; but it’s real, and it’s the truth.

A dear friend often says “it’s ok not to be ok.” I wholeheartedly agree. To be, wherever and however we are, allows us to feel and process our feelings, not run away from them. It’s a generously forgiving and nurturing attitude, toward ourselves and others; yet unfortunately, it’s not one many people adopt.

I have been doing this for years… not pretending I’m okay when I’m clearly not. The problem with this for other people is, when you’re not okay for a good long while, you start making them uncomfortable.

I was not okay when my daughter was born, and I knew and accepted that was just how it was going to be for a while. Almost every fiber of my being was grieving the sudden loss of my mom three months prior, while every other fiber was reveling in the birth of my daughter.

People around me wanted me to be okay, sooo bad. I too wanted to be... for my daughter, my husband, and me. Those who loved me wanted me to feel nothing but love and gratitude for this child, while taking comfort in the belief that my mom was “looking down on us smiling.”

But I wasn’t okay. It wasn’t comforting and I didn’t care to believe that my mom was up there, wherever they thought “up there” was, looking down on us, experiencing the joy of this child along with us. I didn’t care. I didn’t agree. I wanted her here with me, and with this baby. I knew that wherever her energy was now, there was no way she could be experiencing it quite as good as if she had been alive, holding her first grandchild in her arms.

I am not sure why my husband decided to capture the somber moment above. I don’t even remember him taking it. I look like I was in a trance while breastfeeding my daughter. That whole year after my mom’s death, the stark reality of enduring the challenges of motherhood without her support made me sad; and it permeated my days.

As if the grief was not enough, I was also dealing with hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, post partum depression, nursing discomfort, and an almost complete surrender of the person I formerly was. The challenges I faced as a new mom changed my face for a while. I often didn’t have the energy, nor the inclination, to cultivate a positive attitude or conceal the sadness.

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

Every Mother’s Day, I think of my mom, obviously, but not reminiscing on past years on which I celebrated her as my mother. Instead, I think of all the Mother’s Days that she’s missing. The ones we never were or will be able to celebrate as mothers together.

I have now celebrated twelve Mother’s Days as a mother, not a daughter. Today will be the 13th. Those people who say “It’s just a day” are probably the same people who tell the families who lost everything in the Woolsey Fire here in Malibu six months ago that “It’s just stuff.”

Until it happens to you, you have NO idea what you are talking about.

In 2006, I celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom, as I did every year, and didn’t know I was pregnant yet. The following year, I spent the day without my mom and with a child of my own, both for the first time. In the course of that one year, everything changed.

I don’t remember that first one. Maybe I have a photo from it somewhere, but I have no memory of it. I think I was sort of detached from the concept of it… how was I, all of a sudden, the mother on this day, in this scenario?

From the very beginning, I was this kid’s world. As a baby, she would sit, listen, and take in everything I said. When I would talk, she would just stare at me, absorbing every word, even though she didn’t understand them. When I wasn’t talking, she still had her eyes on me, observing.

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She was my beach baby, my walking buddy, my everything. Even though the void in my heart left by my mom would never be filled, she filled in places I never knew existed.

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

She brought light into a dark time, and her smile, dimple, and big blue eyes brought me hope and kept me moving and living and working hard to be my best for her.

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

I know it looks very different for some, and involves a lot of effort and heartache for many women who want to have children. But for me, becoming a mother was the easy part. I was fortunate that it happened without me doing much of anything, except having a bit of pleasurable fun, and then growing a human inside my body without too much complication.

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

The hardest part of my pregnancy was the last three months while dealing with my mom’s absence.

But learning to LIVE life as a mother, without a mother, was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. And being a mother, in general, is the hardest thing for me to do… harder than losing my mom in a car accident, harder than accepting marriage isn’t what I expected it to be, and harder than bearing my soul and exposing my vulnerabilities in writing.

As Teddy Roosevelt said in the above quote… if nothing worth having comes easy, and if the hardest fought challenges and rewards in life are the most sweet... then motherhood must be the sweetest and most worthwhile venture in all of human existence. At least that’s what I am banking on.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (& Grandma)

from both of us…

 
My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

 

(and her little brother too.)

POSTSCRIPT: I went through years and years of photos while searching for pictures of my aunt to include in the memorial slideshow that was going to be shown at the luncheon after her funeral on May 3rd. The photos that I found from my first year as a mother, a few of them included above, sparked vivid memories and feelings from that time; so I was inspired to sit down and write about it.

Reflecting on the difficulties that I experienced reminds me of how far I have come and how much I have surmounted. More than anything else, my children’s presence in my life has challenged me to heal, grow, evolve, and live as authentically as possible. Acknowledging our pain and allowing ourselves to feel it is the ONLY way to process, work through, and heal from it. There aren’t any shortcuts or detours to avoid them; that is, if you intend to heal from them. So each time I write and reflect on my wounds from the past, I heal from them just a little bit more.

You Make Me Cry

Flowers covering Jan’s grave site after her burial - May 3, 2019

Flowers covering Jan’s grave site after her burial - May 3, 2019

My Aunt Jan, my mother’s younger sister, died on April 13, 2019.

We had her funeral this past Friday, May 3rd, at which I gave the eulogy. She did not have children, and her father (my grandfather, George), her only sister (my mother, Judy) and her mother (my grandmother, Helen) all passed before her, in 2000, 2006, and 2009 respectively.

After scripture readings, a gospel, and brief homily by the deacon, a few words from my aunt’s former partner, Richard, with whom she was in a relationship for 17 years, a bible reading and powerful personal message from my older brother, Anthony, and a poem and Anne Lamott book passage read aloud by my older sister, Rebecca… it was my turn.

It took me about nine minutes to deliver the eulogy I wrote, speaking to a full chapel of over one hundred of Jan’s close friends and family. I didn’t know maybe half of the people in attendance, those who knew my Aunt Jan from other walks of her life; so I had decided to greet as many old friends and former co-workers of hers with a smile and a handshake as they walked up to the chapel doors.

I thought that if I was able to introduce myself to most of them, then we wouldn’t be complete strangers when I stood before them to say what I had prepared. I was nervous to speak, but I was confident in the message I was there to deliver.

After the service was over, we all walked from the chapel to the grave site to bury her cremains. Many mourners I had just met hugged and thanked me for what I wrote, as we shared this powerful experience of saying goodbye to someone we loved. The love and energy Jan had given in life to those for whom she cared, inspired me to write the following words to honor her in death, as I shared that day...

Jan’s Eulogy 5.3.19

I have written a lot about death and losing people I love. I write to make peace with the fact that they’re gone, and with why they are gone. I write to process how I feel about it, and about them, and how their words and actions affected me.

But I also write to honor them in death as best I can, aiming to share more of who they were and what they meant to me and others in this life. Today, I’m going to communicate with you some thoughts and feelings I got down on the page when I sat to write and reflect on my Aunt Jan’s life.

As a writer, not a public speaker, I would much rather post this where you all can read it yourselves. But since delivering a eulogy at a funeral doesn’t work that way, I’ll read it to you, and do my best to convey through my voice what came out through the strokes of my keyboard in silent reflection.

Jan and I share a middle name. Marie. She was Janice Marie and I am Lisa Marie. She called me “Lisa Marie” my whole life, so I recently began calling her “Janice Marie” in texts and when I saw her. But before that, while growing up, I simply called her “Aunt Janny.”

Aunt Janny & me on the Parachute Sky Jump at Knott’s Berry Farm - 1976

Aunt Janny & me on the Parachute Sky Jump at Knott’s Berry Farm - 1976

Aunt Janny was a cool aunt because she was ten years younger than our mom. She was 16 when I was born. She often babysat my siblings and I, and for as much as I can remember, she let us run wild and do what we wanted.

Once on her watch, I fell and hit my head on the corner of our coffee table while jumping on the couch. I have a scar next to my eye from the injury, and Jan often liked to remind me of this mishap… a running joke that amused her. Somehow she equated it as her proof that she was not fit to watch over little kids.

As a 20-something girl, she possessed a gentle ruggedness that made her intimidating, yet approachable. When I saw her, most often it was in shorts washing her car in the driveway of my Grandma’s house on Tuba Street in Chatsworth.

She did this A LOT. Like every couple of days, a lot. She always had a potent air freshener hanging from her rear view mirror, and religiously applied Armor-All to her car tires, dashboard, and leather seats.

Jan’s happy place was in her immaculately clean sports car, cruising and blasting her favorite tunes. She would drive us to Malibu in her powder blue Chevy Malibu… her love for the beach trumping her dislike of sand inside her car.

Just picture it… a 23-year-old Jan driving three little kids over Kanan Dume Road to Paradise Cove Beach in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s. The winding canyon road, windows down, wind whipping through our hair, and our little bodies sliding across the back bench seat, saturated with Armor-All.

Aunt Janny with my brother, sister & me - Easter 1976

Aunt Janny with my brother, sister & me - Easter 1976

No seat belt law meant we were untethered and at the mercy of Kanan’s sharp turns and Jan’s slippery, lubed-up leather. We would be crushed up against one another, pinned between a sibling and the car door, until a turn in the opposite direction catapulted us to the other side of the car, all the while a soundtrack of 70’s soft rock hits blared on the car radio.

No, none of the songs she played were AT ALL appropriate listening for the 7, 9, and 10 year old kids that my brother, sister and I were. But even though the lyrics went over our heads, the choruses were burned into our brains.

My brother collectively dubbed them, “Janny Beach Songs,” as we still refer to them today. Over the years, Jan loved when we would list these classic songs from memory and sing a few bars of “Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover,” “Hot Blooded,” “Afternoon Delight,” or “Hot Legs.”

Jan loved music. She loved sports, and she loved shiny colors, especially RED, on her cars, her lips, and her nails.

But bright, neon colors… those, she most often wore on her feet.

Great Aunt Jan with my kids - March 2014

Great Aunt Jan with my kids - March 2014

(I brought out a pair of Jan’s neon orange Nikes from behind the podium and placed them in front of me)

I don’t know exactly when her obsession with the blindingly neon-colored athletic shoes began; but I do know the dizzying number of pairs she had, like this one, are a perfect analogy to Jan herself during the years she wore them.

They are sporty, but stylish…

flashy, but comfortable…

casual, yet expensive…

Just like her.

Jan loved what she loved, and embraced it all with vigor.

She was sentimental… about family, her favorite songs, and her precious memories. I actually don’t remember her being sentimental in her youth; but what do kids really know about the inner emotional life of the adults in their lives, unless those adults open up and share it with them.

Some people say we get more sentimental as we age… that things a younger person would deem “sappy,” like TV commercials and greeting cards, can easily bring older people to tears.

I don’t know if age has as much to do with it as maturity does. I think sad things that make us weep, or happy things that make us cry, elicit these emotions, to those that are paying attention, because they are just that… sad or happy enough to provoke a physical release in our bodies… grief or joy, manifested through tears.

The grief and the joy are not necessarily stronger or more potent for most older people than they are for younger people. It’s just that most young people, and unfortunately some grown adults, have not yet developed the tools to let feelings flow without fighting them… their restraint often rooted in fear and shame.

Our culture has taught us that emotions are for the weak, that holding back tears is a sign of strength, and that being or appearing vulnerable should be avoided at all costs.

I think society got it wrong.

Janice Marie & me on my birthday at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach - May 2014

Janice Marie & me on my birthday at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach - May 2014

My Aunt Jan had this way of pushing her lower lip out to communicate something was causing her to become emotional. I think it was her way of feigning crying to avoid actually crying; although sometimes she did begin to cry too when she just couldn’t stop herself.

She did it when she told me how something I had written affected her.

She’d say to me, “You make me cry, Lisa. You’re such a good writer. Your words are so beautiful.”

And she would say it almost like she was a little mad at me for rendering her helpless to her own tears. Like I had found her Achilles’ heel and she was being forced to unwillingly surrender to her emotions when she read what I wrote.

Of course, she didn’t have to read the pieces about my mom, or marriage, or life being challenging or hopeful. She could have avoided them and not subjected herself to riding a roller coaster of emotions. But I think she liked taking the ride, and letting me bring her on a journey to that place she wouldn’t let her daily life take her.

That place of vulnerability. That place we go as humans when we surrender to what we feel so completely that, often in a flood of tears, we are relieved of a heavy burden. For those who don’t ever allow it, or who don’t allow it often, crying is like a valve being loosened just enough to release the pressure of what has been held inside for too long.

My writing brought Jan to that place. With every lower lip pout or tear she cried, I think she got a little relief from what she often held inside: sadness, pain or just the feeling of really missing her nuclear family… her mom, dad and sister… the three people who loved and shaped her and brought her up in this world.

Janny is not here to read this; but I can picture her now being overwhelmed by it… her lower lip in full effect, holding back tears, and lovingly reprimanding me for “making” her cry.

Well, Janice Marie, I’m sorry/not sorry. I am honored to be someone who loosened the valve on your emotions every once in a while. I’m content to believe that this would have elicited your tears as well.

But in truth, I know that if you are feeling anything comparable to the human act of crying in this moment, it is not because my words “made” you do it. If you are crying, I believe they would be tears of joy in seeing your family and friends show up to honor you today. It would be from the overwhelming joy of being reunited with your nuclear family again.

Jan with her dad, mom & sister in Studio City, CA - Summer 1969

Jan with her dad, mom & sister in Studio City, CA - Summer 1969

I can imagine the four of you together in a tight group hug… you with my mom, Grandma Helen, and yes, even Grandpa George. I imagine him as a beautiful light embracing his wife and daughters closely and tenderly, his soul now free from what held him back from doing so while he was here.

I imagine you wanting all of us to know that you are okay. Wanting us to be happy for you… happy you are with your family, and happy you are at peace.

And I AM happy for you. I am SO happy to also imagine you as a light, shining bright outside the confines of your human form. As bright as your neon Nike’s, with no need to wear Nike’s anymore.

I imagine your energy soaring through this chapel and through all the people here who love you. You touched us all with your energy, and you will continue to do so each time we think of you.

RIP Janice Marie

November 18, 1956 - April 13, 2019

Aunt Janny with my older sister & Me - 1975
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Yes Pause Button

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Sitting on the side of the road in my car. PCH. Appreciating Mother Earth and so many of her gifts on this Earth Day 2019. The air, the sea, the land, the sunset. The quiet stillness. The majestic beauty. 🌎💙

Needed to take a break from life and its realities. Pushed that imaginary pause button... you know, the one I said in my post last week didn’t exist while I was on vacation, after I got the news my aunt died. Well, I manifested it into reality tonight. Yep. That’s the great thing about free will... we can do what we want, when we want, as we see fit. For our sanity. For our self care. For no other reason than we need a f-ing break. If we can’t see a better way to process a difficult moment.

I needed to pause. All of it... Mothering, wife-ing, woman-ing, adulting. I took time for myself; frankly, to sob. To let it flow out of me, TWICE today. Earlier this afternoon and right before taking this photo. Afterward, I was able to breathe and reflect. To be still. Stillness is salvation. Then, I could begin writing this.

When things suck, they can suck BAD and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing but breathe. Nothing but accept the sh*tty turn of events or reality with which we are faced. Nothing but recognize that it will pass, eventually, and there is always a way through. Somehow. Some way.

Yes, pausing works... in the short term. You can cry. You can meditate and clear your mind. It is peaceful, therapeutic even. A release. A welcome escape. But then you have to process. To face and it, IN your life.

I most often write to find my way through. To process the hard. To understand the pain, to nurture the heartbreak, to empower the inner strength hiding below the vulnerability and fear, to give voice to the feelings deep in my heart that otherwise would stay silent.

I write, and it all comes alive. I write, and it all feels surmountable, somehow. I write, and my heart is able to feel and say what I cannot communicate otherwise. For me, writing my words gives breath to them... to my hurt, love, fear, sadness, joy, passion, anger and disappointment. I feel and work through it. I don’t numb, avoid or deny. I write. And THAT is everything.

#yespausebutton

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

No Pause Button

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We grow. Birthdays are celebrated, or missed.

We love. Anniversaries tally up (today’s my 14th wedding anni.), or cease.

We live. Spring break trips bring joy and make memories (as they have for us over these last ten days).

Yet amidst all the simple pleasures, life milestones, and fun adventures, heartbreak can still live inside us, and tragedies can still happen.

My aunt was admitted into the ICU on March 7th... my mom’s only sister, a stand-in grandmother to my kids, and the woman who made my annual birthday getaways to Newport Beach more memorable.

The month of March was hard. She was very sick, and none of it should have been happening. Family banded together. Friends offered support. People cried, others prayed. Life’s tough challenges reminded me (again) of who and what was important to me.

In the midst of hardship, life continues on and we continue along with it as best we can. Despite a desire to stop time and integrate my feelings on what was happening, before moving forward and facing it, life was moving on relentlessly, with no pause button. So we do our best to make the best of it. We keep the plans we’ve made and make more plans for the future.

While I’ve been out of state on vacation for my kids’ spring break this past week and a half, my dear aunt passed peacefully away back home in California last Saturday, April 13th. She was only 62.

It’s devastating and sad. We loved her. She was the last link to my mom. She loved us. My kids will miss her, as will I.

I have so much to say to her and about her. I have so much to feel about what happened.

But for now, this has to be it. I’m still out of town and my kids are waiting for me to rejoin our vacation adventures right now. When I return home, this all will still be waiting for me. The grieving. The service preparations. The time and space to reflect. The writing about her. The laying her to rest. The peace. Life continuing. Life moving on.

#nopausebutton #wegrowwelovewelive #movingforward #lifemovesprettyfastifyoudontstopandlookaroundonceinawhileyoucouldmissit #ferrisbueller #artinstituteofchicago #chicagomuseums

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

November 2018 - An Inspirational Disaster

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

The entries I posted on Instagram in November 2018 started off inspirational, but ended up in disaster, full of news and updates on the unexpected tragic events that took place that month. After my last Instagram entry on November 26th, I went offline and took a seven week hiatus from posting on or even looking at social media.

I completely checked out from it all, needing to focus on the care of my injured daughter, and the healing of my own hurt body. So amidst living through the frightening fire disaster, returning to a home in an area that looked like a war zone, and contending with the debilitating injuries and illnesses that befell me and my family, I remained offline through the whole of December, and made my best effort to enjoy the holiday season in gratitude for my family through to the new year.

A devastating wildfire, a painful spasm, and a serious fracture did a number on life around here for a while, and the following words and images chronicle how everything unfolded in November…

(I’ll get to December later.)


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It’s hard to live life sometimes. It’s hard to keep it all together when it feels like it’s all falling apart. It’s hard to be consistently responsible, helpful, kind, and generous, while also feeling happy, joyful, and sane. It’s challenging to do the right thing all the time. To resist sadness, anger, selfishness, laziness, and pessimism when they rear their heads, and when there are plenty of legitimate sources to justify their existence.

It takes discipline, awareness and intentional positivity to resist being swallowed up by the overwhelm of the big picture, the state of our world, and the perils of humanity. It takes courage and a strong will to resist collapse under the weight of our own quiet heartbreaks and peaceful resignations. To suffer soul crushing defeat, survive it, and rise above. It takes hope, intention, and an unwavering desire to build rather than destroy... our homes, our families, our kids’ spirits, and our own sense of peace within.

But we do it. At least we do our best to do it. We do it because we love life. And because we just plain LOVE. Holding love in our hearts can move mountains. It can get us through the worst of storms; and it can bring us to our highest purpose. It is our saving grace.


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Thousand Oaks is part of an extended community for many residents of Malibu. My kids and I are over there often, most recently this past Tuesday, the day before the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting, at a restaurant only four miles from where shots were fired and twelve lives were violently lost. Newbury Park, a town within the city limits of Thousand Oaks, is both where the shooter lived and where I take my kids to see their pediatrician. We dine, shop, and run most of our errands in this community, just over the mountain from our home.

I took this photo of my son in February 2017 at the mall when we were out in T.O. for our mother/son night while my husband and daughter were attending their annual father/daughter dance back in Malibu. It is just minutes from the Borderline Bar and Grill where the shooting took place. “It could have been us” has entered my mind more than once today, and I have had to qualm feelings of unrest for my kids’ safety as we go about our lives. The fear of losing loved ones has been more pronounced for me since my mom went away for her birthday weekend and never returned, killed by a driver under the influence of prescription drugs.

When these senseless shootings happen, as a victim of unexpected tragedy myself, I go back to how I felt the day I was informed by the police officer on the scene that my mom had died in an accident. I relate with and weep for the those whose lives have been forever changed in a blink of an eye. I know first hand how they have been blindsided by such news, how their existence has been severely altered, and how they now have to reconcile their new reality of living without. They have been pulled into the abyss of tragic loss these last 24 hours. Darkness has blocked out the light and they are just beginning their journey through it. My heart and my thoughts are with them. Even though the rest of us are left to process another senseless shooting in whatever way we can (again), we are the lucky ones this time.


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The Borderline Bar & Grill mass shooting last night and now the Hill Fire in the same town of Thousand Oaks, right over the mountain from us. We have the car packed for evacuation, which may come at any moment; as we have heard they’ve already evacuated five miles north of us. Hoping we can stay in our home tonight and all will be ok... but for now, we are thinking of all those over the mountain that are already mourning the loss of victims in the Borderline shooting, and on top of that, are now battling wildfires.


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Mandatory evacuation for all of Malibu from #VenturaCountyLine to Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes. We are in the car stuck in solid gridlock on PCH right now trying to leave Malibu. Our home had a mandatory evacuation last night, but we stayed in Malibu at a friend’s house further south where there were no evacuations. Now we are part of the mass exodus to leave, wishing we had just left the area entirely last night. Hoping we will have a home to return to in a few days, and praying for the safety for all the Ventura County Fire & LA County Fire fighters and all residents in the affected areas. 🙏

#woolseyfire #hillfire


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My home is (or was, as the jury is still out on that) located about 18 miles up the coast from where I took this photo, somewhere behind and under that huge cloud of smoke. This was at 11:00am yesterday, and the kids and I had already been in the car for two and a half hours but had only traveled a mile. We stayed at a friend’s house further south from our home down PCH on Thursday night, having left our own home at 8:45pm under a mandatory evacuation.

I quickly packed up photos and various irreplaceable items, as much as would fit in our car with my two kids in the back seat, and walked out the door, leaving 99% of our possessions behind. It is now a day and a half later, and with each passing minute, it becomes more of a real possibility that I may not ever see my home again, except as a pile of ashes where it used to stand. I am heartbroken for my community, as so much of it has already burned; and so many of my friends are already dealing with the devastating news that their homes are gone.

Now, I sit here at my sister’s house waiting to hear the fate of mine - for the other shoe to drop. Yes, my immediate family is safe. Yes, the things we left behind are just possessions. But it is also our home... where I lived when I got married, pregnant, found out my mom died, grieved her, birthed two babies, nursed them, put them down for naps, fed them solid foods for the first time, watched them take their first steps, and took their first day of school pictures each year. Where we measured and marked their heights in pencil with a line and their names and the date on the wall next to the entry closet.

It may all be gone. It may all still be there. Either way, what has happened to Malibu is devastating. I know we will survive, and I know our community will rise up, support those who need it most, and get through this tragedy together. I am just so sad, and I need to allow this feeling for a moment before I face what is to come.

#hillfire #woolseyfire


Our home in Malibu did not burn down on Friday in the #woolseyfire and #hillfire, per the report I received Saturday afternoon. However, the danger is far from over and my sigh of relief will be forever stifled, since at least eight families we know already lost their homes, and those are just the ones confirmed.

Power lines have burned and our community is still evacuated. Wind ceased to blow most of the day Saturday, giving firefighters, first responders, and volunteers a reprieve, and a chance to make some headway on fire containment. Unfortunately, the winds picked up again Saturday evening, and more fires ignited in Malibu. It is going to be another rough day (or maybe days) of wait and see.

One of the many sad notes of Saturday was the news that Leo Carillo State Park was burned significantly. The landscape on and around my favorite Leo hiking loop is going to look vastly different than it does here above (taken last week) when I finally am allowed to hike up to this ocean vista point again and survey the scene. I am weeks away from that reality, but I know it will be hard to look out on what the fires have done to it from this spot.

For now, I must stay focused on the reality before me. Thank you to everyone who checked in and left notes of love and encouragement on Instagram, Facebook, or via text. I deeply appreciated all of your kind words and concern, and felt the love communicated from near and far. 🙏❤️

Hope for another day begins now. Hope for the safety and protection of those battling, and the victims of, these fires. Hope that peace and comfort will eventually soothe those who have already suffered tremendous loss. And hope that all life and property that has been spared thus far will stay safe and unscathed over this night and into these next few days.


These palm trees stand on our property, just feet from the side of our home. This mountain behind the palms, the sone in the second photo, is above us, right behind our home. The whole mountain burned, the fields adjacent to our home on both sides burned, and the open land in front of our street burned. Miraculously, our home did not burn. We have been assured our home is now safe from the threat of fire... well, at least from this fire. We are relieved and grateful. We are one of the lucky ones.

The list of Malibu families we know whom have lost their homes has grown to 26; and I expect that number will rise as information continues to spread. Kids in my kids’ classes lost their homes. Teachers at my kids’ school lost their homes. Moms I love and have worked with volunteering at school and in the PTA have lost their homes. My daughter’s best friend lost her new home, the one she just moved into a few weeks ago, as well as the home from which she just moved, where she grew up and had my daughter over for countless play dates, hang outs, and sleep overs. Educators and mentors who have inspired, supported, and just been there along the journey of our lives in Malibu the last 16 years, have lost the homes in which they had lived for over 30 or 40 years.

They are all suffering tremendous loss right now. Please pray 🙏 or keep them in your thoughts... or however you chose to send out positive energy 💫 into the world.

Donate to the many relief efforts that have been formed: @we.love.malibu @onelovemalibu @malibufoundation @bgcmalibu90265, offer a hand to help where you can, or just foster a little more gratitude for the safety and security of your own home, if you are reading this from afar, miles away from Malibu.


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Last Monday night, four days after being evacuated from Malibu, we were still taking refuge in my sister’s South Pasadena house. After sleeping in their cousin’s room for three nights, my kids came to snuggle with me, missing home, and their beds. They drifted off peacefully, while I lied there feeling the unrest and sadness of the last several days fully palpable in my body. My neck, where I hold my stress, had been tight for months, building since May, getting worse with difficulties endured in June, July and August, leading to its present state of stiffness and knots.

A yogi and runner, I had knowingly neglected my self care and exercise regimen in the face of adversity for months... a big mistake. Even though my home was safe, I didn’t feel relief. The damage to my body had already been done. The wildfire was the catalyst to my body finally raising the white flag in surrender.

At 5:30 the next morning, I was awoken by a muscle spasm that shot down my neck. My back was frozen in pain and I didn’t know how to make it stop. Bending my neck up lessened the spasm, so I held it in that position. I couldn’t move without pain taking over, so I just lied there, paralyzed in the dark, while everyone else in the house slept. I felt helpless, scared, and I had to pee. I needed to get up, so I silently gritted through the pain. It got worse from there as the hours passed, spreading down my right side to my arm, hand and fingers.

Thus began what is now going on seven days of chronic pain that hasn’t relented, except for some minutes here and there, and while I’m asleep, when I can sleep. I have seen three professionals ~ healers, therapists and doctors ~ and have had several treatments and tests, with no quick fixes in sight... just the expected weeks of physical therapy.

My body has drawn a line in the sand. It has told me it isn’t going to be ignored or neglected anymore. The wildfire that threatened my home and ravaged my town was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and mine. It was a huge wake up call. I am finally returning home today, still immobilized by pain, to begin the work of healing... not only the physical healing of my body, but the mental and emotional healing of myself and my community.


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Finally arrived back home yesterday afternoon, and witnessed the first sunset here in ten days. A sight for sore eyes.

The mandatory evacuation has been lifted for most of Malibu, but there are still some canyons in which people are not allowed to return to their homes, or to survey the damage done to their property. I am feeling a mixture of gratitude for still having a home to which to return, and sorrow for all the loss suffered by my friends and the challenging times ahead for all of us to rebuild our community.

Anyone interested in helping, you can donate to @onelovemalibu, @malibufoundation, @bgcmalibu90265, or you can visit @gabbyreece to find out what is actively being done for the relief effort locally, not only in Malibu, but other affected areas like Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Several groups have been formed to help victims of the #woolseyfire in all areas, and she has been disseminating information through her IG posts to help galvanize people into action. 🙏❤️💪


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My sister and brother-in-law have created a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition at their home for my family and my brother’s family, and they outdo themselves each year with an amazing meal and this beautiful setting.

Thanksgiving was especially memorable yesterday, since we had been evacuated here and stayed at their house for five days when the Woolsey Fire hit Malibu two weeks ago. So many lives have been turned upside down since then, and I am feeling so many different feelings about it. Most of all, I feel gratitude for the safety of my family and our home from the fire; but I also feel sadness for all of my friends who lost their homes to it.

When tragedy strikes, clarity for what you value most can often hit you soon after. I feel overwhelming love for the people dearest to my heart, and an aching desire to be with the ones I love whom are not in my physical realm right now. 💗 I feel the void of their presence and miss their touch, while simultaneously feeling the fullness of my heart with love for them. A testament to how much love our hearts can hold.

Amidst all the love and giving thanks, I’m still feeling the debilitating effects of my back injury from a week and a half ago; and now my daughter is also injured from an accident she had on her scooter the evening before Thanksgiving. It landed us in Malibu Urgent Care right before they closed, and luckily they were able to stitch up her chin that had split open when she fell face first on the asphalt street in front of our home. She scraped some other body parts too; and beside the pain in her chin, her jaw is stiff, her teeth are sore, and she ran a 102 temperature for the duration of our Thanksgiving celebration.

We woke up this morning, both of us bedridden and sore, and I was feeling a bit in a state of “when it rains it pours.” Yet I recognize that these physical challenges and injuries we are nursing still pale in comparison to losing everything in the fire. I know we will be fine soon. We’ll heal our bodies over the next few weeks, and then we will be ready and stronger than ever to help our friends rebuild their lives, and help rebuild our beautiful community.

#malibustrong 💪💙


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In bed. Looking up from the flat of my back. Visions of love, loss, limbo, lust, and light abound. 💫💛✨

#backinjury #bedstretches #yogainbed #youwilllookupatmefromtheflatofyourback #aknightstale #william #heathledger


Before all the hills in my neighborhood off the coast of Malibu burned, including this bluff I often hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I began writing #thirtydaysofinspiration posts, starting on Nov. 1st. I only wrote and posted on day 1-7 before the Borderline Bar shooting occurred in nearby Thousand Oaks the night of Nov. 7th.

The next day, the Hill Fire in Ventura County, the Woolsey Fire in LA County, and the Camp Fire in Butte County, all began to burn up the state of California. I never got to my day 8 inspirational post, instead writing about the bar shooting. The wild fires took over our lives on Nov. 9th, and they burned their paths of destruction through the city of Paradise up north and my city of Malibu here down south.

Tragedy and loss have competed fiercely with inspiration during these difficult days from Nov. 8-25. Still, many examples of bravery, kindness and perseverance emerged amidst the rubble by the first responders, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, community members, and people from near and far, either working to prevent loss, or helping those who have suffered loss. Inspiration at its finest.

Today, on day 26, I wanted to resume my posts on these last days of this very difficult November; but I find I don’t have it in me right now. I feel sad and overwhelmed. I need time to process some things and do some healing. In the absence of my attempt to write something inspirational to share, I want to show some love and appreciation for those on my Instagram feed who often inspire me.

Inspiration can take many forms... in words and images, in art and intellect, and in humans who embody love, courage, strength, beauty, emotional intelligence, kindness, and ⚓️ hope, as they share their gifts and vulnerabilities, and expose their humanity.

Thank you for inspiring me:
@nayyirah.waheed @changeurperception @createthelove @beingisbeautiful @mindfulmft @abbywambach @estherperelofficial @bzblooms @herbadmother @thelastburstofspring @fodadaclothing @timhortonphotomalibu @julieellerton @projecthealthybody_ @dallashartwig @briana_leonard @rootsnwings_malibu @wearemanenough

Thank you all for the truths you share, and the light you shine. 🙏 💙 xo- Lisa

I Am Here with You

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Every year, I bring the kids to visit you. After school ends, we rush over from Malibu and arrive with only a few minutes to spend before the gates close at five.

They give you their flowers and run around the grass. I try to steal a moment to talk to you, but I often don't let myself get very far into the one-sided conversation. I don’t want the kids to feel the heaviness in my heart while they flit around in their lightness. Sometimes, I just don’t want to acknowledge the heaviness.

So I watch them run around... burning off energy they built up on the car ride over. I tell my son repeatedly not to step on the other headstones and to leave the balloons and pinwheels where they are.

They are comfortable here, playing in their grandma’s yard, the only one of yours they will ever know.

I sit on the blanket and breathe in the peace this place is supposed to bring its visitors. I look around at all the trees and beauty and reflect on the number of years it's been since we laid you to rest. It may be only a year between our visits, but so much happens in the span of each year that sometimes it surprises me how much remains the same here.

Yet it’s a little different today… the light is different. I haven’t been here in the morning since the day of your memorial service twelve years ago, when I had a baby in my belly and an army of mourners walking with me from the chapel to this spot in the grass.

At this time of day, the tree that shades you filters the sunlight from directly above, casting strong shadows of branches down on your headstone and a warm, golden spotlight that bathes me in a natural glow when I lie down next to you.

The ground is a bit moist and uneven, and the smell of soil and cut grass is potent. My blanket is supposed to keep the wetness of the lawn from coming through, but it doesn’t. I hear the whizzing sound of weed trimmers all around, as the groundskeepers’ maintenance is in full swing. Ironically, I came here today to get some peace alone with you while the kids are in school, but it turns out it is a little less peaceful at this time of day then when we usually visit in the evening.

Still, without the kids in tow, there is a different kind of peace. I can sit here alone and say anything I want to you. I can talk and cry, and there is no one to hear me. I also can sit here in silence and feel the intimacy of the moment without words, knowing words don’t actually need to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Intimate words are hard for me to form through my voice. I get overcome with emotion in most instances of speaking intimately, and those strong emotions often muddle what I am trying to verbally communicate to others. For me, words flow more freely when I write; hence, this.

I write here next to you, sitting on this now wet blanket. Wanting to talk to you, but not knowing where to start. Wondering so much, about so much. Thinking of questions I never asked you. Wanting answers I am missing that I had not sought to get when you were alive, because my life had not yet begged their questions.

You feel closer to me here somehow. That doesn’t make logical sense, I know, because the ashes of your body buried beneath me here are not really you, nor is this inanimate slab of concrete next to me embossed with your name. I just refer to it as “you” because it is tangible. It is a symbol, a sign... It’s what I have left of you.

People like to say you are in me, and that you are with me always. They say it to comfort, and they say it with spiritual conviction; but it is not enough for me just to hear that. You are a feeling I have to deliberately elicit… one I have to connect with to believe, or to find comfort in. Just being told by others you are here with me, and that it is so because of how they choose to believe, doesn’t do it for me.

I am here with you. You are here with me. It’s intangible, but it is all we have. I write to you and about you to feel closer to you. I think about you and all that you have given me, and I feel you with me. When I am connected to my true self, I remember that you are part of me.

I have to go now. The kids and I will return in a few hours, with flower bouquets in their hands. They will give their flowers to you, and they will run around the grass, as always. They will hear church bells ring in the distance and take off to meet the source of the chimes. I will watch them go, silent in the calm of the evening stillness, enjoying the last few minutes we have before the gates close at five.

POSTSCRIPT (about the photo above): On that day, the branches of the tree that looms over my mom’s grave had filtered the midday sunlight in such a way that the glow affect on my face was created in the camera of my phone. I did not add any artificial filter to it after the fact, nor did I manipulate the photo in any way. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature’s filter, and for capturing this image.

Breakfast & Poetry

A deep breath and this breathtaking view at Zuma beach jump started my day this morning. I then arrived at a breakfast and poetry gathering with a tribe of empowered and beautiful women, all of them devoted moms who are living, fighting and thriving in the trenches of parenting young children right now. We were to read a poem of our choosing aloud; but instead, I opted to read “Dear Mom,” a rhythmic and somewhat poetic piece I wrote and posted to my website over a year ago. A letter to my mom on the eve of the 10th anniversary of her death, this was something I had never read aloud before today.

While I spoke, my heart beat wildly and my voice quivered slightly; as the words were louder in my head than they had been before, and the feelings attached to them more visceral. As I heard my own voice give them life, the words floated through the air and landed in the ears of those listening, some of them discovering the fate of my mom for the first time. I kept my eyes glued to the page until the end, as I knew if I locked eyes with anyone while reading I might not be able to finish.

When I finally looked up, I discovered tears flowing on several of the faces around me, and the room was absorbed by the expressions of sadness, disappointment, anger, and love that I had just shared. Yet, above all of the emotions conveyed in the letter, LOVE transcended them all. Love left its mark on the hearts of those who received its powerful message, and it connected us... as mothers, as women, as humans. It was a beautiful moment, and one I am grateful to those women in the room for sharing with me.

#dearmom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

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

Charlottesville

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Somewhere in California, a father helps his daughter learn to ride her penny board at a gas stop during their family's summer vacation last week.

This father fell in love with his wife seventeen years ago, married her, and had two children out of that love. This daughter was born healthy, beautiful, and graced with the privilege of living with both her parents in a serene city by the sea, a golden state with mountains, deserts and beaches, and a sovereign nation granting her the freedom to dream of a life of her choosing.

This family of four wanted nothing more than to enjoy a fun road trip last week, create new memories together, and be nurtured, loved, accepted, and safe in the bosom of their extended family.

While away for seven days, this mother did not post to social media, was free of influence and distraction, and experienced what most moms do on a vacation with their kids: a mixture of relief to be away, excitement for adventure, exhaustion from all the packing, and grateful appreciation of time with her beloveds; intermingled with listening to whining, arguing, and annoying "Are we there yet?'s," and feeling the chagrin of an exasperated parent refereeing the chaos and attempting to orchestrate the calm, at times wishing she could escape to read a book... or write one.

Yet she, I, was also unexpectedly disrupted on our trip by the news of the intolerance and racism that was violently displayed a few days ago in Virginia, in this present day world that should be well past such an archaic ideology. A dangerous, ignorant, and irresponsible doctrine that so many Americans fought against (including my grandfather) and so many other Americans and citizens from many nations died fighting in a World War.

Not a small thing and not something ANY American should be so disrespectful of our violent history to blatantly ride in the face of, disregarding what America went through, fought against, and strongly reviles as not only anti-American, but anti-humanity. To denounce any human as less than because of their skin color, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation is a human rights violation of the tallest order.

I am sickened by the news from Charlottesville; yet I am emboldened to continue to live a life of worth and purpose and cause, and to raise my children with knowledge, intelligence, empathy, and decency so they can carry on the virtues of acceptance, inclusion, compassion and love.

I was fortunate to have been born of a family who taught kindness and love over violence and hatred. My kids are fortunate to have been born into a life where, so far, they have been safe from daily harm and live in a place free of social unrest and dangerous persuasions. Yet, wherever you are and from whomever you were born, we are all humans who have love at our core. Humanity unites us.

Abject evil, ignorance and fear cannot and *will not* win if we, who chose love, expand our reach of compassion and solidarity with decency, equality, conscious humanity, and perseverance to uphold all that is right and good in this world.

#charlottesville

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

All I Got

My mom loved the beach. When we were kids, she took us to Paradise Cove in Malibu to play in the ocean and sand all day while she relaxed and soaked up the sun.

This Mother's Day morning, I took a run at Zuma, as I so often do, and I snapped this photo with my mom weighing heavily on my mind. I felt she was with me, in my heart; but I really wished she was with me in person, walking the boardwalk alongside me.

I would gladly have given up my run and that precious hour of solitude to just go for a walk with her. I pictured a spry seventy-year-old grandma version of her walking next to me, and wanted so badly for this version to exist outside of my imagination.

I remember how excited she was when I moved to Malibu fifteen years ago. I can still see her face when she saw the 180 degree view of the ocean visible from the deck of John's and my new place for the first time. Her jaw dropped when she walked in the front door and looked out at it; and she joked with us about wanting to move in herself.

She was so happy John and I were in love. She was our biggest fan... kind of like how fans of celebrities love their favorite power couple; yet instead of Brangelina, my mom fan girled us. She had a collage of our photos up over her desk at work, and she had several framed photos of us in her house.

She LOVED John. She thought I won the lottery of men. She adored us together and said "aaawww..." whenever we did something even remotely romantic in front of her, like give each other a quick kiss or cuddle up together on her couch. I think she was just so happy for me, and maybe a little bit relieved, that her outspoken middle daughter, who had an argumentative nature, strong opinions, and passionate convictions, found a gorgeous, kind-hearted man that seemed to love me despite these traits... or perhaps, to her surprise, because of them.

When John and I were engaged, she was beside herself with elation and excitement. My wedding day was one of the happiest of her life. She was beaming the whole day with pride... over me, the wedding I had planned on my own, and the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

None of us knew on that day that she wouldn't live to see the life we ultimately created together. It was only a year and a half later when she died, and she left us knowing I was six months pregnant, and that my baby girl was going to finally make her a grandmother.

She wouldn't get the chance to meet my daughter, or know we also had a son four years later. She wouldn't know that we'd continue to live at the beach, raising our family here and still looking out at that same view she had jaw dropped over.

She wouldn't know I would become a writer. That I would write about her often, or that I would begin to write my first book. She wouldn't know that so many people she loved would be touched by what and how I write, or credit her for my creative talent.

If my mom was alive today, I would have invited her out to Malibu and taken that walk with her; and then I would have taken her to brunch somewhere in town with a beautiful ocean view... or better yet, made brunch for her here so she could sit on our deck with a glass of champagne, look out at the ocean, and watch her grandchildren play around her.

Today has been hard for me so far. I don't know why this year more than previous years, but there it is. My family took me to brunch this morning at a local restaurant, after my run, and all I wanted to do was come back home, be alone, and write. I didn't want to see and be surrounded by adult mom and daughter combos celebrating each other over champagne brunch, or listen to my kids argue about whose foot was on whose side of the car and hear my son scream out at the injustice of it all. I didn't want to be informed about what they each wanted for their next birthdays several months away... subjects these kids seemed to think were paramount to broach on this particular day of days.

As a daughter, when you don't have a mom present to show your love and appreciation, there's a risk of presuming this day should be all about you. As a mother, things are rarely all about you, so this could be quite an intoxicating notion. Our culture dangles this day in front of us and tells us we should expect a magical twenty four hours in which our kids won't behave selfishly and our deepest desires will be met without us being asked what they are. If we buy into this premise, we will surely be set up for disappointment and our loved ones set up for definite failure.

I prefer to give more than receive. I love to be of service to those I love, to support them, to give them the parts of myself that can help them. To lift them up and serve them in the best ways I can, using my talents and strengths. That is love to me.

So since I cannot express and give love to my mom in person today, I am sending out my love to her and to all the mothers in my life through these words.

Mamas... I love you. You work hard, you sacrifice, you suffer, you triumph. You go above and beyond - and most days, it goes unnoticed. You plan ahead, you think of how to make others feel special, and you put the wants and needs of your kids ahead of your own most of the time. You are rockstars. I am in awe of you.

I never got the chance to physically be a daughter to my mom and a mother to my kids simultaneously, or to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom and kids together. The time it has taken me this Mother's Day afternoon to write this, and to reflect on my mom, is my special time spent with her today. Thinking about her, remembering her smile, her laugh, her jokes, her love, and writing this... it's the closest thing to showering her with my love and appreciation today.

That's all I got. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

 

The Gift of Burden

It is the afternoon of Wednesday, April 19th, a couple days after my twelfth wedding anniversary, and I am trying to play catch up on all the outstanding tasks and residual clutter I had put aside for two weeks while we were away on spring break and anniversary celebrating vacations.

I sit at my home office desk trying to rid its surface of what's suffocating it... Kindergarten school work brought home before the break, health insurance paperwork, clipped box tops for school fundraising, and health and fitness coupons, race flyers and vitamin samples from the swag bag I received for running a 10K race just before leaving town.

My computer screen displays the results of the doctor search I had done a couple hours ago on the provider finder of my new health insurance company website. Now a couple minutes after 2:00pm, I can finally call the doctor at the top of the list... surely they'd be back in the office from lunch by now.

I retrieve our landline cordless phone from its stand to make the call, and as I walk back to the desk with it, my cell phone sounds nearby with a notification alert. It's a familiar and comforting chime, the one assigned to the Facebook Messenger app; one that has brought me fun chats and enjoyable interactions with friends and family so often in the past. Yet this time, it's not a link to a good article sent by my sister or a short but sweet note from an old friend checking in on me.

No, today it brings me the opposite kind of news... word that my cousin Christine died this morning, having succumbed to the breast cancer she had courageously survived a couple times already over the past three years. I sit down to read the words written by her brother, "my beautiful and loving sister passed today around 11:30," and immediately break down crying.

I cry for a few minutes before I respond to him with my condolences, and then I cry some more. Through my tears, and still holding my home phone in my hand, I look up at my computer screen at the name of the doctor I was about to dial listed under the specialty I searched this morning: gynecology. The timing was unbelievable.

My annual mammogram was due in March, and I had been avoiding scheduling it for a couple months already because it was going to be a bit of an ordeal... you know, one of those cycles of actions that is more annoying than hard, with so many steps to make it just inconvenient and time consuming enough to want to put it off in favor of things quicker and easier to check off your to-do list.

I had to search for a gynecologist close by, with good recommendations, who is taking new patients, and who accepts my new medical insurance (since the OB-GYN that delivered my son six years ago now does not), make an appointment to get a checkup, pap smear, and prescription for a mammogram, and then schedule a mammogram at the lab to take afterward.

I find that anything to do with health insurance and its confusing coverage is always cumbersome to deal with and makes me wish I had a personal assistant to tackle the minutiae of these tasks. But since it's all me, all the time, I had to take care of this cycle of annoyance myself; and I'd been a bit anxious the last few weeks over the fact that I had delayed in getting it done. Especially since my cousin's words had been replaying in my head, imploring me and all the women in her life to get our annual mammograms each year on time. Since her breast cancer was discovered on a mammogram taken one year after a test that was clear, she wanted to ensure that we all knew how vital early detection was. I had been diligent with my tests ever since; that is, until now.

So it was at the top my list of to-dos for this week; and there I was to-doing it at the very moment I found out breast cancer had claimed her life. I was in shock, not only from the sad news, but from the fact that I received it at the exact time I was finally taking these long overdue steps in my own breast cancer prevention.

After my crying ran its course, at least for the moment, I was determined to call the gynecologist on my screen right then, stuffed up, crying nose or not. I secured the next available appointment for Monday, May 1st, and then called the lab to schedule a mammogram for later that same morning.

There, it's done. I handled it - for myself, and now, strangely, in honor of Christine in this sad moment of unhappy coincidence. So many thoughts swirled around in my head... of sadness, anger, injustice, and fervent opposition to just how incredibly unfair this reality was. Yet I had no time to sort these thoughts out, as I had to leave and pick up the kids from school minutes later. Life was still moving on, and my desire to stop, grieve, and reflect did not surpass my responsibility to take my daughter to her softball pitching clinic or sit with my son and help him with his reading.

I wanted to write. I wanted to get out and process my thoughts on this travesty. I had so much anger to express toward cancer... about its incessant presence in our lives, its suspected causes that could possibly be eradicated if our society was just better aligned with what actually keeps people healthy and less susceptible to contracting it, and its relentless siege on so many people I care about - the latest being my cousin Christine, but also my ex-stepmother Julie, who died of lung cancer just last month, and my neighbor of fourteen years, Karen, who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last November... three of my people in six months.

But the words didn't come, my head and heart still muddled in grief and indignation. The next few days were full of the usual duties and responsibilities of my life; yet, they were also full of the usual gratitude for my life, so I decided to focus on the good and the grace, and attempted to replace my anger with acceptance.

When I thought more about Christine and the day of her passing, I considered what a gift the burden of my looking up doctors and making a few phone calls was compared to what she had to bear that morning... taking her last breath and saying goodbye to her children, parents, siblings, and entire earthly world up until that moment. I knew her burden was much greater than mine, and was not the gift that mine was - the gift of life, of possibility, of health, hope, and living and breathing to see another day.

But the more I contemplated it, the more I wondered if maybe her burden was a gift, in an entirely different way. Maybe being free of the pain she had been suffering was a gift, more than I could ever understand. Maybe surrendering and not having to fight anymore to live on this Earth was also a gift to her. Maybe ceasing to endure more chemotherapy, chronic discomfort, hair loss, unrelenting sickness, and emotional turmoil was the absolute greatest gift she could have received that day... a precious gift, all wrapped up in the burden of grief felt by those she was leaving behind.

me with my cousins Christine (far right) and her sister & brothers - 6/28/14

me with my cousins Christine (far right) and her sister & brothers - 6/28/14

I was unable to visit Christine while she was sick. Time, distance, severity of her symptoms, and honoring her wishes for privacy made it so. The same was true of my ex-stepmother Julie and dear neighbor Karen... both of them also choosing to share their experience of illness and dying with only their closest inner circle during their hardest days and most delicate moments.

And who am I, or anyone, to protest these wishes? Unless you are the one lying there, the circumstances around death don't come on your terms. As a bystander (however distant or close a friend or family member you may be), death doesn't follow your course of action or wishes for what you would like to see happen before it arrives. It comes when it comes, and those of us left behind must accept the terms of it, whether we like it or not. Sometimes in death, we don't get to chose what we say, don't say, hear, or don't hear. We aren't the ones dying, so we don't get to call the shots.

It's only in life, in relation to our own life, that we are truly granted the opportunity, choice, and power to say what we feel, express what we believe, and experience moments in which we get to hear and feel what we want, if we are lucky. We are mere spectators of other people's lives, unless they invite us to participate; so it is up to all of us to seize those moments and opportunities to intersect and connect with each other, and make our time here as full and fulfilling as possible. Indeed, there is no doubt we are all connected, but as we come into this world alone as our own being and entity, we also leave this world alone, free to go where our energy takes us.

When I received the details of Christine's memorial service, I discovered that, ironically, it had been scheduled for the morning of May 1st at the very time I had made my overdue gynecologist and mammogram appointments. Of course I've changed them to attend the funeral; but when I finally get to them next week, I will be thinking of Christine. I will remember how much she loved her life, and how she fought for it until she could no longer do so. I will remember her spirit, her determination, her loyalty, her dedication to her family, and the enduring legacy of love she left with them.

And when I get my annual mammogram each year after this, I know I will also think of her and remember how this test, however bothersome to schedule or painfully uncomfortable to go through, is another one of those gifts of burden I will happily bear to live this life I'm so grateful to live.

 

🙏   Rest in Peace Christine, Julie, Karen, and all the beautiful souls we have lost to cancer.

Love By Choice Rather Than Obligation

My Eternal Friend & ex-Stepmother Julie and Me - March 2000

My Eternal Friend & ex-Stepmother Julie and Me - March 2000

I just found out you died.

Died of cancer. The same lung cancer that almost killed you a couple years ago. I didn't know it had come back. If I did, I would have flown out to see you. I would have called you to see what I could do. To talk to you again. To say I love you for the last time.

But I didn't know. You didn't call me to tell me and I'm not sure why. Maybe you didn't want me to know... to worry, to be sad, to have to try to find the words to say goodbye.

I heard once the cancer came back it took you quickly. So quick that maybe there wasn't time for goodbyes - at least not with me, across all these miles. Or maybe you just wanted to slip away peacefully without having to say the farewells you weren't required or ready to say.

It makes sense, I guess. It just makes me sad to not have been given the chance to tell you what you meant to me or to thank you for all you had done for me. I think you already knew; but still, we humans like to say it. Saying it makes it more real. Saying it ensures us that our feelings and intentions are known. Unequivocally. Unmistakably. With no presumptions made, and no feelings implied or misunderstood.

So I am saying it now. Here, on this site full of my writing. A site you never visited, nor ever read one word from, but still were so proud it existed.

I gave my sister Rebecca some of the words on this page to read aloud at your memorial service in my absence. I wanted my feelings to be represented there so all the people there knew you mattered to others who weren't there. Others like me.

What she read was brief... not nearly everything that came out of me when I first heard you were gone. All the words that came out of me are here now, written with tears flowing and a heart full of gratitude for having known you.

When we spoke on the phone last summer, you were in full remission... your hair had grown back, you felt great and were riding your bicycle around town. You had just begun to explore the internet, googling and wikipedia-ing everything you wanted to know more about.

You didn't want to correspond via email, be friends on Facebook, or even visit this site to read some of the things I wrote. Although I wanted you to read what I had been writing for the past couple years, I respected your slow pace and understood your intention to not get overwhelmed or swallowed up by the abyss the internet has the potential to be. I thought about printing some of my best pieces out to mail to you; but it's funny how we all think we have infinite time to eventually do the things we don't have time to do in the moment.

So I am going to choose to believe that you are reading this somehow, feeling the sentiments and emotions I lay bear here, through the energy that is now you.

I will never see you in person again. The finality of that fact is a tough one. The last time I saw you was here in Malibu twelve years ago when you attended my wedding and were escorted down the aisle in procession as my stepmother and important family member.

Over the last decade, we were able to keep our relationship going, despite your divorce from my dad, the distance between our homes, and my being swallowed up by newborns and toddlers. Two or three lengthy, inspiring, and uplifting phone calls per year were all we had; but I was grateful for them.

One was always around your birthday in August, when we would talk about the summer we were having and our plans for the Fall... another was when you would call me at the start of each new year to gush about how fantastic my holiday card was, how beautiful my children were, or how the Christmas gift I sent you just couldn't be more perfect than it was... and a third was usually around Mother's Day, when you would thank me for the Mother's Day card I sent, and tell me how overwhelmed and blown away you were by my kindness and generosity for thinking of you as a mother.

Of course, I lost my mother to a car accident shortly after I lost you as my stepmother. The difference is, I never really lost you. Not until now. You became more of a mother to me after your marriage to my dad ended, and in the wake of my mom's death, than you ever presumed or intended to be when you were still married to him.

It's not like you took my mom's place after she died. You didn't want to do that; nor did I want you to try. The truth was, you couldn't do it even if you did try, and you knew that.

So instead of stepping into her role, you reinvented it. For yourself, and for me. You became a new entity... a mother by choice rather than obligation.

You gave me something unique that I hadn't had before - a nurturing presence who lifted me up, accepted me for exactly who I was, and loved me so unconditionally that I became stronger and braver and more self-assured because of it. You believed in me so much and was so proud of me in the most generous and selfless way, that I began to believe in myself more. So even though you weren't physically in my life, you were always there for me.

And I was here. Figuring things out, often floundering, succeeding and failing in motherhood, marriage, and life. Our calls seemed to always happen at the times when I needed your support, advice, and guidance the most. I definitely didn't call you as often as I wanted, to see how you were doing and check in on how life was for you. You loved it when I did, but you didn't need me to. You always made sure to tell me how much you loved and appreciated me, felt my love across the miles and held it close to your heart in the time between our talks.

You let me know the cards and photos of my family I sent were valued as some of your most treasured possessions. You expressed your regard for them through wildly enthusiastic and whimsical descriptions of where you placed them in your home - like on your refrigerator door so you would see them every time you made a cup of tea, or on your bedside table so you could see our smiling faces when you woke up - and these long, beautiful expressions of appreciation that you would generously give to me always left me with a deep and comforting feeling that I was truly cherished by you.

What an amazing gift you had. The ability to spread so much joy and love by just being YOU. Your true and unapologetic self was so honest, vulnerable, and sincere that I would bet any person who was lucky enough to know you, or be showered even once with your unconditional adoration and praise, was left a better person.

You were an enchanted, mystical and ethereal force of positive energy and light. You brightened my life with your encouragement, your sage advice, your enlightened wisdom, and your boundless love.

And although I will miss you deeply, your love will stay with me; and I will never lose what you meant to me.

Beyond Leia

Image: Rolling Stone Magazine/Aaron Rapoport/Corbis

Image: Rolling Stone Magazine/Aaron Rapoport/Corbis

 
I am Princess Leia, no matter what. If I were trying to get a good table, I wouldn’t say I wrote Postcards (From the Edge). Or, if I’m trying to get someone to take my check and I don’t have ID, I wouldn’t say: ‘Have you seen (When) Harry Met Sally?’ Princess Leia will be on my tombstone.
— Carrie Fisher
 

I was five years old in 1977, the year Carrie Fisher first took on the role of Princess Leia. As a toddler, I didn't see Star Wars when it first came out; so my earliest visual memory of Leia was not in a white robe with side buns, but rather in this gold slave bikini and long braid from 1983's Return of the Jedi.

I eventually saw the first film, along with its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and witnessed the debut of the gun-toting Leia, with her sharp tongued quips and calm under fire demeanor that not only left Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in dumbstruck awe of her, but also firmly established her as the original cinematic female action hero. 

Leia was stubborn, courageous and formidable... put simply, a genuine badass. The image of her in that gold bikini, chained to the slimy, alien slug gangster Jabba the Hutt, definitely stuck with me; not to mention how she killed him wearing that same outfit with the very chain that bound her.

So much of Princess Leia's charm, grit and attraction is due to the fact that Carrie Fisher was the one who brought her to life onscreen. Leia exuded Carrie's strength of character, resilience, and dogged determination to reject norms, defy limited expectations, and surpass and defeat the literal and figurative restraints that an alien slug, or anyone else, tried to put on her.

Yet as strong, lovely, and memorable as she was in the Star Wars films, Carrie Fisher was much more than Princess Leia to so many, including me. In the whole of my life, she emerged beyond Leia, inhabiting other roles and other identities that have endeared her to me even more...

... more as Meg Ryan's best friend in one of my all-time favorite films, When Harry Met Sally. While in college in the early 1990's, Carrie was a big part of nursing me back to health and comforting me when I just needed to cuddle up and escape into a movie. As a Film Studies major, this was my go-to movie to put on when I was sick, burnt out from studying, or in need of a break from all the cerebral and abstract foreign films I watched in film class.

... more for her connection to my family, as the daughter of the late Debbie Reynolds, the legendary entertainer who headlined Vegas alongside my dad in the late 1970's; and as the half sister of Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher, daughters of Connie Stevens, also a renowned actress and singer, who started a vocal group with my dad back in the 1950's and who ultimately became one of my mom's best friends.

... more for the kinship I felt with her as a fellow daughter of an entertainer father that seemed to be much more accessible to his fans then he was to his children.

... more for her bravery and transparency about her mental illness, and how she didn't let it stop her from living her life on her terms. I know a thing or two about being outspoken and honest to the point that it sometimes makes others uncomfortable, and I love that Carrie spoke her mind on topics that mattered to her, or of which she had a strong opinion. Not only did she free herself from the stigma of an illness that is often misunderstood and dismissed as imaginary or manufactured; but she helped others to feel free of it through her public candor and her writing.

... and yes, more than anything, Carrie Fisher is endeared to me for her talent as a writer, and her propensity to tell the barefaced truth. To be a good writer you need to be fearless and free; not only do you need to possess the courage to say what others won't, but also to have the forte to write what others can't. Carrie was all this and more. I aspire to be like her, and to write with the same courage and flair that she did.

The overwhelming respect and regard I have for her, her work, her honesty, her love of words, and her legacy of living life in the most unabashedly real way, far eclipses any admiration I hold for her as that beautiful, bikini-clad woman. Carrie was proud and unashamed to be who she was, and she worked and lived to ensure that her worth was not solely measured by the veil of her perceived privilege, nor the fleeting nature of her physical beauty.

And for that, I believe she succeeded famously.

Rest in peace, badass princess.

Carrie Fisher
1956 - 2016

Carrie-Fisher-Time-2015-Photo-Shoot-Star-Wars-thumb-430xauto-64608.jpeg
 
Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.
— Carrie Fisher
 

Milking It

A two and half hour, traffic laden drive from the OC to LA warrants all windows down, sunroof open, bare feet, music playing, and a leg up while driving (even when wearing a dress). I drove down to Costa Mesa this morning for a dear friend's father's funeral, a fitting end to an already emotional week for me, after the tenth anniversary of my mother's death a couple days ago.

I drove most of the way home to Malibu on the clogged 405 freeway in silence and quiet reflection, thinking about life and how those we love will all inevitably leave us at some point on our life's journey, and how I knew that this was only one in a long procession of memorial services that I already had begun to attend, as my friends and I continue to lose the beloved people that came before us and reared us into this life. I also partly dreamed about just staying down there for the rest of the day, hanging out at the beach alone or calling a friend I hadn't seen in a while to meet for coffee, a smile, and a catch-up chat. Wouldn't that be lovely, I thought.

When I finally made it to the 10 freeway, traffic opened up, and so did I... shaking off my daydreams, I took a deep cleansing breath to remind me to stay in the present and seize the moment to enjoy the cool coastal breezes that were now rushing through my open car windows. As I emerged from the McClure tunnel onto Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, traffic slowed to a crawl again, and I noticed a couple people in the cars around me craning their necks and doing double takes at me.

Now, I am a 44 year old woman in a black funeral dress in an SUV on my way home to my husband and kids, not a 22 year old freewheeling chick in cutoffs and a bikini in a sports car heading to the beach; yet, I was getting some looks. I can only guess that I must have looked slightly strange and oddly comfortable with my bare leg exposed and leaning on my door while wearing that conservative black dress. My black heels were kicked off under me and my wind blown hair was no longer in its neat little bun.

I didn't care how it looked - it was as free as I was going to feel today, and I was milking it for all it was worth.

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Ten Years After My Life Before

The life I had before... I knew how to do that. I could do that forever. But now look at me. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do with all this?
— Erica Barry (in Something's Gotta Give)

Life is not a movie. No one knows this more than me. Still, just humor me here, okay?

The quote above is one of the most poignant and heartbreaking lines from a great scene in one of my favorite movies. It speaks volumes to so many of our fears of losing control, of stepping out of our comfort zone, of challenging the false egos and fabricated identities that we offer up to the world and hide behind to protect ourselves from the heartbreak of being vulnerable, of admitting we aren't fine, and of feeling and loving deeply.

Her sentiment, "What am I going to do with all this?" really resonates with me because I have felt it, not only in regard to romantic love (as she does in the film), but in regard to losing my mom... now ten years ago today.

When my mom died, so much came up in me that I was not prepared to deal with. I had my first child three months later, and my delay in fully grieving the loss of my mother until my daughter was safely outside of my body meant I was faced with embracing overwhelming joy and tremendous grief simultaneously.

WTF? Are you kidding me? How was I going to be elated about my beautiful and healthy baby girl while finally allowing myself to feel the intense anger and crippling sorrow of my mom being killed in a car accident?

What am I going to do with all this? All this feeling. All this hurt. All this love. All this disappointment. All this hope. All this sadness. What am I gonna do?

I couldn't navigate my way through it, and I didn't have the clarity, energy, motivation or support to know that I needed some sort of outlet, or some sort of outside help, to sort out the mess that was me, that sad woman buried somewhere beneath a bunch of diapers, baby wipes, burp clothes and boppy pillows.

So instead of real help, I used band-aids. I patched up my life as best I could with quick fixes, forced positive attitudes, running, yoga, clean eating, a bit of makeup, a healthy dose of denial, and the sheer abandonment of some of my deepest passions and strongest convictions. I created some semblance of a happy home life and convinced myself that it was all somehow, in some way, going to be okay the way it was now.

The way I was now.

It wasn't. I hadn't fully understood what these new roles I now was expected to fill (wife, mom, motherless daughter) would do to my former identity, or how my attempting to fill them would demolish all that I had thought of myself. Although it looked as if I played the roles pretty well from the outside, deep down I was partly broken, unhappy with myself, my ability to parent, my marriage, my choices, and my unwanted, unchosen, effed-up circumstances.

The difficulties I faced had rippling effects that forever changed the landscape of my life and led me down roads I never imagined I would venture. Roads of thoughts, feelings, words, and actions that did not serve my life. States of mind and being (sadness, anger, bitterness, fear, self doubt, insecurity and shame, to name a few) that I expected to only visit temporarily - that is, while grieving my mom, caring for needy babies and toddlers at home, and fumbling through my domesticated, messy life - were instead the states of mind and being that I set up camp and lived in for years.

In the narrative of the film, Erica dealt with her "all this" by writing. She wrote and cried and cried and wrote, and out of all of the hurt and pain and love, she created something glorious, healed herself, and moved on with her life. In the narrative of my life, over seven years had passed before I discovered that writing would be my salvation for my personal "all this."

With every word I wrote, I began to dig out of my dark tunnel both toward the light within me and the light in my life that had been eluding me. The digging was painful, enlightening, intoxicating, scary, euphoric, and all together devastating; yet, it freed me from the purgatory between "my life before" and the life I knew wanted to have in the future.

So today, on this day that means so much yet hurts so much, I am grateful that these last ten years are over. Still, the dawn of this solemn anniversary of sorts didn't flip a switch and make all my problems magically disappear. There is no ten year statute of limitation on my pain, suffering or difficulty in life. Sure, you can look at all the photos of me as a mother these past ten years, posing with my kids through faces of love, smiles and happiness, and see part of my story. And those faces are all as authentic and real as anything. But, as we all know, snapshots taken and often shared with those outside our inner world are mere snippets of a much larger picture... and rarely do they tell the whole story.

Not having my mom here hurts still. The void she left has never been filled. I feel it most when I see the grandmothers of my kids' friends enjoying their grandchildren, and the moms of my girlfriends helping their daughters like they have been doing all their lives, being there for them and showing them the unconditional love and support that only a mother can give. I miss that. This is the part of my story that makes life challenging for me.

But it's just a story. Not a movie, but a story without a completed script or a guaranteed happy ending. We all have a choice to either indulge in our stories, let them control us and dictate how we live; or to acknowledge and honor the events that unfold in them with awareness, vulnerability and acceptance. Then all we can do is just write and cry and cry and write until we create a new chapter, heal ourselves from the plot twists that we didn't see coming, and move through the remainder of our story looking forward to the parts that have yet to be written.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Today would have been your 70th Birthday. But you're not here to celebrate it. The weirdest part of that fact is that I don't know how you would have looked or how you would have lived as a seventy-year-old woman. Since you died the day after your 60th birthday, ten years ago tomorrow, you never got the chance to grow older and wiser, to right the wrongs, to make your peace, to hold your grandchildren.

You never got to see me as a mother. You never got to retire, reinvent yourself, become the cool grandma, sit and cheer at my daughter's soccer games, or come over to watch my son blow out his birthday candles.

You were cheated of all of it. You were cheated of the chance to realize you were the woman you actually were all along. A strong woman, beautiful, fierce, talented and amazing to her core, who just got lost for a while and mistakenly let others define how you saw yourself... let others make you feel less than... let others treat you in ways that didn't honor the kick-ass woman you really were.

I am mad at you for this. I am mad at you for not valuing your life enough to take better care of yourself. I am mad at you for not clicking your seat belt just minutes before that drugged up woman crossed the yellow line and plowed her truck into your best friend's car and killed you. I am mad at you for not thinking of me at home, pregnant with your first grandchild, and not doing everything in your power to get yourself back home safely so you could be here to see her be born. To know her. To let her know you. To love my son. To let him love you.

I am mad. Ten years later and I am still sad. Mad, sad. One in the same. As I read somewhere once, "anger is just sad's bodyguard."

I didn't get to say I love you. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to say how much you meant to me. I can only write this letter and send it out into the universe and believe that you knew how I felt. That you know how I feel. To make peace with the fact that I don't get to talk to you again or tell you any of this.

When all is said and done... despite the anger, the sadness, the regret, the disappointment, the dashed hopes, the alternate reality I have had to accept for my life, despite it all... you were loved. You ARE loved. By me. By my children who never met you. By all the people whose lives have felt the void of your presence these last ten years. There are many of us. We all feel it. We all have had to go on somehow without you.

So what do I say now? Happy Birthday? This isn't really your birthday anymore. It was your birthday here on Earth, but since you haven't walked this Earth for ten years now, the fact that you "would have been" seventy is pretty much irrelevant. What good does it do us? What would have been. What could have been, if only. What never will be.

You are now just a memory. A gravestone to visit. A photo in an album. A feeling. You are energy, you are spirit. You are the stars. You are the sunsets we see over the ocean. You are the laugh in my daughter's eyes and the mischief in my son's smile. You are the passion in my heart, the perception in my mind, the strength in my soul.

You are part of us all, even when we don't recognize it. You are remembered. You are missed. You are lost. You are found. You are us.

You are loved.

Your daughter,

Lisa

He Runs

Pepperdine University 9/11 Memorial - Malibu, CA

Pepperdine University 9/11 Memorial - Malibu, CA

This morning we arrived at 10am for our annual visit... me, my two littles. I've been bringing them here since they were babies; going on nine years now. It's a tradition I cherish, yet it's one I wish didn't have cause to exist.

Upon arrival today, asking my nearly six year old son not to run, through these wide open stretches of grassy fields and rows of colorful flags, is laughable and utterly futile. Still, I try. I attempt to wrangle in his carefree spirit, his unbridled energy, his "live in the moment" attitude.

I do so out of respect to the other visitors there in reflective moments and quiet contemplation. I plead my case calmly and carefully, not to disturb any of them myself, but the ocean breezes muffle the sound of my restrained voice and thus carry my request silently away with them down the coast.

So, he runs. Up and down the rows and rows of flags. He knows this place. It's familiar. He remembers coming here right around his birthday each year, and it's comforting to him. Every September, he tells me he's excited when "the flags" go up, looking forward to our impending visit.

Even though I have told him why these flags are erected each year, and why we visit them year after year, the tragic reality for which they memorialize is a bit too much for him to fully wrap his brain around. Kind of like how the idea of even having to explain such a thing to my kids is a bit surreal for me.

Yet my older daughter used to do the exact same thing, as she too has been coming since she was only a year old. First walking slowly and holding on to the flagpoles for support as a little toddler, she inevitably began to run free through the flags just as he does.

Now almost ten years old, she is able to calmly walk alongside me and understand why we are there. She knows what happened on this day fifteen years ago and how it affected all Americans, our country, and the world.

I know, of course, that my son will come to understand this too, in time. But for now, for today, he runs.

#neverforget

 

*Originally posted exclusively on Instagram and Facebook.

She Was Always There in the Background

Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

From the time I was three years old, she was there... in the background of my world. Her presence was constant, familiar, comforting - and it had a large part in defining the narrative of my life.

Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Dee's youngest daughter Samantha and I were instant best friends in preschool, and my older sister Rebecca and Samantha's older sister Kyle became best friends too. The four of us together made a formidable team of girl power... one that our older brothers Anthony and Ryan, also best friends, were no match for - neither in number, nor in drama or attitude. Our parents also became the best of friends, and to say that they had a lot of fun together over the years would be a gross understatement. Their solid friendships informed our friendships, and the loyalty between our two families became unshakable.

My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

It's now been forty years. 40. Forty years since that first Egremont school picnic where we all met and became friends, and eventually next door neighbors. From that memory in my photo album of me eating watermelon, to the countless others (birthdays, Fourth of July parties, vacations, school plays, Halloweens, Disneyland visits, and elementary & high school graduations), so many memories of my life include Dee - and some of them were even made possible because of her...

Like when Samantha, Kyle, Becky and I created entire Barbie dream villages, complete with mansions, pools and salons, overflowing out of the girls' room into the hallway to take over the walk-in linen closet... When we visited our first clothing outlet while vacationing in San Francisco and bought bags and bags of new Esprit clothes, excitedly returning to our hotel to put on an entire fashion show for our moms... When I arrived at the Winnetka house one morning, thinking I was picking Samantha up for the beach, and found a huge surprise party awaiting me for my 14th birthday, and all the kids from my 8th grade class there... When we four girls would go to the Northridge mall, eat gooey cookies at Mrs. Field's, and then walk around to check out the latest fashions at Contempo Casuals and Express, feeling so grown up and independent because we were granted a couple hours to explore the mall alone... When we created a teen modeling shoot, dressing up in swimsuits, Flashdance sweatshirts, makeup, jewelry, hair accessories, and very elaborate Madonna look-a-like get ups and used rolls of film to take pictures of each other in and around the Winnetka house for hours... And even years later, when Kyle and I spent day in and day out for months at the Winnetka house, planning, filming, editing, and submitting to film festivals the 16mm film that Kyle wrote and directed and I produced.

Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

These fun adventures and wonderful experiences that we had were all made possible by Dee. By her facilitating them with her support, her care, her kindness, her permission, and her approval (at least, we had her approval most of the time). It is true, she did sometimes balk at us, pointing out the ridiculousness of our notions and mildly protesting to some of them; yet rarely did she refuse us the freedom to try them out or take a shot at what we wanted to do.

After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

She was easy going... though she may not have seemed to be as such while often aghast by something she had read in the paper, saw on the news, or observed while out and about. She was kind and generous... she enjoyed buying special gifts for others, and would always try to make everyone that visited feel welcome in her home, like they were a member of the family. She was humble... content to observe all the goings on of her children (and her children's partners in crime) that were constantly swirling in her midst.

And she, so it seemed to me, found immense joy in this world of children and chaos that she and Val had created around them... ultimately consisting of six kids and sixteen grandchildren. While her husband Valentine was the fun loving "Buddy" and boisterous life of the party, Dee was the matriarch and steadfast partner proficiently riding the wave of their full and active lives.

She loved and was loved dearly. She allowed us fun and laughter, while still providing us with comfort and security. She personally gave me so much... the lifelong friendships I enjoy with her two younger daughters and son, a second home to feel so at home at, and a place to always go when I needed a friend, a family, or a place to belong.

For Dee - and for her presence in my life - I am so very grateful.

At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

Rest in Peace
August 6, 1932 - March 1, 2016

 
 
Postscript: I read the above eulogy at Dee's funeral on March 8, 2016. Dee had six kids total, but her three youngest children were the exact ages of my older brother, my older sister and I. The six of us were the best of friends all through our school years, as were our parents.
the six of us - 1979

the six of us - 1979

As my dear friends mourn the loss of their mother only one week ago, I identify all too well with what they are feeling right now. I also know the feeling of loss they must have felt when my mom died almost ten years ago, also losing a woman that was like a second mother to them. Our two mothers played such an important role in each other's kids' lives, much more than I think any of us realized when we were young.
It's strange, when you lose people that have always been there, it indelibly changes the landscape of your life.  Although the death of my mom was sudden and tragic and she was taken much too soon, the years since her death have ushered in a time where my other elders have begun to naturally fall away... dropping out of my life one by one and leaving me to go it alone and forge out my place as an elder myself, to my children and nieces and nephews. Although all this is expected and a part of life, it is never easy; yet, it teaches us acceptance, and it hopefully reminds us to be grateful for those key people in our lives that are still here with us.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

I'm sick. My head feels like it's full of cotton packed in tight and my nasal passages are so stuffed that even after using half the tissues in the box to blow my nose, I still can only breathe through my mouth. My lips are raw and so severely chapped that they burn. Ouch.

When I crawled into bed tonight, curling up under my teal afghan a dear friend knitted for me, all I could feel amidst the discomfort and exhaustion was a need for comfort and peace. I lie here and I just want to feel warm, cozy, and safe. I want to feel that everything is as it is supposed to be... me nurturing myself back to health and doing nothing but relaxing with that focused intention. I want to feel like there's nothing in the world more important to me than getting rest and recovering.

TrickistokeepBreathing.jpg

Achieving this peaceful state of presence and acceptance is always a challenge... for me, and I would guess, for many others. I have already been sick for a week now, and the myriad of the things I wanted to do, believe I have to do, and feel I need to do, all have not been done (and are not going to be done) any time soon. The important "must-dos" of my mind have been moved to the back burner, proven to be nothing more than precious "want to-dos".

After muddling, almost sleepwalking, through the necessities and responsibilities of life that couldn't be put off, all in a cloud of stuffiness and in a body full of achiness, my personal to-do list has gone straight out the window this past week. The big plans I had - to publish new blogs, to submit articles to editors, to clean out my clothes closet - all have easily fallen by the wayside, while I continue to lie under my afghan, drink my hot tea with honey, and incessantly blow my persistently stuffy nose.

Feeling this way can throw your priorities for a loop and quickly demonstrate how little power you have over your life when you're not feeling well, and when it comes to the things you wanted to make happen. Accepting the fact that you don't have the strength, clarity and capacity to actually do those things in your weakened state is not easy. And as a recovering perfectionist and moderate control freak, it's hard for me to not be disappointed or deflated by this all too apparent truth.

But as my mind turns to the people that lost their lives in last Friday's Paris attacks, along with those who loved them, my perspective shifts. It's only been a week in which so many people have been living in this new reality, in the aftermath of tragedy, and I know it has already changed them and their lives forever. I understand from my own experience the shock they felt (and are probably still feeling) upon discovering they've lost someone... so suddenly, so unexpectedly, so devastatingly; and I cannot help but feel an equal mix of empathy, sadness, and frustration. I also feel a hesitant gratitude... for my life, and for the safety of my loved ones.

All I really have to do right now is keep breathing. That's it. If I do nothing else, even in light of not getting much done last week, I can at least just do that. BREATHE. Breathe and be grateful that I am still here on this Earth... breathing. I lie here, breathing in and out, and fully recognize the privilege I have of doing so, even if it is only through my mouth and past painfully dry lips.

I GET TO DO THIS. I get to lie here, in my comfy bed with my cozy blanket, and I get to feel the warmth of my life in all its overwhelming, overbooked, and over-complicated glory, while the virus that has taken hold of my immune system gives me a reality check, and gives my week's to-do list the finger.

And for this I am so fortunate.

As our world was collectively shaken by the tragic events of last week, ALL of our individual existences are subject to a reality check... on why we are doing what, when, and how; and how we are affecting ourselves and each other in the process. I began feeling really sick on the day the attacks took place, and as I lie here now a week later, still sick, I see that not reaching my goal of posting a new blog, nor accomplishing all the other tasks I deemed significant or important, is far from tragic. Heck, it isn't even newsworthy. It's a trifle, a mere delay, a setback easily recovered from. It's a blip on the radar of this blog's life. Of my life.

But those people that lost their lives to terrorism last week? They don't get any more opportunities to fulfill their goals or reach for new ones. They don't get another chance to live their lives or realize their dreams. Yet, I do. I get more chances. I get more time. I get to be here still.

Finding forgiveness for the evil in this world is hard, but finding gratitude for the good in it is easy. And it is SO VITAL.

Recognize the good in your life. Be grateful for it. Celebrate it. Cherish it. SEE IT... for it is most definitely there, living and breathing all around you... even under that mound of used tissues.