Thursday, August 29, 2019

When you think you can't survive but you do

The tiny lady with the elderly black and white bulldog on a leash was peeking over the bush when Jim saw her. 

I was in the middle of watering the flowers at the accident site when Jim pointed her out to me. 

"Les," he nodded, 'I think she wants to talk to you." 

I looked up and smiled. Then I stepped through the tall, dry stalks of Bird of Paradise plants that lined the sidewalk. When I got close, I could hear her thin, soft voice.

"Did you know him?" she asked nodding at the flowers.

"He was my son." I said. Then I repeated it because apparently, she was hard of hearing.

She shook her head from side to side and asked me if they ever found the man who ran the red light and I said no.

"I'm from Sweden. I have a son too. We were looking at the pictures on the pole over there....and we saw the balloon. Was it his birthday?"

I told her yes, Patrick's birthday was August 6th. And that Jim -his Dad--is the one who rotates the pictures of Patrick up on the pole.

"Oh, it's so terrible." And I knew she was talking about the accident. The horrific randomness of a lone driver running the light at the exact second that Patrick was there. But I can't think about that now. I know I will succumb to those dark thoughts if I go there.

The woman keeps talking. "And he was so handsome too! He looks like Mr. Huntington Beach, that's what my son said. My son, he said what a terrible loss. He looks like one of those guys who-had-it-all, you know?"

I just smile and nod. Then she asks me if I have other children and we talk for a few more minutes.

Suddenly she looks at the ground and says, "Terrible things happen. I don't know why. But you gotta keep living. You know?

I nod. I've learned that people always struggle to know what to say to the mother. So, I just smile and turn back toward the flowers and I hear her call my name from the sidewalk.

"Leslie, right?" she pronounces my name with her Swedish accent.

"I'll keep praying for you dear. I will. I just don't know how you survive that."

Later, I decide that this might be the most honest statement ever.
"I just don't know how you survive that."

How am I surviving? To-be-honest. Even I'm amazed.
I do know that if you'd asked me on September 16th 2018, the day after Patrick's fatal accident I couldn't have envisioned any of the experiences that have happened in these last nine-plus months. 

The mere idea of breathing in a world without one of my children was simply unfathomable. My kids have always been my life. And I say this without a hint of hesitation. As a woman who happily waited for motherhood, who was star-struck with the idea of grad school and obsessively absorbed in a profession that I loved, I can honestly say that everything came to a gushing halt--the moment that Dr. Jeffery Graham placed Patrick's infant body into my arms.  

I know how it sounds. But from that second on, nothing else mattered more to me. Ever.
Did I ever consider a catastrophic loss like this? Never. Especially to Patrick. He was just …well, too special. 

Like most mothers, I actually felt protected by a deep spiritual faith. A hidden logic that was fueled by a love so feverish and wild for my kids that in the end, it was irrational. Surely God will know this one thing about me after all these years. I can survive anything dear Lord. Except something happening to one of my kids.

You learn so much about yourself when something traumatic happens to you. When your entire world comes crashing down around you when you least expect it.
This is what grief does. Grief asks you, “Who are you…really?”
Who are you when you’re stripped down to your barest soul?
Who are you when your entire body is flooded with the most gut-wrenching anguish you've ever experienced... and there’s absolutely no where to go to get away from it?  Nowhere to escape what is the unbearable truth that will always be there now. That my son is really gone.

Recently I was listening to a podcast with Dr. Gabor Mate--when I heard him mention the Japanese word, I-k-i-g-a-I, (pronounced A-kee-go) and I was instantly intrigued.
According to Dr. Mate, Ikigal is a word that describes that certain feeling when you wake up in the morning and think, 

“What do I get to do today?!” It's a word that describes that bounce in your step, that feeling of purposeful energy that propels you out of bed in the morning.

I mention this because the minute I heard this concept, I instantly remembered what a basically happy person I had always been. Funny how I never realized that.

Dr. Mate says that the Western Model of Illness asks 'What's wrong with you' instead of 'What happened to you?' And that's an important distinction. He explains that trauma is not simply an outside event that happens to you, trauma is something that happens within you. A wounding, a pain and a loss of functioning.
Although according to Dr. Mate, the absolute worst thing about trauma and emotional pain is the disconnection it causes with your Self.

I recently wrote a post about this sense of alienation I noticed from my physical body in, What I’ve been learning. How trauma and loss effects your body.

Afterwards I began to feel the heaviness of Patrick's birthday looming in the distance, like ominous clouds gathering at the edge of a blue sky. And each day I grew more aware of the date. The mere thought of waking up on his birthday without him seemed too unbearable to imagine. By end of July I could feel myself turning inward. My personal way to retreat.

Do you know that feeling when life feels so loud and overwhelming that all you want to do is go back to bed and pull the covers over your head? 

During these weeks I felt keenly aware of a rawness about my emotions. And this hyper-vulnerability was the reason I began to avoid social media, especially Instagram where a random glance at a photo could trigger a memory that sent me spiraling into an aching pain for Patrick.

Later Jim reminded me of the way I behaved during my labor and childbirth. 

He said that whenever an excruciatingly painful contraction was coming, he would watch me get intensely focused and very, very quiet. No talking. Nothing. It was if I wasn't there. 

And so I’ve learned this now. That I get through my intense grief in the same way that I got through those moments of being fully dilated and in a state of simply enduring.

Joanne Cacciatore says that grief is a process of contraction and expansion. Which, I believe is the way we all get through our darkest times. Those days spent in the middle of the proverbial tunnel when you can't see the light yet.

We hunker down. We hold on with clenched fists. We contract and tighten emotionally and conserve our energy and attention focusing intensely on the grief and on self.

 During these times it feels like our very survival is at risk. And at its worse, we feel desperate, breakable and fearful. Then, right at the moment of excruciating and indescribable pain, there is relief. Inexplicable, when it comes.

This is the expansion that Cacciatore describes as that tiny post-contraction period of relief. It’s when your exhausted panting turns into a long inhale and exhale. A moment that offers you a glimpse of openness. A chance to regain a sense of trust and growth and connectedness and maybe even hope.

This is what my grief process has felt like during these past eleven-plus months. 

I suppose it's the ebb and flow of life.

According to Cacciatore you can't have one without the other. A contraction allows expansion. It's a process she notes is found throughout the natural sciences from astrophysics and cellular biology to thermodynamics and chemistry. 

We are at our core--no different than the aging, massive star that runs out of fuel and then withers and contracts. Gradually making way for the dramatic expansion of a Supernova.

Based on this analogy, I guess there is hope for me and the dying stars of the universe.

Of course, this means Me surviving the overwhelming contractions of anguish that flood me whenever I remember that I am still here and my child is not. It is sheer horror, believe me.

And Cacciatore warns us. There will be times during an intense contraction when we'll be afraid that this painful time is permanent. We worry that we're doomed to feel this way forever. Until we feel it pass. And this simple relief can keep us going.

Even though we may wish for expansion only, she reminds us that it's a phantom idea, and a path toward self-delusion that will only leave us worn-out from the persistent pretense of a life that doesn't exist.

But anyone who has spent time in their winter garden knows this.

Oh- And I did get through Patrick's birthday. And even though I fantasized about sleeping through the day, I knew I couldn't.
Instead, I spent most of the month creating and sending out a special tribute card in his honor. And I was so grateful for the periods of relief I felt when I was tapping into my creativity.
Elizabeth Gilbert says that an artist is someone who makes something so much more beautiful than it needs to be.
And I love that definition. All we need is intention dear friends, for beauty to happen.

Thank you for checking in with me today. You are such a blessing to me. If you would like to receive Patrick's card just leave your address on

I'd be happy to share him with you.

Wishing you a beautiful and nourishing weekend.

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Grace at Home

Monday, July 22, 2019

What I've been learning. How trauma and loss effects your body

I first noticed it in those blurry months following Patrick’s fatal accident.Still in a haggard state of shock and trauma, I tried to go back to my yoga mat, desperate for some moments of relief. But each time I rolled out my mat and lowered myself into a simple child’s pose, allowing my forehead to sink into the floor, an eruption of sobs would rise from deep within my chest. 

Each time I would sit in meditation and focus on breathing in and breathing out, my body would react by releasing a torrent of grief that I eventually realized, had now permeated every muscle and ligament in my stiff body.

The idea that our emotions can be pent up within our bodies is nothing new.

As a practicing clinician I had spent years working with eating disordered women, and I know the effects of unexpressed feelings on our psyche, and in certain situation how experiencing trauma can dislodge the natural connection we feel with our body. 

Honestly. I’ve lost count of the number of tragic stories I’ve listened to from women who suffered molestation at young ages, and who vividly describe feeling strangely detached from their physical body while it’s happening.

I’ve heard hundreds of women describe the odd sensation of watching their abuse from above—of feeling outside their own bodies as if they were watching a movie.

But you don’t have to experience physical or sexual abuse to have experienced something that felt traumatic. Or to understand how it feels to have heavy, uncomfortable feelings stuck in your throat, unable to be expressed comfortably to others. 

Each of these experiences is evidence of the powerful connection that exists between our emotions and our physical body.

Pent up feelings

In the grief group I recently finished, one of the wisest messages we heard was that there are 40 kinds of losses in addition to death-- that we all experience in our daily lives, yet most of us don’t take the time to acknowledge our wispy feelings of sadness, let alone feel them. 

In this same group, we were asked to plot our life losses on a graph line. This was to help us identify how we treat our losses, and whether we allow ourselves to fully grieve as we move through our lives.

I saw so many members of our group who were shocked to learn that they had joined the group because they were motivated by their most recent loss, only to discover another more powerful loss from their past that felt even more urgent; a loss they had never dealt with, that was still having rippling effects in their lives. 

The other night I was reading Yoga for Grief Relief, by Antonio Sausys, a somatic psychotherapist and leading teacher in understanding the Body/Mind connection. And he was talking about the Western world’s stoic approach to our emotions, how we believe we can plow through our pain by being ‘strong.’ But it’s this very approach that leaves us in what he calls, “a perpetual state of unacknowledged grief.” 

We minimize our own feelings. And we (unknowingly) bury our feelings of loss deep inside us, where they stay trapped in both body and mind.

The Body never lies

I found his personal story especially fascinating.

When he was twenty years old, Antonio lost his mother from a sudden stroke. But for the next two and a half years he lived in total denial. He simply couldn’t deal with the sudden trauma of losing her and he completely disconnected from his feelings. When he was finally able to be fully present for his emotional pain, to his astonishment he discovered that his body had created an additional calcium deposit between his ribs and breastbone. This is what the body can do in response to a fracture. 

And for him, it was the clearest proof, that what the mind insists on hiding, the physical body will show. 

He had suffered a broken heart, and his body had confirmed it.

I do need to clarify though, not all losses are traumatic. 

Grief specialists consider losing a child always a trauma. And dealing with any sudden and unexpected death (like Antonio’s mother) is also considered traumatic. 

But as all of us move through transitions or big changes in our lives, it’s natural for anyone to notice feelings of loss. The main point is simply to allow our feelings—whatever they are—to be expressed freely and honestly. 

But this is easier said than done, as Antonio’s story illustrates.

Personally, it was my years inside the world of eating disorders that helped me see first-hand, that even when we think we’re avoiding our most difficult feelings, our emotions will make themselves known through our bodies. 

Either we begin to notice physical symptoms or our pent-up feelings can go ‘underground’ and show up as apathy or body dissatisfaction. 

Have you ever noticed when you’re feeling down or depressed and you look in the mirror, and suddenly all you notice are your flaws?  It’s as if the more unhappy you are, the more you suddenly notice your weight or that facial feature that bugs you. 

Susan Sands Ph.D, is a wonderful eating disorder specialist who coined the phrase, “distorted mirroring,” to explain how we look in the mirror and instead of seeing our whole self, we instantly zero in on our body parts.  

Working with bulimics taught me that if we keep ignoring our emotions, eventually we’ll lose our ability to recognize why and what we’re specifically feeling. A bulimic only knows she’s upset. But instead of addressing a person or a problem situation that caused her reactions, she uses food. Binging, throwing up and feeling temporary relief. But sadly, her original feelings remain unresolved. So her destructive cycle continues. 

“Trauma causes a disconnection from our self. And our body.”
                                              --Dr. Gabor Mate

What I've learned-- is to be curious about a prolonged disconnect with our bodies, which can show up as a feeling of ‘just not caring’ about our body’s needs for movement and better nutrition, and consider it an invitation to look deeper.

 Recognize there may be important feelings that are inside you needing to be fully expressed.

Listening to my body

Some months after Patrick’s accident, I was talking to a yoga friend when I mentioned the distinct feeling that I had trauma stuck inside my body. 

I knew it sounded odd, but I just blurted it out, relying on my instincts and my curious observations of my body. I knew one thing; I had never felt such a deep paralyzing fatigue in my life. It was a profound heaviness that seemed to affect every muscle in my body that made the mere thought of exercising out of the question.

I didn’t realize at that moment—how grief expresses itself in the body. But I noticed little things. 

I couldn’t sleep without help.
I no longer had access to any dreams.
And my body felt so different.

I missed having strong arms. I missed seeing the muscles in my legs. And I missed slipping on my pants and feeling that looseness around my bottom. 

But here’s the important part. I watched it all happening and I couldn’t care less. 

I felt like a detached observer with a total disregard for my physical conditioning and muscular strength. Stripped of my ego and in a state of profound pain I didn’t care one bit about my looks, my skin, my makeup. 

I even detected a quiet resentment towards my body.

It was as if my mother’s mind was saying,
I never got a chance to trade places with Patrick. To exchange my living-breathing, healthy body for his beautiful one, because he’s the one who deserves to be here. 

And I was heartsick and bewildered by this horrific loss of control.

Taking care of my body?

All I knew is that the mere idea of going back to the gym or back to the yoga classes that I once loved, would bring me face-to-face with this mother’s internal conflict I felt simmering inside me that always began with…why???? 

Why am I still here when my beautiful son is not?

Time is not the healer; it’s what we do with our Time

So, what’s changed?

Only in these last several weeks—10 long months after the accident--do I feel myself emerging from the hazy fog of disbelief and numbness that I now realize had been insulating me from feeling the full effects of Patrick’s loss in our lives.

Trauma specialists explain that the mind will do this. The mind will try to protect us from near lethal shock by erecting a numbing veil around us--a type of emotional anesthesia—that we don’t even realize is there.

I understand it now. Because that’s what happened to me in those early morning hours of September 15, 2018 when I felt my world collapse around me.

But lately I’m noticing tiny, incremental changes.

These days I am finally able to breath for longer periods so I can meditate without being interrupted by instant sobbing, or overcome by aching thoughts of Patrick.

I am back to slow, deep stretching on my yoga mat. And I’m beginning to integrate the grief yoga practice established by Antonio Sausys.

But it takes time.

I still wake up every morning feeling unbearable aching in my heart. And still stunned that Patrick’s not with us.

But I’m working through the remnants of my trauma. Trauma still evident when my heartbeat starts racing and the mental flashbacks pop up: 
  • at the first sound of sirens in the distance
  • or when I’m in a fast-moving car on the freeway
  • or when I’m in my bed and I notice the clock ticking toward midnight.
Each of these experiences can easily flood me with heartache and unwanted images but I’m now slowing facing the harrowing moments of Patrick’s accident so that my grieving body and soul can heal.

Losing a child—who happened to be the most astonishing light in the world—is literally hell on earth. It's pretty much horrendous.

But I don’t want to waste all this pain. I want to use it. I want to share what I’m learning along the way in case you’re ever struggling with your own heavy heart. Or you find yourself in your own dark night of the Soul. 

I want you know that there’s only one way through your pain, and that’s to face it.

These are some of the things I’m doing that help me: 

Think: one hour at a time.
Being present for my feelings. (Eckhart Tolle has some great podcasts on this)
Returning to my breath. (a skill that comes with yoga)
Meditation every day.
Going to my Compassionate Friends Group.
Being real with my therapist.
Oh---and writing about this insane journey that I never expected to be on.

But here I am.


I can't say this enough. I am surviving by Love.
Thank you dear ones for all your prayers and kindness.

*if you have private reactions to this post or questions that you don't want to post in a comment, feel free to email me 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

enough-ness ...and your astonishing power

-Hans Christian Anderson

I am writing this because I'm someplace I've never been before and I sense the importance of remembering every moment of this breathless, stunning trauma that I'm living with each day. 

And even though I still can't believe it. It's real. And I'm trying like hell to be fully present for all of it, so that maybe, by piecing together these fragments of feelings and experiences, I can somehow remain intact, even though my world as I once knew it has been obliterated.

I sense it in my deepest soul.

There is value in remembering what it feels like to be in the middle of this dark, bewildering tunnel without any sign of light at-the-end. I don't know. Maybe someday I'll wonder how I survived this catastrophic loss of Patrick, and in the process, maybe I'll learn how I endured a pain I once believed would kill me.

In the meantime, I'm still here. Although every part of my body, mind, and soul seems to be in the process of recalibrating and I feel strange, as if I'm viewing the world from inside a cocoon, separated from you by an undetectable space that feels gauzy and distant. And I suspect that you and I no longer share the same sun and the same moon.

The specialist in trauma and grief says that all my feelings are normal.

That a traumatic loss results in traumatic grief. And losing a child--at any age is always a trauma. But especially when the loss is shocking and swift and unexpected like Patrick's.

Joanne Cacciatore stresses that losing a child is different than losing a husband or anyone else for that matter. Because the very idea that your child should precede you in death is so outrageously unnatural and wrong and horrific that it produces a kind of "mental-mind-fuck." Where your entire belief system is shaken to its core. Your trust in the world as-you-knew-it, is destroyed. Your spiritual practices, in question. 

And the ONE question you want answered--as if that will give you some peace of mind--dangles silently in the air, taunting every breath you inhale.

Why am I still here when my child is not?

Of course, none of this inner turmoil is noticeable from the outside and if you saw me in person you would probably catch me smiling. Tossing my computer case into the back seat on my way to work or maybe hanging a fresh wreath on my door and waving to neighbors. 

This is what life looks like when you are a mother who has lost the most extraordinary son she could ever have--but has another precious son still here.

This is the paradox of mothering; it requires a love so profoundly giving that it actually evokes miraculous powers in the giver. At least it's kept me upright and moving. Especially in those moments when all I feel like doing is laying face-down in the damp earth, paralyzed with a wild and primitive grief. And wailing from a pain so heart-shattering that I recently had to see a cardiologist.

But instead I run to the store for milk.

Everything considered you might expect that my first Mother's Day without Patrick-and both my boys being together-would be an excruciating affair.

But it really was ok. In fact there were many beautiful moments.

Like when I went looking for the tape measure in our garage and discovered the hot-pink balloon peeking out from the shadowy corner next to the fridge. Big, giddy letters screamed out "Happy Mother's Day" and when I saw it I instantly understood the tender hesitancy that led Michael to leave it there. 

Later he confirmed it. "yeah, I wasn't sure how you'd be feeling so I left it there just-in-case,"

Then he forgot about it as he scurried about, pulling the kitchen table outside under the pink bougainvillea, and placing a bottle of champagne and orange on it while he made breakfast.

All this would have been an overwhelming gift, but later there were the smells of sausage and eggs with avocado and Michael in the kitchen blaring music. There was happy chatter and the table set for four so that when we made our toast we could include Patrick of course. 

On the counter, instead of finding my sons' handwritten notes tucked inside two bright Hallmark cards, I saw a long white envelope with the word Mom scribbled in pencil on the front.

And I still feel the power of his words.

See what I mean?

How do you get through these dreaded first milestone holidays and special occasions when there is a massive void in front of you?

 Oh God. It's so hard. But I can tell you what happened with us.

How Jim and Michael were struggling with ideas for this Mother's Day, and how we all felt unsure of what options would feel less sad.....and how helpful it was to have a conversation beforehand, about expectations. Mostly mine. 

But we all feel it. This new and strange and gut-wrenching hole where Patrick's big physical body would normally be, with his magnetic energy, his loud laughter and his ever-churning mind that I was always so fascinated by, as his mother.

Because all three of us had recently completed an intensive 8 week course on grief, I knew we were all on the same page when it comes to talking openly about our feelings.
And we talk about these hard days.

Michael's approach to this Mother's Day was the simplest and most honest. And I loved his idea. Instead of tiptoeing with delicate feelings around Patrick's absence, we should just lean-into Patrick's presence and acknowledge him directly. From the beginning of our day when we went to Mass--and throughout, over cocktails in the Greek café, it was important that we include him as if to say,

 "We love you Patrick. You are here with us Patrick. And we know it."

Did my heart ache for my missing son on this day?  Of course. But this is the way it is now.

Although I should tell you that all the dread I'd been expecting in the days leading up to this day never quite materialized in the intensity I expected. All that crushing sorrow as I hurried past the card aisles, with all the glossy Hallmark signs reminding me that I would be missing my homemade card from Patrick, had led me to expect the worst.

Only the worst didn't happen.

And this is the part I never want to forget. The part that might be helpful to you.

Because after being stunned by the unexpected emotion I felt on Easter morning, I decided to try something different. I woke up determined to:

1. completely let go of any expectations
2. and to make a point of finding the "enough" in each moment.

on having Enough vs Abundance

In the yoga world I hear the word abundance a lot and it's always evoked such positive associations. But when you're--like me- and going through a time of unimaginable suffering, the idea of abundance, with it's imagery of excess, feels like an extravagance. 

For me, the difference can be understood with the metaphor of food. I think of it this way.

If "enough" is the simple meal of a Buddhist monk, then "abundance" is the gourmet dinner with dessert.

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't embrace abundance in your life. I'm just saying that when you're in the midst of a pitch-black forest, focusing on those tiny, nourishing crumbs can lead you toward the light where abundance suddenly seems more possible.

On Mother's Day I was determined to approach each moment with the intention of seeing the enough-ness in it. I talk about moments a lot because right now I just can't imagine a future without Patrick in it, so living moment-to-moment is how I survive. It makes the pain more manageable.

And because the very definition of enough is the bare requirement, I think it's much easier to attain than the idea of abundance, which seems loaded with flowery imagery and possible expectations.

For me, seeing the enough in each moment means being content with simple and small. 

The flash of smile that's easy to miss. A brief exchange of kind words. A thoughtful text message that suddenly pops up on your phone. Or a single Mother's Day balloon, purchased and then hidden away with tenderness.

 On a day when I felt raw and unsure, focusing on being content with just enough-- felt right.

In one of those interesting synchronicities, my meditation teacher happened to do a guided meditation this morning on this very topic. And I liked his words. He said that our lives are unfolding moment-by-moment and in each moment, everything is available to us. No matter the situation, there are actions and steps and re-framing available to us and each choice will lead to different options. 

I survived this past mother's day. 

Because I was reminded that I have this astonishing power that actually makes my grief journey a little lighter in spots. But we all wake up with this same power, to be a seeker of enough-ness instead of a demander of all-ness. 

And this simple shift in perspective can help us find those moments of joy no matter what we're going through. 

* It takes a lot of courage to enter the orbit of a grieving mother.
Thank you for your courage. I'm so grateful for your visit here.


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Imparting Grace

Monday, May 20, 2019

replenishment and a fresh flower wreath.

Good morning friends.

I'm starting this week off sharing a simple fresh wreath I made for my front door. But as my fingers click on my laptop keys I keep thinking about the word "replenish," and how important it is to recognize whenever we're feeling this way. I even love the definition. 

Replenish: to fill something up again. To build up. 

Don't those seem like such uplifting words?

It's a topic on my mind because I felt so content while I worked on this wreath. Quietly engrossed in cutting each stem, touching the smooth leaves with my fingertips and tucking each purple flower head into the green wire.

I wanted to keep it simple and quick so I started with a flower bouquet from Target and wire wreath I bought at Joann's Craft store.

Olive branches from my tree.

Recently I was listening to an interview with Rick Hansen a psychologist and author who specializes in emotional resiliency and he says that we can actually re-wire our brains to be happier.

It's called neuroplasticity. And it happens when we stop and acknowledge those moments when we're experiencing something that feels truly authentic and good to us. 

He calls this "focused attention," when you stop in the middle of feeling replenished. Take a few breaths. Notice what feels good about this moment and then try to feel it in your body.

This 'focused attention' allows your brain to recognize what's rewarding about this experience and then your brain 'flags' these moments as keepers.

Science confirms that we can build up a positive reservoir of emotional skills and inner resiliency this way. 

But it means that we must accept this powerful truth: we are the "Choosers" in our life. 

You are the ONE person who gets to act on your behalf at any moment and even when your circumstances are hard and painful, you can still try to become more aware of where you rest your attention.

Are you reaching for the light or are you marinating in a dark, painful thought at this moment?

It doesn't mean suppressing your feelings it means experiencing them in a space of awareness, but then allowing these darker emotions to pass.

It's a process I'm trying to be aware of right now, especially because I'm still struggling with traumatic images and thoughts related to Patrick's accident and I won't lie, it always takes real effort to stop the flow of these kind of thoughts. They happen mostly at night. 

This past weekend I was so grateful to spend a beautiful afternoon with Heidi and Rob and we were even joined by Chris--one of Patrick's closest buddies. And we drank Margaritas and beer while foamy waves lapped against the crusty pier underneath us, and we laughed and talked for hours.

Afterwards I felt so incredibly blessed.

What things are replenishing you today?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

I never want to forget this.

I was talking to the beautiful and kind-hearted Sophia.

We were halfway through our four-hour visit, sipping our purified water in wine glasses with lemon and strawberries, and I was talking about those early months when I would be walking through the grocery store pushing a cart and crying softly throughout the aisles.

I never want to forget that feeling, I told Sophia, of feeling so alone with my grief and later even confused that no matter how many times I cried under the bright florescent lights inside a bustling store, not once did anyone seem to see me. To look twice at my crying. To ask me if I was ok.

Of-course to me this was perfectly fine. 
When you lose your child your once-powerful ego instantly dissolves into harmless dust and you suddenly experience a strange liberation from the regular world, and all your previous wonderings about who is watching and what other people might be thinking about you.

What did Eckhart Tolle say in his recent talk in Pasadena? It’s all such useless thinking.

But I tell sweet Sophia about my grocery store experiences and that I want to remember how it felt to be so unseen during those moments of my despair. I guess it’s because it was so stunning to me. And so shocking that not once did anyone ever come up to me and inquire about my obvious pain. Or even acknowledge my red eyes in the grocery line.

Apparently tears in a grocery aisle do not register a single blip on the public radar.

Sophia says that she was sobbing in a crowded public place in Newport Beach when she found out about Patrick-and she had the same experience. People just keep walking past you. She says most people don’t want to feel things, and I guess that kind of intense emotion would be uncomfortable for your average rushing-to-somewhere person.

 And I totally understand.

The reason I want to remember how raw I felt is so that I can forever keep my eyes open for that one woman or man that I see standing in the ketchup aisle. 
And maybe like me, they’re suddenly hearing their son who is no longer alive ask, “Hey Mama is there any ketchup for my eggs?” Because of course you’re remembering that he always had ketchup with his eggs. And as his mother you’re also seeing all his favorite foods on every aisle and having flashbacks of your joy as you watched him devour your food because he loved every-single thing-you-ever-cooked-for-him—which opens the door to so many other tender moments.

And soon your heart is breaking so loudly in your ears that you can no longer hear that irritating soundtrack playing overhead. All you feel is that horrific realization that he’s gone. And then the thud in your chest of missing him so much you could literally collapse from pain if you weren’t clinging to your cart.

I wonder if other mothers who have lost their hunky, big, healthy sons have these foodie flashbacks inside grocery stores.

Because I’m ready if I see them.

I already know. If I see someone crying in the grocery store, wandering through aisles looking broken and sad, I dream about going up to them and asking them if there is anything I can do to help.

Can I reach this box of cereal for you?

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just nod and whisper how sorry I am about their sadness.

 Lord knows there are no magic answers in odd, public moments like that but my own grief journey is making me so excruciatingly sensitive to people who are hurting. I personally know how we notice each tiny speck of kindness that floats into our throbbing universe.

And I’m learning that there is always space for compassion, even if it’s a quick meeting of the eyes. A silent flash of human contact when you look at someone and let them know, I see your pain.  

I dream of meeting that person in the grocery store someday.

Now that I know that this alternative universe exists where there are people crying in public because it hurts so much and they can’t help it, I want to stay aware.

Even if the relief only lasts a few seconds, I want them to know  they’re not alone in their darkness.

Yesterday was the dreaded 15th of the month and for the first time it was different.

I noticed that I felt lighter and I’m sure it was because of my visit with Sophia, a close friend of Patrick’s who reached out to me recently with a beautiful letter and followed it up with a visit from LA.

Sophia teaches meditation classes. And we had so much to talk about. She walked inside with a bouquet of yellow sunflowers and instantly noticed the Cleo Wade’s poetry book on my table and said, “I know her!” Turns out we were both at her book signing in Los Angeles, sitting upstairs in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble, listening to Cleo and Nicole Ritchie chat, and only several feet away from each other.

Who would have guessed that the Universe would bring us together this way?

Also, I finally solved the mystery of the tender note I had found tucked in the flowers and random candles that marked Patrick's fallen spot. 
Now I know it was Sophia, and that she was also back at the site on the six-month anniversary because she saw the IPA bottle that we left after we had toasted to Patrick and talked to him.

Sophia is an incredibly talented songwriter and singer and she sent me a song she wrote that was inspired in part—by Patrick. Her voice is stunning. But the best part of her story were the incredible signs she felt from Patrick, as she was talking with her producer “about Pat.”

I love hearing about these inexplicable signs because I’ve had some stunning ones too.

We spent hours together and afterwards I felt myself enveloped in a bubble of pure love and healing that seemed to carry me through the entire dreaded day of the 15th of the month.

This is how we do it, dear person who-might-be-reading-this-and-feeling-down.

We have an option.

We can be a Light for others, that’s a wonderful distraction.

In fact Anne Lamott says that when people come to her and tell her they’re depressed she tells them to go flirt with the old people in the health food store. Or take some waters to the nearest shelter. She’s using humor but her point is, sometimes we ‘need to get out of ourselves’, and service to others helps us do that.

When you can’t be a Light because you’re hurting too much, you must be willing to stay open to the delicate signs that the Universe will send your way. A chance meeting. A simple conversation.

Pay attention to synchronicities in your life because they are there, waiting to be seen. And waiting to point you gently toward your path.

I said “Yes” to a spontaneous meeting because whoever loved Patrick, I love.

And it was the best thing I could have done for my healing.

We have to be willing to be surprised if we’re going to get through our darkest days.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

my dark little laundry room transformation!

Remember when I went into Home Depot and saw those thin cedar strips in the lumber aisle? 

I instantly knew they should go on this ceiling despite how low it is(7' 5 inch). And maybe I should have been nervous, but I admit---I tend to make design decisions with my gut. 
And lucky for me this time it worked.

new view from the bathroom

Turns out that putting cedar on the ceiling draws the eye up and combined with the horizontal planks that I slathered in white paint, this small space feels much more spacious.

We actually got used to looking for clothes with the lights from our IPhones for awhile because of wiring issues. And now with two light fixtures it's so bright and happy looking! 

Here's a few more changes that made this space work for us.

1. Changed our stacked washer/dryer and re-routed water and electrical lines for this.
2. Added countertop
3. Added industrial rods to hang clothes

 After the plumber and electrician were done I could finish installing the planks. The ceiling was already done. And I was ready to decide on the countertop.

When it came to the countertop I originally planned using the butcher block from Lowes, but I couldn't get the depth of 33 inches without it being an expensive special order.

So I went to the lumberyard and picked some smooth pine pieces and made my own with my Dad's help.

Oh yeah. And one funny confession I have to make. 

When discussing the two industrial style rods I wanted add on the side walls, my Dad happened to ask me one crucial question,
 "You did nail your planks into studs right?"

Me: Gulp

I know. What the heck was I thinking? But in my defense it had been awhile since I installed planks. The good news is that I got lucky and hit the studs on most of them. But to make sure I went back and with my Dad's help, located the studs and I completed the job.

If you follow me on Instagram you already know about this black door. 

When I went to sand it for some touch-up paint, strips of black literally peeled away. 

Since I had to re-paint the entire door anyway, I decided to paint it with the same Behr Pure White as the walls. This is the door to the garage so I felt ok about changing it even though the rest of my interior doors are black.

The bathroom is directly off this little laundry room and since this door is black, I didn't like having both black doors so close. This white door enlarges the space.

In this picture you get an idea of how many cuts I had to make when installing these planks. Not only did I install all the ceiling strips but every plank in this room. Then I had fill the nail holes and paint everything.
If you're ever in need of a helpful distraction from your grief, this is a good one.

I was standing in the aisle with all the cabinet hardware (Home Depot again) when this woman asked me for my opinion about these pretty glass knobs.

 Not only did I encourage her to use them on her shabby chic dresser but I bought them myself for this storage cabinet in here. And no, I didn't have to build it, it was already here it just needed some fresh paint.

I'm so glad I found this vintage oil painting in the consignment store. Nobody wanted her so I got her for half off and the colors and the vibe---along with the cedar strips became the inspiration for this entire project. 

One little thing leads to another. 

Have you noticed that too?

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