A Season of Loss and Hope

Sun setting over ice.

I didn’t know Walter. He was a new older person who moved into our neighborhood. We introduced ourselves, pointed out where we lived and said if he ever needed anything we were around. Over the past few years I’d try to wave if he was looking my way, but often we’d just come and go our separate ways. He drove, seemed self-sufficient and not necessarily interested in small talk. I checked in with him in March or April of last year when he was sitting in his car in the driveway. He did that from time to time. I wanted to make sure he had what he needed in preparation for the pandemic restrictions. My sister-in-law had given me two N-95 masks she found in her garage. I sent one to my mom in New York and wanted to offer Walter the other one. They had decades on me and I figured he needed it more. He turned it down, saying he was fine and he was heading out to buy his own masks and groceries. His only complaint was that he couldn’t find milk. We said our good byes and that was about it.

Right before Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law caught the Corona virus. I felt helpless to do anything but worry about the safety of her, my brother, niece and the people she might have been around. I did the only thing I could think to do in this crisis, I made a pot of soup. I wanted to make something that would make life easier for her and my family. Something that would nourish them in the days to come. I made a few other things for my niece, who wasn’t sick but might enjoy a home cooked meal. My ancestors must have come through, because here I was making a pot of soup that would feed a small town. My daughter asked if we could share some with Walter. I thought it was a great idea. I was a bit nervous though. Walter was an older white man, and if I’m being honest, I was concerned about stepping into his territory uninvited – especially since I’d have my kid in tow. It can also be weird these days offering food to a stranger. During the early stages of the pandemic we we weren’t even sure how COVID-19 was transmitted. We decided to package a container of soup and other freshly prepared foods for Walter with labels of what was in it in case he had any food allergies or sensitivities.

Hopefully Healing Haitian Soup

A beautiful thing happened the day we went to deliver our batches of hopefully healing Haitian soup. My daughter and I masked up and rang Walter’s bell. He opened the door and looked at us. We re-introduced ourselves and offered him the soup. I told him that I made it for my sister who was sick and wanted to share some with him. He asked why? Why would we bring him soup, rice, chicken and a baked treat? I replied that I wasn’t sure if he’d want any, but we were making food and wanted to make sure he had enough if he was interested. My daughter, who had hung back just a little bit behind and to the side when I rang the bell, stepped up and offered that everything was labeled in case he couldn’t eat something. Walter told us he’d eat anything. He seemed dumbfounded. Then he broke our hearts. He said that in that one act, we had done more for him than his family had. He began to tear up and my daughter and I teared up right back. I told him that now that I knew he was open to receiving my cooking, that we’d drop food by from time to time. He thanked us and we took our full hearts home. My often prickly quaranteenager bloomed with joy that night. That simple act of kindness had done more for her pandemic weary soul than all of my hugs, kisses and reassuring words.

For the next few weeks we made many deliveries to Walter’s home. We got to know what he liked and what he couldn’t tolerate. He loved the salads but pork was rough on his stomach. We purchased extra storage containers and disposable pans so we wouldn’t have to scramble to find something to put Walter’s servings in. We had a little system of me cooking and dishing up the food, while my young one would create the labels and package everything up, like a mini catering service. We tried to stay on his stoop but sometimes Walter would wave us into the entry way and want to show us something in his apartment. He continued to comment his disbelief that we would cook for him, a stranger. He shared that his wife had passed several years ago and that he was a bit of a wandering spirit since then. He would tell us that he told his brother in Florida about us. One day we stopped by and Walter was on the phone with him. His brother joking asked why Walter didn’t move in with us. Whatever happened between Walter and his family was unimportant to me, especially since I know there are three sides to every story. What was important was that he was a human being who appeared to be alone in the world and there was something small that we could do to impact his life positively.

Breakfast Pizza

One day Walter expressed that he wished he could do something for us. I told him that we didn’t want anything from him. We just wanted to share what we had, especially since he told us he wasn’t much of a cook. He waved us into the entry way and showed us a bag of pots. He asked if I wanted them. Could I use them? I told him that I was fine. That I had more pots than I knew what to do with. He insisted that they were his wife’s and that he couldn’t use them. He wanted me to have them. I got the sense that Walter was a proud man who might not be feeling on solid ground in this new relationship. I accepted the pots, knowing I’d have to figure out how to cull my already overflowing set. I asked what his late wife’s name was and he shared it with us. I told him that I would think of her when I used the pots, and I silently made a promise to myself to do just that. I would honor this woman I had never met, and knew nothing about, when I used the tools of her caregiving. I came home and wrote her name on the white board in my kitchen so it would not get lost in the zillion other things that race around in my mind.

As we neared Christmas, we decided to pick up a special meal for Walter. My loving kiddo asked if we could get him a little gift too. We went to our favorite kitchy small town shops and had a great time trying to find the perfect gift to express our heart connection to a man we knew very little about. My daughter had a delighted in discovering little treats to put in his present and excitedly told him what was in the carefully wrapped package when we delivered it. We had also gotten him a prepared steak meal he could heat up at his convenience. Again Walter asked why. We told him that we decided to adopt him into our family, as long as he didn’t object or tell us to stop, we would come by when we could. One day Walter jokingly asked if we had a steak in the containers we brought him. I told him that I wasn’t that great with steak, but I might try one day. When I got busy I cooked less and we worried about Walter, but I had a lot on my plate and just had to let it go. I knew he could get food because between trips he would tell us about his food adventures. Like the time he picked up spaghetti and meatballs from a local restaurant and dropped it in the backseat of his car, on the walkway and finally on the mat outside his door. He was exasperated by the mess he had made and had the trail of tomato sauce stains on the pathway to prove it.

Curry Pork Puffs

Life got really busy with work deadlines and self care outings – so we wouldn’t go crazy at home. I had less time to prepare epic meals, or even simple meals. Occasionally when we’d stop for prepared food we’d pick up a plate for Walter. When we had been away for a few weeks he asked if we had gone to New York to see my mom. I told him tiredly that we hadn’t gone anywhere. That my hours were so long that we were often getting take out and, on rare occasions, drive through. We would think of Walter, but those days that was the most that we could do. Some days when we would visit Walter he seemed a little off, but he was always happy to see us. He would wash out the containers and have them waiting for us when we eventually made it back. He would report in on the things that he liked and those that he loved. He never complained. We became an occasional sounding board about his frustrations and, once in a rare while, he would share a story about his life with his late wife. One day early this year he shocked us by telling us that he was preparing to move. He shared that this had been his fourth home since his wife died. The next time we saw him, he waved us in and said his phone wasn’t working. I let the real champ, my daughter, take a crack at figuring out what was going on with it. She did and he was able to call his brother, who he was sure had been looking for him. We had begun to feel protective of Walter, but also knew that we were not family.

The snow came, loads of snow, which kept us in more. Our trips to Walter were less frequent, but we had written our names and my phone number on a post it with one of his deliveries. I told him to call me any time he needed or even wanted food. I hoped that he would call if he was hungry, couldn’t get food or just wanted human connection. In early February I came across a friend’s food truck in my neighborhood while running errands. I reached out to friends to invite them to meet me and try some of his delicious fare. I made plans to come back later that day to eat with my daughter and friends. Before I left I bought a plate of food for another neighbor who had helped shovel us out. When I went to drop off the food he wasn’t home. I thought let me see if Walter would like it. It wasn’t something I would normally get for Walter as it was an appetizer sampler and not a balanced meal. As I was walking towards his house one of the neighbors near Walter’s home called out to me, “Are you looking for Walter?” I was in a rush to get back to my friend’s truck and my friends would be waiting for us. I turned towards them and was unprepared for the news that Walter has passed the previous week. She related that his niece called him daily and when she couldn’t reach him she called the police for a wellness check. They found him in his home.

Friend Chicken Wings

We hadn’t seen Walter in a few weeks. I knew he was older, and at times a bit frail, but it still hit like a small pile of bricks. She also shared that Walter had dementia, which filled in a few of the blanks. I thanked her for being the bearer of the sad news, offered them the plate of food and left, dreaded having to tell my daughter that another person in our circle was gone. I know better than to delay death notifications, so I ripped the band aid off and gave it to her straight. It was a shock to her too. We headed out to meet our friends and recounted our Walter stories. What we enjoyed about our time with him, how grateful we were to have provided love to a lonely soul in his final months on this Earth and how blessed we felt to have benefitted from a man who humbly and graciously accepted the love we were offering. We had lost so many connections due to the pandemic and Walter allowed us to use some of our atrophying empathy, generosity and love muscles.

In the weeks since his passing, there have been a trail of people coming and cleaning out Walter’s place. We don’t know them and they don’t know us. We look out the window, comment to each other that someone is at Walter’s house moving stuff and talk about how we miss our moments with Walter. Today I saw what must have been the last of the cars and trucks that have been coming through roll out. Seeing the remnants of his life pull away from the curb reminded me that we don’t take anything with us. It all gets left when we expel our final breath. It made me reflect on the upcoming fifth anniversary of the death of my nephew Coby, which is followed by the fifth anniversary of the death of my Aunt Elsie a few months later. My mind of course can’t stop there. The litany of losses continues, Uncle Mico, Joyce, Pop Pop Yousef and Garret. So many deaths and so much unimaginable sorry. Living under the cloud of darkness that comes with grief means never having the answers you so desperately crave. You find a way forward. You pick the thing that helps you cope with the loss, with your mortality and with fear for everyone else who you love. Because you know if you can lose that one person, one day another one you love will leave you…unless you leave them first. The ultimate lose lose. The nightmare of a control freak. Death comes for us all. It will not be controlled.

Chinese Style Ribs and Napa Cabbage

After Coby passed all I could do was go to the grocery store, have tea or coffee with my sister friend and cook. I cooked more meals than could be eaten by a football team. It wasn’t about consumption, it was about coping with my unimaginable sorrow. A sorrow that had broken me. I could barely parent my aching tween…or at least that’s how I remember it. Thankfully, with time, the volume of emotional pain and trauma lessens. At least it has for me. Most days I can go about my business and do this thing I don’t even know I’m doing. When one of our departed loved ones runs through my mind, my first instinct is that they are still here. I imagine that I’ll see them at the next family gathering, the next food delivery, the next run in at the grocery store…and then reality settles in. When it does it’s bittersweet. I have come to terms with the losses. I had to and will have to again.

We have a keepsake or memory that we hold onto from each of those dearly departed souls. It probably wouldn’t make sense to other people, but it doesn’t have to. It makes sense to us and helps us feel a little bit closer to them and the moments we shared. For Pop Pop Yousef it’s an old spice bottle that he repurposed to share his garam masala mix with me. It still has his hand written scribble on the label. It’s priceless to us as it is the reminder that he wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed to take care of his precious granddaughter. For Aunt Elsie, it’s her old pressure cooker. I’ve only used it twice, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it forever. She is the one who is most often in the kitchen with me when I’m cooking. I’ll remember the things she told me about being resourceful, her mixing up all the words to songs and all of the life lessons she drilled into me over and over until I got it.

One of Walter’s Pots (part of it at least)

The extra bags of brand new and unused disposable food containers remind me daily of Walter. I have to pack them up and give them away as they are overrunning my limited storage space. I will not give away the pots he gave me. I will keep them and cycle out some of the ones I bought from the store through the years which have no emotional ties. I will continue to think of Walter’s wife, and now Walter, when I use one of their pots. This week as we enter our season of remembering those we loved and lost too soon, I will think of the millions who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, mental health issues and life. I will work to maintain perspective about how blessed we are to have so many loved ones in our lives. The price of loving someone is knowing that either you are going to lose them, or they are going to lose you. It’s a mighty risk that comes with the best rewards life has to offer. Having the love of another human being is a priceless gift. I don’t know what impact we had on Walter’s life, but I hope we reminded him that love is everywhere, and it can come from where you least expect it.

Crashing Back

IMG_2662
Aunt Elise’s Lambi (conch) Recipe (Thanks for teaching it to me, Poppie Joe)

In the midst of a disagreement with my tween yesterday it all came crashing back. The reminder of another year celebrating holidays with painful gaps. What I wouldn’t give for a holiday dinner circa five years ago…before it all started to go wrong, one little memory at a time. Back when we were all gathered around a huge table, piled high with everyone’s favorites, cracking jokes at each other and marveling at how big the kids were.

I held back the tears because I was driving and she was angsting. I still haven’t learned to let go. I know I need to. I know it’s eating me up inside. I know that life will never be the same as it was even two years ago. I’m wondering if the cosmic trick is finding the peace, beauty and celebration in the gaps. I’ve been skipping over them, jumping around them and just plain ignoring them…but they won’t go away.

My aunt Elsie and nephew Coby were absolute characters. They were full of jokes and mischief.  My aunt was also an incredible cook. The majority of my Thanksgivings were spent with one or both of them. The blessing in not having lived with them prior to their passing, is that during the day-to-day it’s easy to think they are just going about their business. It’s the times when families gather that I can’t get away from how loud their absence is.

As I type this today I have friends experiencing life-changing illnesses, friends who will be going through their first holiday without a loved one and our own stew of grieving and trying to cope with the unrelenting pressures of the life I’ve crafted for us. I have been restless and unfocused the last few days. Once again I am reminded that I can’t fix any of it. I can’t turn back time and I can’t put the lost puzzle pieces back in the puzzle.

I don’t love this new reality and that’s a huge problem. This is the one I have. It’s infinitely better than the one millions of people are facing at this very moment. Intellectually I know that but emotionally I need to recalibrate some things. Maybe making a list of the things I’m grateful for will help. Maybe diving into the work I’ve been circling around will distract me and help me realign with my purpose. Maybe finally getting a therapy appointment will be the permission I need to just let it go. No matter what, I know it’s a process.

These feelings won’t suddenly evaporate. I loved my aunt my entire life and Coby for all of his 18 years. Life heaps so much pain and trauma on you, but I guess there is a blessing in the midst of all that dumping. I guess the fact that I’m still here, presumably to see more days, is the gift. The pain will ebb and flow and in the midst there will be joy, love, elation and hopefully moments that feel like heaven on Earth. I’m a betting kinda woman, so I’ll hang on for those beautiful moments and I’ll work to let go so I can process the dark ones.

Holidays can be a terrible time of year for some. I don’t doubt that I will end up in a corner crying before the weekend is out. My tear ducts are primed and warning me that my reservoirs are about to overflow. My hope is that the happiness outweighs the darkness, but either way my prayer is that I’ll still be standing on the other side and that I remember the work to be done. Not just the work to advance my career, but the work to unburden my soul and lift my heart back to the light.

May you find moments of peace and joy this holiday season <3.

Life After – Anniversary

Poised on the ice, listening and watching for the tell tale sound or sight of the first spiderwebbing of fractures on the surface. I feel steady yet I anticipate hearing an epic crack before I lay my head on my pillow tonight. My current balance is eighty percent intellectual, twenty percent emotional. Had my beautiful nephew Coby not died by suicide a year ago, it would just be another Monday morning and simply significant in that it is around the time we celebrate another one of my beautiful family members.

img_1238
Always clowning – Soup Straw

 

In some ways it seems shocking that a year has passed since our lives fell apart.  The human spirit continues to amaze me. It is stunning that a human being can endure unimaginable pain and still return to the light of day, forever changed but back in the light. Contact with some family members still seems to hurt. Not hurt in that they do something painful, but in that seeing them brings elements of the tragedy back. Most people forget what today is in our lives so there is no reckoning, no shadowing of the eyes, no slumping of the shoulders or the urge to reach out to check on them – not knowing if it will cause more pain.

To be honest, this is the most frustrating part for me.  I am steady, but I wonder if I should be checking on someone or extending sympathies or acting as if it is just another day. I don’t think on it too much as I am a much more heart-led soul. I will reach out to my family today to let them know that I love them, that I am sorry Coby is no longer with us and that I will be thinking of them.

20150304_202127
He was a great big cuz!

On my end, I have to keep an eye on my small person. While I am steady, I sense the ice is not so steady under her young legs. True helplessness comes from feeling like you don’t know how to reach or help your child in times of need. I definitely don’t have the answers here, but I know that my work day will end the minute she gets home. Tonight will be a full court press, hands on, eyes up, heart open night together.

I will do my best to remember that this is new to both of us and to remember the wisdom of an aviation disaster survivor speaking about how she managed her grief after losing a child in a plane crash. When asked what she attributed the survival of her marriage to she responded, “He doesn’t mess with my grief and I don’t mess with his.” I need to learn how to be supportive to her while not messing with her grief.

My grief is what it is. I still haven’t listened to the voicemail messages that flooded into my phone the days following Coby’s death (as I am constantly reminded by notifications that my voicemail is always almost 90% full.)  I am still trying to figure out if I can bear hearing them or if I should just delete them all unheard. I am truly appreciative of the outpouring of love that came in those days and every day since. As I type this I remind myself that life is for the living. I will delete the messages unheard, but I appreciate each person who reached out to me in my darkest hour.  This is what my grief looks like. Even the simplest decisions related to the aftermath of Coby’s passing are so difficult to make.

I am in the light now, face up to the sun and I am going to do my best to stay there. I know the clouds will come and when they do I will reach into my tool chest to get the resources needed to survive the resulting darkness.  Some days that’s coffee with a girlfriend, others it will be a therapy session and some days it’s a good old-fashioned cry. Today I will look for a way to honor Coby’s memory in a way that celebrates his life and not his final moments. I will send him light and love.

img_1236
Light and love

Right after Coby’s death I questioned myself about what I could have done, what I could have said, did he know how much I loved him and more fruitless thoughts about how I could have stopped it all. In January of 2016 I was asked to write Coby a letter that would be given to him at a school retreat. I am eternally grateful that I did because it gave me some peace that he knew exactly how much I loved him.

In re-reading the letter now I realize that there was little more I could have said or done, not knowing what was going on in his head and heart. I wish we were celebrating Coby’s collegiate accomplishments today, but instead we are reminded that life is fragile, that our young people are at war with demons we may not see and that the most precious elements of our lives are not guaranteed to be here tomorrow.

Below is my letter to Coby.  It makes me sad to read it (as the tears finally come,) but it is also the most honest, authentic expression of who Coby was to me.

Love you forever, Cob.

_________________________________________________________________

1/8/16

Dear Coby,

Love. Fascination. Pride. Joy. Those are the things that come to mind when I think of you ­ my handsome, loving, hilarious and incredible nephew! I am in awe of the things you have accomplished and the way you carry yourself through this turbulent world. I am so proud of the young man you have become. I trust you with my most precious gift in the world (and that’s saying everything!) and my heart is full when I see how you care for your little cousin. It speaks volumes about the man that you are when you take time to be with and care for Lani or grandma. Those are the moments that show the beauty of your character. No, it’s not cool to hang with them…or me, but you do it anyway. Yes, because we can be fun and feed you great stuff and because you love us, but often you’re being kind and supportive of the things that we need. You can’t teach that kind of compassion, support and love. It’s either a part of your character or it’s not. I am grateful to God that at the end of the day, after the jokes and the selfies, you are a solid young man of beautiful character.

Life is going to offer up a world of challenges. It just does. No one gets to the end without having their back side handed to them once in awhile. Some get it more than others. Whichever side of the fence you land on please remember that we are all praying for you. You are covered by the prayers and blessings of some of the most ardent prayer warriors I know. So remember to breathe, seek help when you need it and know that most storms will pass in time. Keep your eye on your passion and your purpose, not everyone else’s. Find out what feeds your soul and gives you a reason to get out of bed swinging each morning. Tilt at windmills, slay dragons and most of all work on being a good person. Money will come and go, but you can’t take it with you. Cherish relationships above all else, especially your relationship with God.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that have sustained me through the tough times and have been my compass in life:

●  Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. Think only of the best, work only for the best and expect only the best. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side as long as you are true to the best that is in you. (Christian D. Larson)

●  Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. (unknown)

You’ll always be my Cob. I will always be here if you need me ­ no matter what, and if I know one thing, it is that the world is ready for you to step up in all of your magnificence and make a huge impact.

Love you forever,

­ Aunt Tanya

_________________________________________________________________

For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

Life After – Hangover

This morning I got up determined to hit my desk the minute I got my kid off to school. I was showered, dressed, computer on, coffee warmed up and nearly four hours later I have done virtually nothing of substance. That’s the truth of dealing with the consequences of mental illness and losing a loved one to suicide.

The conversations that happen in the recesses of the light aren’t shared publicly, get pushed aside and forgotten in the attempt to re-enter the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet leave a lingering filthy residue on your soul. The pain uncovered, the searing confusion about which way to turn, fear and uncertainty about making the next right decision and putting one foot in front of the other zap the clarity, energy and drive that is otherwise present on a Monday morning.

The process of caring for our grieving children can suction the life and soul from you if you’re not careful. I initial started to write that I compartmentalize my needs so I can support my daughter in her grieving, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is that I keep my rawness in check in case I can’t put it away in time to support her every need. It’s as if I’m afraid that connecting to the pain will leave me in a formless puddle of anguish and either she’d either come across me like that or need me and I won’t be able to shape myself back into ready to go mom.

Last night we celebrated what would have been my nephew’s 19th birthday. A friend asked how it was. I told her the truth, it was beautiful, sad and ugly. That’s the truth.

img_5162
Lighting the paper lantern to release with love in memory of Coby

No, I’m not going to tell you how hard it was to hold my sobbing child’s hand while in the other room a somber Happy Birthday chorus was being sung in Coby’s honor. No, I can’t articulately express the lengths of my emotional fatigue and desire to get to a day when thinking of Coby or my Aunt, who took her own life just four month’s after Coby’s suicide, results in happy memories. No, I have no recipe for dealing with the complexities of the ravages of mental illness and suicide.

 

Today I do my best not to beat myself up for my lack of focus. Maybe my brain is pacing itself until my soul is ready to digest the latest round of conversations, observations and realizations. I am not living through a normal situation and I am reminding myself that my responses are normal. I think one of the greatest tragedies that comes from these acts are the pain coming together unleashes. Yes, it is part of the healing process but it is awful.

One of my saddest memories will be my daughter telling me that she didn’t want Thanksgiving this year. She didn’t want to have any holidays without Coby. It took my breath away. I could have never been prepared for her to articulate that. In hindsight it made sense, but I was so unprepared. Thankfully we made it through Thanksgiving and had a beautiful holiday in spite of the pain. Hopefully one that she’ll put in her happy memory chest.

coby-lani-5
Young and innocent

I don’t expect December 10th will come again anytime soon without some version of a sledgehammer of pain, but I do look forward to the day when it’s more of a tug. Each day moving forward is another step out onto the broken sheet of ice – some steps land solidly and bear the weight while others leave you plunging into the freezing water. Today I am sending strength to my family, and all of the families, who can’t see the light of day, can’t see the next step and struggle to even take the next breath. I can’t imagine what you are feeling. I am so sorry and I love you.

Today I will be gentle with myself. I will prepare to receive my young person home and do my best to be present, loving and open to sitting in her grief with her if need be. And once I put her to bed, I’ll do my best to sit in my grief, assemble my broken pieces, put them back into some semblance of new normalcy and do it all over again. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep walking through it with my eyes and heart open I will eventually get to the  other side.

More than anything in the world, I wish Coby knew he could have talked to me -that I would have been here and that suicide wasn’t his only answer, but in matters of life and death like this there are rarely second chances. If you are reading these words and are struggling, please seek help. Life gets a little bit dimmer each time we lose a soul.

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

_______________________________________________________________

For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

Creativity Trumps Fear

In the midst of swirls of grief there are moments of happiness, joy and pure creative expression. I’ve been working to get a documentary concept out of my head and down onto paper for the last 18 months. The spark was clear and strong but unraveling the story, angle and approach would not come easy.

The initial feeling was, “Of course this should be a film!” but then when I started to think about who should be interviewed for this film I began to hesitate. When I’m developing a concept I intrinsically put myself on set, in the producer/director’s seat and in the vicinity of the action. This very thought meant that I would be in the same room with a person I had been creatively in awe of for most of my life. That’s when the doubts began to creep in.

The challenge with these doubts were that there is no way to tell this story without sitting across from all of the things that intimidate me. Over the last 18 months and through the prodding of mentors, peers and collaborators I kept coming back to my notes and drafts. I wrote my dream. I didn’t pull any punches. I finally went with the thought that the worst they can do is tell me no – but if they told me yes…

IMG_9949The mere act of doing the work to define the random rumblings in my head have made this real. Yesterday I sent off a proposal to two trusted colleagues who are attached to this project and then sat in a puddle of vulnerability as I waited for them to get back to me. That act of being vulnerable is why I’ve failed before. It’s why I waited a year to respond to someone who graciously offered to get me an audition with a friend of his in Hollywood.

It’s all fear. As much as I tell my little girl that feelings can’t hurt you, I find myself being paralyzed by my fear. After coming clean to my friend about why I ignored his email and promising myself to do better, I realize that I can be scared and still take action. The fear paralysis is what will kill my creative expression and ultimately my happiness. Today I am relieved and happy that I was able to wrestle the random ramblings in my head onto a 2-1/2 page proposal. This is always the first step in my process and so often the hardest.

As I remember my late aunt and celebrate her life this weekend, I’ll take with me some of her fearlessness and ingenuity and do my best to incorporate that into my creative practice. No matter what happens beyond this point with this project, my artistic voice will never be heard if I hide in the shadows. Future possibilities exist because I stepped into the light. I invite you to step out of your shadows and join me in the light…even if just for a moment.

Life After – Remix

While tonight doesn’t feel like part 3 of the previous posts I’ve written about living life after losing Coby, it also doesn’t feel like “normal” or “new normal” or whatever. I guess it’s just whatever there is on the other side. For tonight’s sake, let’s just call it a remix.

 

IMG_7601

Today was a good day. It’s been an exhausting week full of client demands and creative hurdles to overcome but I’m keeping pace, and maybe even picking up steam. When I think back to the time when I couldn’t even answer the phone, I know that is huge progress. I still haven’t listened to my voicemail messages from the weeks following Coby’s death. My phone keeps sending me warning messages that my voicemail is 90+% full.

Do I listen to these messages that might sink me because they are full of my friends and loved ones concern for my family? The kindness hurts sometimes. As weird as that sounds, a hug can crush and tear-filled eyes have the power to unleash the feelings that are being held at bay by the hustle and bustle of the end of the school year, conference calls, piles of mail and happy occasions.

Nah. They can stay right there for now. For the moment I get to celebrate a few victories -My little one getting an academic award and a call back for a great project, hitting a significant milestone with our newest documentary and remembering most of my passwords while I plow through work.

I celebrate a tiny bit while being reminded that Coby will never graduate like so many of the friends I see on social media and in the world. I’m thrilled for them, yet I can’t help but think that he should be there clowning with his friends in a cap and gown. We should be showering him with love and praise for one of the greatest accomplishments one can have – successfully pursuing an education. Alas, it is not to be for Coby and that hurts. If I’m honest, typing that, acknowledging that fact brings on the tears.

I think of the shadows left behind in the souls of his classmates. I think of the carnage that is left behind after. After. After. After. I think of the carnage of the world we live in and I struggle to stay in the light as I wonder how the hell we can hold human potential and the essence of life in such disregard. A deranged man in a nightclub extinguishing precious lives, petty grievances in neighborhoods all over the country handled with terminal consequences, hate, fear and anguish all around.

IMG_9621

In moments like this I remind myself I have a choice. Light or dark. Each moment I get to choose and sometimes making that choice is a Herculean effort, but today – as I took my girl to try sushi for the first time (in honor of seeing a great indie film East Side Sushi) and told her how proud I was of her, choosing the light was an easy choice. In a year, where she lost the only “big brother”she was ever going to have, being able to find the light together is a blessing.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that the sun will rise and the birds will sing, and that has to be enough for now.

Life After – Part 2

I think of Coby. I close my eyes. I don’t see or hear a train screaming down the tracks. It’s a brilliant breakthrough that I am eternally grateful to have experienced. I no longer have to rip my eyes open and calm my racing heart.

I think of Coby and a lovely thought mingles with the residual sadness leaving me with a  bittersweet warmth. It still seems unreal. It still couldn’t have happened to us, but it did. My little one put it best when she said that now when she thinks of Coby she isn’t sad anymore, but that she feels happy. Time beginning to heal.

Coby with his Grandma Gladys.
Coby with his Grandma Gladys.

I’d be foolish to think that there aren’t going to be many moments when the old feelings surface, but today I’m so, so, so grateful that they have given way and allow me to see another possibility. I miss Coby. I love Coby. Eternally 18 and eternally in my heart. I guess that will have to be enough.