What do you do on the 4th anniversary of your son’s passing? You get a tattoo.

smiling but not happyDo not be fooled by my cheery disposition or attempts at connecting with the universe through positive talk and action, at the core I am damaged beyond repair.  I run out of the room silently cursing under my breath during childhood cancer awareness commercials in May – yes thank you I am very aware;  I blink back tears when asked if I want to donate to St. Jude’s research hospital anywhere I shop during the month of November – of course yes just add it to my bill; and I turn on the radio and pretend to sing along when my brain wants to replay Gus’ last twenty-four hours on the anniversary of his passing in June. Every single day I am at odds with myself, one side going about her business in a state of peaceful acceptance the other saying over and over again that the happiness is false, a tenuous coping mechanism at best that will eventually crumble – just you wait and see.  I loathe this persistent emotional conflict, it has turned me into what I never wanted to be – sentimental.

I had a single fictional hero growing up – Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. I wished more than anything to be like him – calm, rational, logical.  Unfortunately, I was born with a heightened sense of justice that was easily offended not just for myself but for everyone else making me quick to rant and rave about unfairness and inequality.  The only way I thought I could make myself more “Spock Like” was to avoid becoming overly emotional about certain aspects of my life.  I promised myself that no one would ever break my heart, that I would never regret a single thing I did and that I would always barrel forward much like a bull in a china shop – heartache, remorse and nostalgia were all illogical. If a romance dissolved, even when that was my first marriage, it was my pride that suffered not my heart.  I acknowledged my actions impassively and barreled forward without looking back, my mind always on the next goal. Even when my first two sons were infants I was already preparing for them to leave me and then when I married my best friend and saint of a man, I kept some distance in case it was for “now” and not “happily ever after”. Gus changed everything, he wrapped himself around my heart so tightly that his passing broke it, my helplessness during his illness filled me with regret and I can’t help but long for days past.

Terrifying illnesses and injuries alter our bodies, leaving scars that announce to the world that we’re survivors, that we’ve gone to the brink of the abyss and come back to tell the story.  The most poignant struggle of my life however, would leave no visible trace, nothing to show that I have kept moving even though my feet are encased in concrete.  I knew I needed to get a tattoo, it would be my mark of survival, but of what and where? Earlier this year my husband was doodling on a pad when it came to him, he drew a heart with Gus’ name within it like lightning bolts, it was perfect.

Gus TattooOn June 24th, after that day’s yearly routine of early morning mass, visiting Gus’ niche and breakfast we drove to Broken Art Tattoo in Silverlake, a place my sister suggested if only because it sounded like “broken heart”.  I was nervous, unsure if it would hurt too much or just turn out badly. After sizing it on the inside of my left wrist and selecting the colors, the inking began.  I could feel the tiny little stabs as my tattoo artist (I now had one) traced around the heart and Gus’ name but it did not hurt and when it was done I realized it was better than I could have ever imagined.  There is a comic book quality to the colors and shading that remind me of the emblem of a superhero (Gus), the bottom tip of the heart points to the main artery that goes to my heart and having placed it on the inside of wrist gives me the ability to either conceal it or flash it – like Spider-Man throwing his web or Wonder Woman blocking bullets. It is at once irrational and overly emotional, much more like Jim Kirk’s approach to a crisis than Mr. Spock’s. I suspect this was part of Gus’ mission, to force me to narrow the distance between myself and those I love. Is there space for me to still channel Mr. Spock?  I certainly hope so, until I find out may you – LIVE LONG & PROSPER….

Ripping off the bandage.

bandaged heart


Our deep cut could not be stitched closed so it was gently covered in a heavy-duty bandage. We knew all along that one day the bandage would come off; that the wound would have to continue healing on its own without so much protection.  We didn’t know when that would be but when the moment came we closed our eyes, held our breath and just let it happen…

When the 2015 class graduated last year, while acutely aware that it meant Gus’ class had advanced to the 8th grade and would spend the next year anticipating new firsts as they experienced many lasts, we could not imagine what we’d feel when “it” (graduation) actually happened.  We assumed we’d experience it as just one more occasion that Gus would be absent from and in our ignorance blurted out that we wanted to host the graduation party when asked how we wished to be included that year.

Busy with work and the construction of a new garage for the latter part of 2015, around February we eyed the now fast approaching date as nothing more than a home improvement deadline. The graduation party had been the perfect excuse to finish those nagging projects and repaint and redecorate the interior of the house. It was not until we began to hear about the high school acceptances in late March and April, that the gravity of what was happening set in.   We suddenly realized that the class had been acting as a bandage. Gus was not really gone as long the class was together, their unity keeping him in the present. But as the day got closer, an image formed that threatened to crush our already heavily damaged hearts. We could visualize him standing among his friends in the green graduation cap and gown of his school, but when they turned to walk out into their futures, we saw him left behind at the altar like a jilted groom. Graduation meant Gus was the past, his only hope for a future in memory.

We began to fret that instead of the heartache of loss we’d grown used to feeling we’d be uncharacteristically bitter and angry.  Those emotions surfaced every once in while especially when happening upon pictures of his friends having fun together or engaging in school events Gus would have loved. We acted on those occasions batting the irrational feelings away by imagining that he might have not been there anyway – that he would have been with us someplace else. There could be no ignoring graduation however, and all the events that lead up to it; the graduation portraits, the final field trip, the Baccalaureate Mass and luncheon. Adding to our sense of anxiety was the knowledge that our offer to host that final class party had not been met with unanimous enthusiasm.  It broke our hearts to know that we had been the unwitting merchants of discord, however small and brief when class unity meant so much. We were tempted to pull out of the entire mess.  Why bother with any of it?  We decided to go on an emotional offensive, to thwart the burgeoning sense of grief with love and gratitude. At the insistence of the majority of the class, it was decided that the party would still be held at our house and while we were invited to various events we opted to limit our attendance to the graduation itself.

On June 3, 2016 we arrived at the church with our older sons and took our seats to the left of the altar.  Although it was not our intention to cast a pall over the happy occasion, we had requested a few moments to address the class. At the appointed time, Gus’ best friend spoke about their classmate, presented us with the class yearbook lovingly dedicated to him and yielded the podium.  As our sons distributed our gift to each student,  my husband and I stood before his class praying that we could make it through without tears and delivered our prepared speech. (2 016 Class Speech & gift pictured below )


While we did make it through with just a pause to collect ourselves, our tears flowed freely during a touching tribute to our son in their class video.  Then, when all the awards had been handed out and all the speeches concluded, the class stood as one for the last time and exited the church.  We sat there for a little longer surprised that we felt nothing but peace. The bandage had been ripped off and while the wound was still red and raw, it no longer needed to be covered. The wound was developing its own protection, it’s own path to healing because we had been wrong, Gus was not being left at the altar that day, little pieces of him were being carried off by his friends.

Two days later, on a clear June night, the class and their parents descended on our house.  Together we danced, laughed and celebrated their futures without tears or sadness. I am sure Gus was there because he was always the life of the party.







A Christmas Miracle

DSC_0087I try to be used to it by now – Gus’ persistent absence, the silence, the ache but I am not and the pain still creeps up on me when I least expect it.  Most days, the daily routine blunts the sharp edges of his loss so I can’t dwell on it. I focus on being present and looking forward more times or at least as many times as I look back.   Lately, I had even been able to talk about him without welling up (so fast), but this holiday season was brutal and it took all of Gus’ angelic power to save Christmas.

This tale begins last January when in the midst of replacing our deteriorated driveway we decided to build the two story garage/office/recreation room we dreamed of when we bought our house nearly twenty years ago.  Despite my many years in construction, I allowed myself to plan for an unrealistic mid-fall completion. Cramming the contents of three storage sheds into two, as though it was a life-sized game of Tetris, I placed the holiday decor at the very back convinced the garage would be done well before I needed to get to them. Unfortunately, due to rules governing the “historic” zone in which we live, construction did not start until August and we would be lucky to be done by late January (so far so good).  Since it did not make much sense to empty the sheds in an effort to get a few trinkets out, I decided to forgo the “decorative” part of Christmas altogether.  What a mistake!

Thanksgiving weekend was spent pouring over construction budgets and completion schedules instead of swathing the house in holiday cheer while watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” as was my custom. Without a single thing pointing to the impending holiday except for the dying wreath I had picked up on a whim at Costco, all I could do was dwell on what I wouldn’t have this Christmas.  No twinkling lights, no tree, no million presents, no older boy (working), no middle boy (in Hawaii with his girlfriend) and especially no baby boy (even though he would have been fourteen). My house felt particularly empty and cold (no heating either).

Just days before Christmas, although we’d managed to find inspirational gifts for the nieces and nephews (“smile” socks and sweaters), my holiday “spirit” was still nowhere in sight. I attempted to focus on how organized I would be when the garage was finished but that only made me think about whether I should store all of Gus’ things or start giving them away. I was in the midst of considering getting stickers made to place in his books before donating them (see below) –

Fina1- Gus Logo Label

when the idea that I needed to ask my extremely busy husband to draw a picture of a hummingbird came to me. I had no specific reason for wanting it, I just felt I had to ask.

Sadness took over when I arrived home however, and I could do nothing but miss Gus. Four years had passed since our last Christmas morning together and it broke my heart that he’d only gotten to ride the bike he’d received that year once before passing on. By the time my husband got home, I was lying in a heap of misery watching Purple Rain, a poor holiday movie choice made worse by how terrible the movie actually is (why I loved it as a teenager is lost on my adult self). With eyes swollen from crying and nothing to say, I forgot about the drawing and went to bed.

Christmas Eve morning, I summoned a modicum of seasonal cheer by tossing a poinsettia here and there to make the house seem more festive. When my husband returned from work about mid-day, even before he could set the bundle he was carrying down, I requested my drawing. When he said nothing, I quickly added that he did not have to feel pressure to do it any time soon because it wasn’t urgent and I was aware of his load at work. Nodding in relief (or so I thought) he shuffled away while I got ready for the rest of the day which included visiting Gus’ niche, having lunch, and watching football games before heading off to Christmas mass and dinner.

The next morning – he gave me my present.


As it happens, the same day I’d been inspired to ask for the drawing, he’d been inspired to draw it. He was actually carrying it in his arms having just framed it when I made my request. There is no explanation other than we’d each heard Gus’ whisper, his way of letting us know that he is always with us.  Thanks you Gus for this Christmas miracle, it made an otherwise miserable day very special.




Answering the world’s most difficult question.

confusion2Many years ago, I read a book by Dennis Prager entitled “Happiness Is A Serious Problem” It asserted that we had a “moral obligation” to be happy or at least not to impose our pain, foul moods, or complaints on others. It counseled to be happy until something made you sad instead of waiting for something to make you happy. Happiness, it warned, required hard work.

I used to think I was a pretty good practitioner of happiness. I “worked hard” to be grateful, hopeful, and positive in the face of all the adversity that came crashing into our lives in the hope of keeping “unhappiness” at bay. Even now, when nestled in the cocoon of family and friends, I thought I could successfully maintain my attitude through an unspoken code imbued with understanding and encouragement. When asked “How are you?” I assumed it meant “How are you (under the circumstances)” and when I responded “Great”, I trusted they knew it meant “Great (considering)”.  I had no fear of burdening my family and friends with my pain because they had witnessed it.

Meeting new people however, made me panic.  My heart would start beating rapidly, my hands got clammy, perspiration ran down my neck and back.  I begged the universe to withhold the question but there was no way of avoiding it.  At some point I was asked the most difficult question in the world. The only question with the power to force me to betray my obligation to be happy and make me impose my pain on others. That question – how many children do you have?

At first, I was careful to avoid the subject of children all together by focusing on career and travel, but it made me feel shallow to avoid talking about their children in an effort to mask what had happened to mine. Then, I pretended I was being called away – “oh look my husband needs me” – it was dismissive and rude – not me. I attempted limiting the conversation to the two older ones but that left me feeling like Peter denying Christ.  In my last foray into this awful question, I blamed the questioner “Well, since you’ve asked, I had three boys, two living”  I thought it was a fine answer until I noticed the hesitation on their face. My answer had generated another question, “How did he die?”  It was not something they asked, but I could sense their curiosity, children don’t just die, something happens. I reluctantly added he had cancer and steered the conversation away from the sadness as tears threatened to burst forward.  I was secretly congratulating myself for handling the matter well when I began to fret about something else – had I been smiling when I spoke of my loss?

I understand now that I was momentarily paralyzed by what I believed to be mutually exclusive positions. While I did not want to impose my pain, I also did not want to judged as being “too happy”.   The fact is that I am too happy and too sad at the same time. I am the happiest I’ve ever been because I am finally learning what it is like to live free of fear and I am the saddest I’ve ever been because my greatest fear came true. I had lost friends and acquaintances my age in childhood and prayed never to experience the pain of those parents. I worried about my kids, most often worrying that I wasn’t worried enough. When the unthinkable happened to me, I woke up the following day and took a breath, then a step followed by another. One day I found myself smiling, then laughing. I realized that although I had every reason to be unhappy, sad, angry and bitter, happiness was possible – I simply had to choose it.  What I never expected is that the choice would have its own reward, evidence of Gus’ presence and unstoppable love.

We do have a moral obligation to be happy but not for others – for ourselves.  Others benefit from our happiness sure, but in the end they must also make the choice.  The next time someone asks me the most difficult question in the world – I think I will answer – “I have three wonderful boys, one of them is an angel”.

Living is… Participation

I made it to Paris Abuelita!

I made it to Paris Abuelita!

Except for the three years we lived in Puerto Rico for my dad’s job, my parents did not take us on any exotic vacations over-seas, extended road trips around the country or even a few miles from our Southern California home unless they were taking us to the movies.  Then and only then would we travel north to the San Fernando Valley, east towards San Gabriel or even as far south as Torrance from our mid-LA home in search of the perfect double feature.  My siblings and I would dutifully sit through two whole movies with only a ten minute bathroom/popcorn break in between in the venue of their choosing and nothing was out of the question. A top of the line drive-in theater with multiple screens that projected the sound through the car radio was just as good as the gravel pit whose car mounds were ground down with use and whose window mounted speakers produced only static; and the brand new state of the art movie theater with Dolby surround sound was easily substituted by a musty theater with sticky seats.  I did not really mind this singular form of diversion because it was a way of making a mental note of where I’d like to visit one day.

If there is a “travel bug” I must have caught it from my grandmother with whom I journeyed each summer to visit the family in Mexico City.  I never thought of these trips as actual “excursions” because I’d been going there since I was a baby and it seemed so commonplace.  Even my grandmother must not have considered the yearly trek a “vacation” as she spent much of the time listing the many places she’d like to visit one day.  She most wanted to visit Paris, France because she suspected she was French deep down although I never knew why.  She suggested that I become a flight attendant (stewardess back then) when I graduated from high school because she’d heard family traveled for free.  When I told her I hoped to go to college, she patted my hand and asked me to give my future more “serious” thought.

My grandparents moved back to Mexico City in the early eighties fulfilling a thirty year dream of returning to their beloved country.  It was then that our visits took on the aura of an actual “vacation”.   With summer the only time my mother could visit her parents and with our visit the only way my grandmother could get my grandfather to leave the limits of Mexico City, we suddenly had a reason to take bus trips to neighboring parts of Mexico like Puebla, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Acapulco.   IMG For my high school graduation in 1986, my grandmother cajoled my parents into sending them and me (and my younger sister last minute) to Hawaii for a week.  It was during that trip that the “bug” became a virus.  My grandmother and I had great time.  She’d donned on a grass skirt and danced on stage as I laughed and took pictures while my grandfather and sister looked on in dismay.  We went on a luau, a bus trip through the hills, we walked around town and drank mai tais (it was the last year the drinking age was eighteen).   I made friends, went dancing, and got a deep tan. It was the first time I could really understand that the movies kept me a spectator while traveling made me a participant.  I politely rejected the USC and LMU acceptances and scurried off to Mexico City after our jaunt that summer with the intention of never coming back to Los Angeles.  I was “seriously” thinking of becoming a stewardess.

By October of that year, three months into my self-imposed exile, I was working at an office in the nicest part of Mexico City.  I had new friends, gone on a few “interesting” dates and was just about to apply to a Mexican airline when I got a phone call.  My grandmother had fainted and was being rushed to urgent care.  When I arrived at the hospital she had regained consciousness but was very dizzy and nauseous.  I held her hand in the back seat of the car as we drove across town to a specialist for a diagnosis. She held smelling salts to her nose to keep from vomiting and I held a bucket in case they failed. The doctor told her she was lucky to be alive, an aneurysm had burst and she needed an emergency operation.  We were walking into the hospital to have her admitted as a large family burst into tears having gotten some terrible news.  I took it as a sign that I was about to lose my grandmother. The operation was postponed from Friday to Monday, confirmation that it was the end because it gave my mother time to get there and be with her.  I remember telling her to get better so that we could travel together.  She smiled and nodded as they wheeled her away. She never recovered from the surgery and passed away a few days later just seconds after my father arrived with my siblings.

Without my grandmother, the new life I was considering was no longer appealing.  I came back to LA, went to college, met someone, had two boys, got divorced, met another someone, fell in love (real love) and despite our recent loss have been happy together for nearly twenty-three years.  I look back on my life and realize that my grandmother has been right there all along.  Not only is this man, my saint, my best friend and the love of my life, we’ve been fortunate to travel together nearly everywhere my grandmother ever wanted to go.  I’ve made it to France, Spain (twice), England, Italy and Greece. We’ve visited many states within the US, gone on cruises, and been back to Mexico many times.  I don’t know where our next adventure may take us but I do know my grandmother (with Gus’ added help) is making it all possible.  Participate in your life don’t watch it go by.

The sounds of my silence.

Quiet Me-2I have been silent even while my mind was not.  I refused to put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard until I could orchestrate the cacophony of thoughts and feelings into a symphony of happiness instead of the “emo” noise that seemed to be characterizing my posts. My goal in starting this blog was to talk about the many ways I am finding happiness in spite of the loss of my precious boy and yet looking back at some of my entries I feel I was beginning to sound pretty pathetic.  Yes, I miss Gus and think about him daily but I am happy, healthy, in love with my husband, in awe of my children, grateful for my extensive network of friends and family and just plain in love with my life. I’ve stopped worrying about the things I can’t control and focus on being open to the next adventure.

In the spirit of this refocused intent, I’ve decided to make a few changes.  First, I’ve changed the title from the “Upsides of grief” to “Live, Laugh, Love”.  There is a story about this title which I will share in my next post but for now it is enough to say that the new title best describes what I am all about – living life to its fullest, finding any and all opportunities to laugh and loving everyone like it is going out of style.

If I ever start to sound too sad please drop me a line and remind me to “smile” because Gus is fine.


The Fault In My Dreams

Fault lines

The “faults” that surround me.

The room is white and sparsely furnished. I don’t recognize it but it doesn’t seem strange or inhospitable. I get the sense that I am in this room with everyone I know.  It is only a sense though because as a look around I can’t focus on anyone in particular, people appear and disappear from my periphery in wisps like ghosts. I finally focus on someone I know, it is the one person I miss the most and want to be with. It’s Gus! I see the back of him, his hair is soft, straight and sways a little as walks.  He seems at ease but busy weaving through the room as though it is his job to take care of every body. I call to him and as he turns to look at me the earth begins to shake and I know that it is an earthquake.  We take cover in separate spaces and while I can see he is as safe as am I, a sense of panic overcomes me.  I feel an urgency because I realize that Gus is still sick and I don’t know how to cure him.  The earth stops shaking and as I reach out towards him I snap awake, breathless. I am disappointed and upset, he was inches away from me and yet I couldn’t reach him. I didn’t get a chance to hold him in my arms and they ache for him.

I read on-line that dreaming of an earthquake highlights your fears and sense of helplessness. It signifies a big shake up in your life (you think?). The on-line site asks “Is there something in your life you feel at fault for?” UM…YES!  I let Gus die!  My brain knows that it was not within my power to save him and that my only job was to love him BUT my ego just can’t seem to let go of the sense of responsibility.  Did I do something to cause the cancer? Did I fail to recognize it soon enough to make a difference? Did I fail to be more vigilant about what he ate and drank thereby allowing him to become septic unnecessarily? The dream stayed with me that day, it made me sad and anxious.  I asked the universe for a sign; for permission to bury the feeling of guilt that overtakes me every so often like a tectonic shift and rattles me to the core.

All day I tried to focus on other things, my work, the plans for the weekend ahead but my mind kept drifting back to the dream.  After work, I vacillated between going to my spin class or walking up and down the one and half mile road that rises nearly five hundred feet to what is known as the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook near our house. I chose the road because even though it was hot and windy, I needed to feel my feet firmly beneath me, to take one emotional step forward and then another.  I had gone up and down twice lost in my music when I found myself walking behind two boys and girl from a local Catholic School’s track team (according to their t-shirts).  I normally would have just walked past them but something made me look at the back of one of the boy’s head.  He was a typical boy, long, lanky, talking animatedly with his friends.  He appeared to be about 13, Gus’s age today had he lived.  Aside from his age, nothing else would have struck me as “Gus-like” except for one glaring similarity – his bright blue hearing-aides.

I promise that part behind the ear is bright blue - like the young boy's.

I promise that part behind the ear is bright blue like that boy’s.

Thank you world for giving me this sign.  Was it enough for my ego to completely let go of the inappropriate sense of guilt? Likely not – but I am impressed with the immediate response to my emotional need. Through my tears (and two more times up and down the hill) I managed to “Smile” a little.

Too much time on my hands….

11150156_10204657625944707_3162760681542975889_nMy husband recently made an observation that I found profound and worthy of spurring a change to this site. He objected to my description of the many things we do (post Gus) as “diversions or distractions”.  He flat-out said “I don’t like those words, I prefer to say that we are keeping busy”.  He is right (but nobody tell him please), there is no real way to distract or divert ourselves away from Gus’ loss.

We had Gus ten years after our youngest son for a reason; as a couple we’d only ever known the “busy”-ness of parenting having had our first two when we were in our early (very early) twenties.  We anticipated that as “parenting” our older children was slowly reduced to moments of advice and spectator support, we’d need another child or two to fill up our time, command our attention, motivate us to work and plan for the future. When Gus was diagnosed with cancer at two and a second child never materialized, we focused on being grateful for just the one, our Gus.

Time seems to be in short supply for parents of school aged children but when Gus was abruptly gone, time appeared to multiply like Gremlins.  Suddenly, we had time to read, travel, exercise, dine, sleep, binge watch TV, walk, try new things or nothing at all. All this time however seems to come at a hefty price and we always experience it only in terms of what we’ve lost.  “We would have never done this if Gus was still here” (Our Camino) or “Gus would have loved this trip” (cruises through the Panama Canal and up and down the coast with his cousins).

I titled my blog “The Upside(s) of Grief, Diversion, Distractions & Motivations after a great loss” to highlight that activity and joy after loss is a choice; a choice between living with grief or living through grief.  The only mistake I made was thinking that the time we’d be occupying could be a distraction, diversion or even a motivation.  It is not, it just time that we choose to fill with activity. “We” find meaning in this activity because it bring us closer together as a family, as a couple and inspires us individually.  For this reason I’ve made a slight change in the title of my blog – it is still “The Upside(s) of Grief” with what we truly are doing – “keeping busy after a great loss”.  I hope you don’t mind….

Meditation – An Introduction


This is not me.  I do not sit crossed legged, hands gently posed in “gyan mudra” listening to myself breathe.  I don’t just struggle to meditate, I writhe, kick – internally judging myself and every thought I have until I forget what I was doing and give up exasperated.

I decided to turn to meditation as a way of quieting the movie that went off most nights as soon as my head hit the pillow.  It was a short film that began with me taking Gus to emergency a day after his last chemo and concluded with us watching him take his last breath and slip away from us.  Sometimes I was watching from up above, looking for alternate paths I might have taken.  Other times I was just reliving the entire day.

A few months after meeting with AJ Barrera (find out about our reading in Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Parts One-Four) I received an email from his office announcing a workshop to “meet your spirit guides” and develop “communication with other side”.  While I did not believe that I had the “gift” of mediumship (if that is a word), I was hoping to meet my “guides” to lead me to what I was supposed to do now that I was no longer required to shepherd my last child through high school.  So, I signed up, paid my fee and showed up on a sunny day in November to a hotel in West Covina.

I arrived early finding a few women already sprinkled around the room. I sat away from them in the center of a long empty table.  I doodled on a small yellow pad that had been left at each seat to avoid eye contact and any mutual judgement. Within a short time, the room filled and as it did I could overhear people swapping tales of communicating with the other side. I scoffed and then felt ill and panicky. All these women couldn’t have “abilities” could they?

At ten on the dot, AJ Barrera introduced himself and urged us to allow the “spirit” to connect with our inner beings.  The spirit he explained is always ready for us to be open to it.   “OK” I thought “I’m ready – communicate with me”.

AJ began the session with a guided meditation.

“You are walking down a staircase….” (Interesting, my staircase looks like the escalator at the Grove.  Wait! I am supposed to be on a stair case.  Well just stop the escalator.  Ok that is better).

“The staircase has lead you to a tunnel at the end of which you see light.” (You are doing good Cec, just keep following the tunnel. I know what kind of tunnel this is, the kind that opens up to a….)

“Beautiful valley” (football stadium! What? Did he say valley?  Great I am in the wrong place. Valley, valley, valley, what does a valley look like – Oh I know like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Ok.  I am back in.)

“You see an animal there. It is your personal animal spirit. What is it?” (Oh this is exciting, what is my animal? Tiger? Lion? Bear? Is that a rabbit?  Are you kidding me? My spirit’s animal is a brown rabbit?  Ugh… that’s disappointing.  No! Don’t judge!  So its a rabbit – follow the rabbit.)

“You follow your animal through the valley, getting calmer and calmer, breathing deeply letting him lead you where?”  (I can’t be calm, the rabbit is hopping along.  It is annoying. Ok Cec just breathe. Let it go!  Go with it!  Am I at the football stadium again?  What is it with me and football stadiums.  Forget it – this is stupid.)  I kept my eyes closed but I was out – meditating was just too hard.

When the meditation was over (5 excruciatingly long minutes later) the exercises to increase our “spirit” communication commenced.

Exercise #1 – Cold reading.  In this exercise we were supposed to sit with another person and tell them whatever came into our minds.  Like the worst athlete on a school playground I was the last to find a mate.  Fortunately for me, my partner also did not believe she had any powers and was only there to accompany her two children who she was sure did.  Still we sat across from each other and while my mind was blank, she asked if the number 10 meant anything to me.  I said no but it did. (Gus was 10 when he died and his birthday was August 10th.) 

Exercise #2 – Reading what was inside a sealed envelope.  We were instructed to gather in a circle with our table mates and pass around an envelope that contained a picture of a person that we were told had passed on.  The women around me wrote furiously on their pads for one minute and then when directed shared the results.  I again had nothing but the women around me had consistently written, “male”, “older”, “curly hair”, “mustache”, “heavy set”.  I initially thought they had all lost their minds until the envelope was opened and not only did their description match but other tables matched the contents of their envelopes with even more specificity.  The table that blew my mind had accurately described an image of Michael Jackson down to his profession.  The “spirit” had even had the presence of mind to cause the envelope to find its way to the one girl who had an image of MJ tattooed on her arm that no one saw until the big reveal.  (Ok – maybe something IS going on here).

Exercise #3 – Blindfolded reading. AJ and his assistant removed a few volunteers from the room and asked the remaining people in the room to switch seats.  Everyone was then blindfolded and his volunteers lead back in the room. We were asked to raise our hands if anything that was said resonated with us.  A woman I could not see mentioned a child who’d passed over recently. I raised my hand and AJ told the woman who was blindfolded to continue.  She had nothing else.  (Getting kind of close).

Exercise #5 – Volunteer readings. What happened to exercise #4 you ask?  Well it was supposed to be a musical chair type of reading where two lines of chairs faced each other and we would move over a space after a two minutes of exchanging quick readings (like speed dating) but that exercise was quickly abandoned when it became obvious that the young lady with a broken ankle and currently sitting a wheel chair would not be able to move in any direction. (A huge relief to me knowing I had nothing to say)  Instead AJ decided to have a few volunteers attempt to communicate with whomever made their presence known.  The first volunteer talked about a farm, a male, passing over from a heart attack.  It seemed to make sense to a woman in the audience although it seemed kind of vague to me.  The second volunteer I seem to remember was better but what she specifically said has now escaped my memory because it was the third volunteer that touched me deeply.

A tall woman with a splash of pink in her hair was the final volunteer of the day.  She had been quiet all day but the pink in her hair or just her manner had caught my eye since early morning.  Whereas the rest of the volunteers had been coaxed and prodded to speak, she strode to the front of the room like a woman on a mission.  She turned before AJ could say anything and asked the room (looking straight at me) if anyone had lost a child to cancer.  It is boy she said, about eight or ten.  I nearly fainted.  Raising my hand, she looked at me and said that he had been with me the entire day. She said she had “seen” him next to me first with a bouquet of balloons during the chair exercise and then with only two balloons one pink and one blue that he was offering to her for me.  He is “fine” she said, using the word that I most closely associate with him as he always told me, “Mom, don’t cry I am fine”.  “He just wants you to know he is always with you” she said as I burst into tears.

I went home shaken but moved,  somewhat less skeptical and more open to finding the “magic”.  It is in life’s “magic” that Gus dwells, making himself known to me (us), through song, by his name or even his image (I will talk about this one next time). I am still not very good at meditating, but I’ve been trying nightly ever since. I recently purchased a guided meditation that promised to introduce me to my guardian angel.  The woman who speaks…in,,,a,,,halting…and…annoying…manner promised that when I was ready my guardian angel would identify him/herself.  The other night I clearly heard “Tommy”.  (Tommy? Really? First a rabbit now a Tommy?) I highly doubt that my guardian angel’s name is Tommy but what was curious is that I have always been told that I do have a male guardian angel – so why not.  I am also not sure that I am closer to finding an answer to “what now” but I can tell you that the movie plays less frequently now. Sometimes it is even replaced with the physical sense that Gus has slipped into my bed and is resting comfortably in my arms.

50 Shades of Red


A few weeks ago middle son informed us that he was “going away” for Valentine’s weekend with his girlfriend of more than a year.  As a consummate planner, I appreciated the heads up so that I could get him his traditional valentine’s gift before he left.  Last week, I dropped in on SEES’ candy between errands and bought my boys the traditional small box of candies, a tiny gesture of my affection that I hope is obvious to them every day of the year.

In truth, I don’t like Valentine’s Day, it implies a certain kind of giddy, silly love I don’t particularly care for.  Love to me is serious, profound, and always life altering.  Notice that the color of love is red, its shape a heart, its flower a red rose.  Red is also the color of stop signs, blood and fire; the heart is the singular most important organ in our body and the rose is as prickly as it is beautiful. Love to me is present in the smallest actions; in the cheerful manner we greet each day, the gratitude with which we do our jobs, the enthusiasm with which we listen to each other’s stories, the attention we give to each other and the space that surrounds us.  Words and gifts to me are meaningless if not accompanied by the daily actions that make the sentiment irrefutable.  The “intention” to love is not enough, there is no lasting evidence of “intent” but the smallest daily action will stamp love all over your heart and soul forever.

Gus was in the habit of leaving notes for us everywhere. I love you dad is scribbled on an orange metal bucket he had in his room and on a piece of foil that was once used for now indeterminate purposes.  Sometimes, when we came to bed, we’d find a note on our pillow filled with his love and gratitude for all we did. Upon arriving from work daily, he’d ask me how my day had been and then sit with me while I made dinner. He attached himself to his brothers as though he was another appendage, draping a leg over each of them as he sat between them in the car or on the couch. Gus’ ten years were packed with so many little gestures that spoke of a love so strong we can all still feel it even in his absence.


I did not buy my boys (men) cards this year because when my office moved to another floor late last year I remembered seeing Valentine’s Cards that I had bought one year as I was likely planning for the next.  It broke my heart to pull them out yesterday as I prepared to write the notes that would accompany their candy, I discovered that I had bought them when I still had three boys living not just two.


My notes and candies were left on the hutch yesterday so that middle son could take it on his trip, just in case we did not see older son over the weekend and for my husband just to be fair.  I don’t wonder if I will receive anything in return because evidence of their love for me is everywhere.  Older son dusted the family room the other day, middle son did the dishes and husband works tirelessly never forgetting to squeeze my hand when he finally ambles into bed long after I’ve been nestled in.  I don’t need 50 Shades of Grey when I have 50 shades of Red.