It's been a year since I started these newsletters. The Stay at Home order was weird and scary and people needed hope, optimism and ways to to stay connected. We were feeling isolated and uncertain and craved anything that brought us closer. Along with the newsletters, I began doing Sunday night Gatherings, bringing women together for meditation, sharing, writing and reflection. The love for the newsletters and Gatherings has been overwhelming. They have provided comfort and solace to many and been a salve for the confusion and loss so many of us felt. Each week I've offered words of wisdom on topics that I thought would resonate with my readers as we faced the challenges of 2020. I wrote about Fear, Compassion, Resilience, Equanimity, Disappointment, Creativity, Thriving, Belonging, Exhaustion and more. People have been moved and inspired, have connected with other amazing women and have felt seen and heard. In many of the newsletters, I shared snippets of my personal life as they related to the topic on which I was writing. My honesty and transparency were well received. I shared my experiences so that my readers would feel less alone. But I never felt exposed, just slightly vulnerable. This newsletter is different. This moment in my life is different. I am going to share a deeply personal tragedy in my life, unrelated to any topic of general interest. I imagine that some of you will resonate with the story or find it touching, but I am writing it in order to bring myself back to life, after being completely disconnected for the past ten days. In writing this, I am pinching myself, forcing myself to come to terms with what happened, to face the truth. My brother Mark was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago.
Given his youth, excellent health and his incredible attitude, we all believed he would beat it.
But life doesn’t go as planned, as expected or as hoped.
When my brother called me last week, his breathing was labored.
All of a sudden the unimaginable presented itself. My brother might die.
The truth was that he was dying, but "might" was as far as my mind would allow me to go.
From the sound of his breathing, I knew I had to go and see him.
Within a few hours, my daughter and I were boarding a red-eye at LAX, bound for NY. By the time we arrived at his west side apartment, things had gotten worse.
I walked into his bedroom where his husband and our sister were standing around the bed staring in disbelief at Mark’s condition. Reality grabbed me with a violence I had never known. Death was happening and it didn’t give a damn about fairness or my readiness.
Mark heard my voice and his eyes widened, almost popping out in surprise. He knew I was there.
I sat down next to him and instinctively knew what to do; just be with him, hold his hand, tell him how much I loved him.
He was shrieking in pain much of the time and the nurse recommended that we tell him that we would be alright and that he could let go.
As a meditation coach, I have used the term often; sharing with students the wisdom of “letting go”, of “surrendering”.
But this was different. I didn’t want him to let go.
I wanted him to stay with me. I told him stories, made some pathetic jokes, held back tears and sat with him until, a number of hours later, he took his last breath.
Mark and I shared a love of theater, cooking, reading, dancing and more.
He was smart, funny, sarcastic, brave, bossy and beautiful.
As the Producing Director of The Working Theater in NYC, he had a clear purpose - to make theater accessible to everyone and to amplify the voices and stories of minorities, women, immigrants and working people everywhere. He focused on essential workers before we had ever heard the phrase.
He was in an awe-inspiring, committed relationship with the love of his life for twenty years, and was finally able to legally marry just a few years ago.
He loved his family and friends honestly and fiercely.
Everyone who knew him loved him for being the supportive, creative, clear, impish, sarcastic and wonderful man he was.
Having to tell my parents that Mark died was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life.
How could it be that fourteen years after the death of their youngest son, they would lose another one?
How could it be that my sister and I would lose two brothers?
I spent the week in NYC, mourning my brother’s death with his husband, my parents, my children and friends. It was brutal, painful, surreal and poignant.
I woke up in the mornings forgetting that he had died.
I walked around NYC imagining him in all his favorite spots.
I watched my usually stoic mother wail when she learned of his death.
I heard my father, who is 95 and declining in cognitive abilities, ask over and over when my brother would be coming to visit.
I ached. I lamented. I got sick to my stomach.
But I survived.
We flew back to LA a few days ago and I’ve tried to process the experience.
But it's not processable.
It’s just hard.
I came home to many beautiful condolence cards, flowers, and other expressions of love and support.
It felt like they were for someone else. I was not home. I feel the angst Edna St. Vincent Millay writes about: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
I am allowing myself this grief. The words of W.S Merwin could be mine. "Your absence has gone through me Like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color." And the days go on. I am so grateful that I finally know how to breathe, that I can find moments of peace when meditating, allowing whatever feelings I have to just be there. I walked on the beach today, my place of healing and transformation and saw a school of dolphins leaping in their elegant, lyrical way. I knew Mark saw them too. There are many things about this experience that will inform the rest of my life. I am straining to find a lesson, something to impart to you that will make a difference. But I have only learned this- losing someone you love is beyond heartbreaking. It is soul crushing and feels like something from which you will never recover. However, the world looks different when you are in the bubble of grief. It's an improvement over the world before the loss. The truth is, the world would be a better place if we treated one another as if we were experiencing a crushing loss.
1. We would talk less.
2. We would choose our words more carefully.
3. We would observe what’s happening more closely.
4. We would eat more carbs.
5. We would hug more and for longer periods.
6. We would let a lot of bullshit go.
7. We would be more tuned into to one another’s pain.
8. We would cry more freely.
9. We would focus on what’s really important.
10. We would care more deeply.
11. We would be more forgiving of ourselves and others. 12. We would be less critical about stupid things. 13. We would be more deeply connected to stillness. Perhaps we can incorporate these honest, tender ways into our lives right now, and trust that by creating more avenues for love and acceptance we are getting closer to our truth, our worth, our deepest selves. I will continue to grieve for as long as I need to. And while I grieve, I will grow. During this time, I hope to figure out how one moves on from monumental loss. I will read and reread this poem by Tagore: Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet. Let it not be a death but completeness. Let love melt into memory and pain into songs. Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest. Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night. Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence. I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way. I will honor my brother by cooking more, traveling more, communing with nature more, listening to music and dancing more, supporting theater and loving my friends and family more than ever. I am more certain than ever that my purpose in life is to do two things: write authentically and with heart and coach women to become friends with themselves, to find their own still small voice and live according to their values, with calm, clarity and connection at the core. I am committed to loving more deeply and being of service always. I am here for any of you who have or are experiencing loss, pain, confusion or overwhelm and together we will find peace. There will be a Gathering on Sunday March 7 at 4 PT/ 7 ET and I look forward to seeing you there. We all need to breathe and be in community.
With love and light,