happy birthday céline

roomie party

My dear friend Céline would have been 27 today. It’s such a strange occasion, the first birthday since her death, because it’s like my brain is still used to May 4th being a joyous day of celebration, and I keep feeling bowled over by these waves of sadness. I miss her a lot.

My friend Trish from church, who has been meeting with me every so often to talk about Céline, recommended that I do something special to commemorate today. She said grieving can often be more difficult if special occasions are just experienced as “a normal day.” So I brainstormed things I could do to honor and celebrate Céline. Here’s what I came up with:

  • A morning phone date with Holly. I wish we could be together today, and in the future we hope to make it a priority to be together on Céline’s birthday — it just wasn’t possible this year. Being together on the phone was the next-best thing.

celine me holly

  • Baking cupcakes! Specifically, funfetti cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting and rainbow sprinkles. These are what I would make for Céline if we were together celebrating her birthday today. She always made the best birthday cakes and cream-cheese frosting was a favorite of our apartment in college. We actually referred to our place as “The Cream-Cheese Frosting” when we would have parties!

cupcakes

  • I packed a picnic lunch and met up with Allyn for a walk around the Lafayette Reservoir, one of my favorite places in the Bay Area to soak up nature. I haven’t been hiking since my leg injury in January, so it was be exciting to be back out there on the trails. The Reservoir is somewhere I would have loved to take Céline if she had visited me here.

Lafayette Reservoir

  • I wore the beautiful bangle bracelets that were hers, that her mom gave me after Céline’s funeral.

celines bracelets

  • Tonight my aunt Annie and cousin Arianna sweetly took me out to dinner. They have been so great at listening to me talk and tell stories about Céline. Annie lost her best friend to cancer five years ago, and she has been very understanding and has given me advice about what has helped her grieve, and also keep her friend’s memory alive.

annie arianna my bday

  • I was extra gentle to myself today, taking time to journal, read, listen to music, look at pictures, and go through some of our old emails and messages to each other. My family was also wonderfully supportive, sending me loving text messages and notes throughout the day.

I want to end by sharing a poem my brother sent me written by John O’Donohue. This verse has been so comforting for me, especially today:

“As the embrace of the earth
Welcomes all we call death,
Taking deep into itself
The tight solitude of a seed,
Allowing it time
To shed the grip of former form
And give way to a deeper generosity
That will one day send it forth,
A tree into springtime.”

Happy birthday, dear Céline. I will try to honor your memory not just today, but every single day, with the compassion and kindness and joy that you embodied each day of your much-too-short life.

We miss you. We love you. Always.

Celebrating your 21st birthday... what a fun night that was!

Celebrating your 21st birthday… what a fun night that was!

fabulous friday #50

Aaaaaand just like that, it’s the weekend! It is a warm one around here and we are all trying to stay cool, and also soaking up some gorgeous sunshine outdoors. I get to meet up with this pretty lady in a few hours for dinner.

me and dana sideboard

So excited to catch up with her! Hope you’re up to something fun!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My favorite dessert of late: organic vanilla greek yogurt + fruit {raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are my faves!} + mini chocolate chips.

yogurt dessert

2. My wonderful minister gave me a copy of this little book, which takes its title from a beautiful Robert Frost Poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

nothing gold can stay

I’ve been reading through the short essays in this book when I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep at night, and it has been a source of comfort.

3. Last weekend I drove to Marcus Books in Oakland to attend a talk by Tavis Smiley about his new book chronicling his 20+ year friendship with Maya Angelou, My Journey With Maya. Tavis’s talk was filled with humor, wisdom, and his trademark insight. He is one of my role models! And I am savoring this book. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy — I think it would make the perfect Mother’s Day or graduation gift!

my journey with maya

I also loved these beautiful murals on the outside walls of Marcus Books:

marcus books

marcus books 2

4. My friend Jess sent me this lovely ring and a nice card in the mail, out of the blue! It was really sweet and made my day. It’s an infinity ring, symbolizing the everlasting bonds of friendship. She sent them to our friendship group from college, as a way of honoring Celine.

infinity ring

5. This *free* April reflection worksheet courtesy of Nicole at Life Less BS. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to April and hello to May! Nicole never fails to make me feel inspired and ready to tackle my goals and BIG dreams for my life.

Questions for the evening:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What do you have on the agenda for this weekend?

gratitude in the midst of grief

Hello, lovely people! Thank you for taking the time to send such sweet messages and words of love after my last post. It helps to write about Celine, her incredible life, my memories, our friendship; about all the ways I miss her and all the ways she impacted my life.

Her funeral was this weekend. I flew down to Los Angeles and returned to the Bay Area yesterday morning. To be honest, in many ways I was dreading Celine’s funeral. I knew that attending her funeral would make her death seem more real, and a part of me wanted to just keep living in denial, pretending that Celine is off adventuring around the world as she so loved to do. {Have you ever met a 26-year-old who has been to 37 countries??}

me and celine

It was a surreal and sad and emotional and exhausting weekend… but it was a beautiful weekend, too. In the midst of such overwhelming grief, I was not expecting to feel grateful. But I was struck by moments of stunning gratitude, like slivers of sunlight bursting down through the rainclouds.

Here are some things I am grateful for:

  • Celine was pursuing her dreams, living a life she loved. She lived with urgency and passion. She did not put off her dreams until some indeterminate future. She was not working at some miserable job she hated. She was happy.
  • As many said at her funeral, Celine lived more in her two-and-a-half decades than many people do in 80+ years. The priest asked us to think about all the things Celine WAS able to do during her lifetime, instead of focusing on what she didn’t do. I think that is good advice.

celine funeral

  • Celine’s brother Cameron, who was also in the car accident, is headed for a full recovery. He is home from the hospital and it felt like a miracle to be able to hug him at the funeral.
  • At the time of her death, Celine was having a really amazing time in India. Cameron showed us dozens of photos and videos on his phone of the two of them smiling and posing and being goofy. Celine was radiant. It was a comfort to see her so filled with joy in her final days.

celine and cameron india

  • Celine’s family has been so generous in their grieving. They are giving all of us who loved her plenty of time and space to pay our respects and say goodbye. Spending time with her family and friends, sharing stories, laughing about her zany antics, and remembering all the love she showered on the world, was exactly what my heart and soul needed.
  • Being able to spend a few days with other people who knew and love Celine felt like being able to put down a heavy backpack I hadn’t even realized I was carrying. To me, one of the hardest and strangest parts of grieving is navigating the real world — everyday tasks, errands, work duties, small talk — while within you this deep loss is throbbing, an unacknowledged wound. Surrounded by people who were also grieving Celine, it felt like we all shared the same subtext. Even when we weren’t talking about her, we were. Even when we were laughing about some random memory, underneath it we were all saying the same thing: I can’t believe she’s really gone.

joie

  • Seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time, hugging them, and crying with them, was more of a comfort than I could have imagined. I was happily surprised to see a few acquaintances from college who came to pay their respects. It felt really meaningful to see them there. Even people who did not know Celine very well were still deeply touched by her life.
  • My brother came with me to the funeral and the cemetery, and held my hand the entire time. He is my rock. The whole weekend he was sweetly, protectively attentive — for example, at the church when I was in the restroom for a little longer than normal, he asked Holly to go check on me to make sure I was okay. He is thoughtful and caring, a wonderful listener, and always there for me. I don’t know what I would do without him.

me and greg

  • I will never forget the moment I walked into the church and glimpsed Holly at the same time she turned and saw me. I just remember running to her. I was shaking as we held each other and cried.
  • The service was beautiful. Celine’s cousin Anne-marie and Holly both gave lovely readings. Celine’s friend Claire gave a stunning eulogy that captured her perfectly. The songs were perfect; I will never again hear Hallelujah without crying.
  • After the funeral, Celine’s family held a reception at their home, and towards the end a few of us made our way up to Celine’s bedroom. It felt surreal, yet peaceful, to be sitting up there among her things. So many memories! In her closet was this teal mermaid dress that I’m not sure anybody but Celine could pull off:

teal mermaid dress

  • Celine’s mom gave each of us some of her things to take back with us. I was so grateful to receive a Valentine I had given Celine freshman year of college {she kept it all these years!} and a note Holly and I wrote her during the Geology class the three of us took together junior year. Celine’s mom also gave me some gorgeous bracelets of hers and her rainbow purse that makes me smile whenever I see it.

celine purse and bracelets

  • Mostly, I keep feeling grateful that Celine and I were good. I knew how much she loved me. She knew how much I loved her. I wish we had more time together — SO much more time — but I know that more time would not have changed the essence of our friendship. I have no regrets. There were so many words as-yet-unsaid, so many stories that haven’t happened yet that I wish I could share with her… but at the same time, when you get down to what really matters, there were NO words left unsaid. My last message to Celine, about two weeks before she died, said simply: “Thinking of you. ❤ Missing you. <3” Her last words to me were: “I miss you so much!! more updates soon, love you!!”
  • The day of the funeral, my fourth-grade teacher {who is now a dear friend} sent me these words that have become a new touchstone in my faith:

Love is so much bigger than the vessels we live in

and somehow it lasts even after the vessels wear out.

ocean

learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn’t just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.

a year of living simply: week 5

Hello everyone, and happy Wednesday! Hope you are having a great week so far. My week has been a mixture of “grown-up” things like getting my tax stuff in order and scheduling doctor’s appointments and going shopping to keep my fridge stocked with veggies; and restorative time reading, journaling, talking to my family, and soaking up time with friends old and new. I also met with two wonderful women from my church to talk a bit about Celine and how much I miss her. Sometimes I feel the need to cocoon myself, but other times it just feels good to talk about her.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this last sentence of my simplicity challenge summary: We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

year of living simply

Celine’s sudden death has shifted my attention to the big-picture things. I’ve been asking myself:

What do I want my legacy to be?

I want to brighten the lives of other people. I want to spread joy and kindness. I want to write books and blog posts and stories and articles that make people feel comforted, supported, inspired, and understood. I want the kids I teach and tutor to feel more confident and proud of themselves. I want to plant the seeds of trees that will provide shade for future generations. I want to help causes greater than myself. I want my loved ones to *know* how much I love them, and to always feel like I have time for them. I want them to know, always, without a doubt, how important they are to me. I want my legacy to be a ray of sunshine that makes other people smile.

Last week’s challenge was to do some free-writing or journaling about your WHY for simplifying your life.

  • What do you want to make room for?
  • What do you want to get rid of {physically and emotionally}?
  • How do you want to feel?

I want to simplify my life to make room for what’s most important to me: namely, my passions and the people I love. I want to feel like I have TIME, like my days aren’t just flying by mindlessly. I want to notice and savor the everyday moments of beauty in my life. I want to feel energized and excited and FREE.

Since writing is my passion and a major vehicle I use to spread joy and connection in the world, I realized I need to set aside some time to simplify and organize the backbone of my writing life: my computer files.

This week’s challenge is to get digitally organized and simplified! Delete unnecessary files; clean out your Downloads folder; organize your Word documents into folders; clean up your Desktop. Even if you’re not a writer, I’m willing to bet you use your computer every day and it contains files important to your life and your dreams.

a year of living simply: week 4

Hi there, friends, and thank you so much for all your words of love and support after my last post, about Celine. The biggest source of comfort for me in the wake of such loss has been sharing about her to others and hearing about her from others. She touched so many, many, many lives!

Since Celine’s death, I’ve been thinking about simplicity, but in a slightly new way. Instead of brainstorming challenges we can do together {which, believe me, I still have a ton of ideas!} I’ve taken a step back and have been focusing on the underlying reason behind this desire I have to simplify. You might call it “the WHY.” I’m thinking about this last sentence of my simplicity challenge summary: We’ll reflect on what truly matters to us, and why, and what we hope to do with that knowledge.

And I keep returning to this idea: Simplicity means getting rid of all the crap that doesn’t matter, to make room for what DOES matter.

Like relationships. Like passions. Like health. Like love.

year of living simply

My world changed forever last week, and in many ways I am still in shock and it still does not seem real. I am trying to be gentle with myself, as my wonderful minister Leslie advised, and to lean into the comforting embrace of friends and family who have been so loving and understanding and patient.

I have also been doing a lot of reflecting. Celine’s sudden death has shifted the way I think about my goals. I’m thinking more about big-picture things right now — as in, what do I want my LEGACY to be? Celine did so many incredible things in her far-too-brief life: things like moving to Paris, traveling all around the world, going to fashion school, and more accomplishments and amazingness than I can put into words here. Without a doubt, she inspires me now — as she did in life — not to put off my goals and dreams. There is peace in knowing that she was pursuing her big dreams and living the life she wanted.

celine on train

But what I have also been thinking about — and what others who knew and loved her have been paying tribute to — are the “smaller” things she did … the jotted notes, the kind acts, the random phone calls and Skype dates, and basically just how LOVED she always made me feel. I think Celine’s real legacy is the way she treated people and the goodness she brought into the world. This week I’ve been feeling less urgency to mindlessly pound out work towards my goals, or simplify just for the sake of simplifying, because I’m feeling the need to step back and recalibrate what is most important to me — what my true priorities are.

This week, do some free-writing or journaling about your WHY for simplifying your life. What do you want to make room for? What do you want to get rid of {physically and emotionally}? How do you want to feel? What do you want your legacy to be?

celine legacy

dear celine, this is how you made me feel

celine

This is Celine. She was one of my best friends, and on Monday I found out that she died in a car accident. I can’t quite believe I’m writing about her in the past tense. I’m having an extremely difficult time believing that she is gone. It all seems surreal and incomprehensible and just plain wrong. Her brother Cameron was in the car with her, and he is in critical condition — please send your prayers and love to him and their entire family. ❤

Celine was one of the most vibrant, joyful, loving and beautiful people I’ve ever known, and I want to tell you about her.

me and celine

She was the first friend I made in college, on move-in day in the dorms. Her dorm room was kitty-corner from mine. My parents had left and I was sitting on my new dorm-room bed, feeling a little bit sad and scared and alone in my new life, when Celine came in with a box of popsicles and asked if I wanted one. We started talking, and I learned she grew up in L.A. and had a younger brother around the same age as mine. I felt comfortable with her right away — she had a genuine smile and a contagious laugh, and she was so expressive you wanted to keep swapping stories with her forever. That day, she looked so sophisticated in a newsboy cap and colorful sunglasses, and I remember thinking, “This girl is waaaay too cool to want to be friends with me. I’ll just ride this wave as long as it lasts!” Later, once I realized she actually *did* want to be my friend, for reals, I told her about my first impression. 🙂 We would joke about that throughout our friendship.

me and celine milkshakes

It is probably not an exaggeration to say I spent as much time in Celine’s dorm room that first year as I did in my own. We ended up living together throughout college, and all of us shared so much more than just an apartment. Those girls were my second family. We shared meals and clothes and shoes and makeup; we celebrated holidays together; we threw the most fun themed parties of my life; we whiled away hours and hours discussing everything from crushes to politics to High School Musical, sharing stories from our pasts and daydreams for our future; and oh, boy we laughed. We laughed so, so much. I feel incredibly grateful that I found such special people to share college with.

roomie party

all the ladies soph year

Celine was a true original; a bright light; fearless and colorful and brave. She was goofy and funny and FUN. Celine’s authenticity brought people together in the best way. She taught me to be proud of the silly parts of myself; that I can be a serious and determined person yet also retain a childlike enthusiasm about the world. She taught me that often it’s the little things — the jotted notes, the inside jokes, the impromptu dance parties — that are really the big things. And she taught me that life isn’t just about being productive and “accomplishing” things and checking items off my daily to-do list. Sometimes — actually, most of the time — the most important thing to do today is to enjoy it, to have fun, to make ridiculous and beautiful and spontaneous memories with the people you love.

goofy roomie photo

Celine loved fashion, and she was such a talented designer. Our senior year, she sewed a whole ensemble of clothing for a fashion show benefit to combat malaria. I like to remember her sewing away on our living room floor as we all watched DVDs of The Office and did homework. I’ve never thought of myself as very fashionable, but she helped me feel confident in myself. She was always delighted to help pick out an outfit for a date, or a special event, or simply an ordinary Monday. We had many fashion shows in our apartment. Celine could pull off any outfit with pizazz. I think of her wearing an American flag sweater and colorful socks, and looking perfectly chic and perfectly her.

She *made* that dress!!

She *made* that dress!!

Yet along with her wonderfully zany side, Celine also had a quieter side. She was a terrific listener. She never judged. She made you feel safe and supported. Freshman year of college, when I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I remember fleeing to her room, sobbing, and she hugged me as I cried. Another time, when I was feeling down on myself because “no boys were ever going to like me EVER” she played me this song, “Somebody’s Baby” by Phantom Planet, saying it made her think of me because I was “so awesome that guys probably just assume you’re already taken.” I still smile and think of her when I hear that song.

Celine saw the very best in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself.

me and celine

Junior year, Celine and Holly studied abroad in Paris at the same time I studied abroad in England, and they came to visit me one weekend.

in london

Then I visited them for a week during my spring break. That week in Paris remains one of the happiest, best weeks of my life.

me holly celine in paris

Celine loved France — she was proud of her French-Canadian heritage and spoke fluent French — and she especially loved Paris. In college, she talked frequently about her dreams of moving to Paris and going to fashion school. And after we graduated, that is exactly what she did. She studied at the Parsons Paris School of Art & Design and ended up working for the Paris College of Art, a job that took her all around the world. I can’t begin to express how proud I was of her. So many people talk about their dreams, but never do anything to make them real. Celine was actually living her dream. She made it happen.

me and celine in Paris

I was lucky to get to visit Celine in Paris once, a few years ago. It was exciting to get a taste of her life there. She was a terrific tour guide, excited to show the city she loved to the people she loved. One thing I always admired about Celine was that she was always herself, and our friendship remained a comforting touchstone even as so many other things about our lives changed. In a cafe in Paris, we giggled together the same way we had in our apartment living room in Los Angeles.

holly surprise party

Even though the miles and time zones between us made our communication less frequent, I always knew Celine loved me, and I hope she knew I loved her. She was there for me for the big things. Like when I broke up with my fiance, she Skyped with me for two hours, even though it was incredibly late Paris time and she had to work in the morning. She laughed and talked with me about random old memories until I felt better.

me and celine xmas

And those times that we *were* able to see each other, we picked up right where we left off. Celine came to visit me soon after I moved to the Bay Area, and we pretty much talk-talk-talked for three days straight. It felt like we were living together again. That visit was such a gift.

20131025_154036

The last time I saw her was in late May, right before my birthday. She was in San Francisco with a couple friends from France, and the two of us met up for brunch. I had a cold, and I remember wondering whether I should cancel; I didn’t want to spread my germs to Celine, or to anyone else my path would cross on my commute into the city. But we were able to see each other so rarely that I thought, “Screw the germs, I’m going!” And my God, I’m so grateful I did. We had a lovely visit, chatting in the sunshine over hot coffee and tea and scones, and before we hugged goodbye in the Bart station I remembered to snap a photo, this one:

me and celine bart station

We’d emailed some since then, and in the last email she sent me, Celine asked if I could resend her the link where I post my short stories online, because she wanted “some reading from my favorite writer!!” She was always so supportive of my writing, and in the wake of her passing I feel a renewed commitment to pursue my dreams with zeal and determination, in her honor.

Celine only graced this world for 26 years, yet she touched SO many people’s lives with the bright light of her spirit. Quite simply, she made others feel seen, and heard, and happy, and loved.

how you made them feel

Our friend Jess put it so well in these words to Celine: “It’s hard to explain how much fun we had and how much living the rest of us are going to have to do to make up for your absence.”

college football game

Holly did too: “Love knows no tense.”

me hol celine

Dear Celine, I miss you. I love you. I will forever be grateful for the spectacular gift of being your friend.

celine dogpile

grad caps and gowns

me and celine goofy

me and celine halloween