pockets of grief, wells of memory

This past weekend, I flew to Nashville to celebrate a very special occasion: my friend Holly was ordained as a minister! She has been working for years towards this milestone, and I am so incredibly proud of her.

I had never before attended an ordination, and I was blown away by the beauty and emotion of the ceremony. It reminded me a lot of a wedding, but instead of celebrating the union of a couple, we were celebrating Holly’s commitment to generously serve others as a minister. Perhaps my favorite part of the ceremony was right after Holly was officially ordained and became Reverend Holly. The entire church stood up and burst into applause, and Holly looked out at all of us, her face glowing. Tears sprung to my eyes in that moment. The room was so palpably filled with love for my dear friend, who has already touched so many lives and is adored by so many people.

In preparing for the weekend, I expected to feel pride. I expected to feel joy. I expected to feel love and connection and excitement and peace. And I did feel all of these things. What I did not expect to feel was… grief.

I felt fresh, unexpected waves of missing Celine, the ache of her loss filling my chest more fiercely than it has in a long time. In the past year or so, my grief over her death has settled into a quiet place within my heart. I think of her often — but, unlike in the immediate aftermath of her death, my thoughts of her now are often accompanied by happiness. I can smile at my memories of her, even as I deeply miss her presence.

But grief is not a straight line. Grief can surprise you. Grief can sneak up on you. You can stumble upon pockets of grief that steal all the breath from your lungs and suddenly it is like you just lost your person, all over again, in that instant.

I was expecting to miss Celine at Holly’s ordination, just like I missed her at my wedding — crossing the threshold of another Big Life Event that she should be here to experience with us. But the way I missed her this weekend was sharp and personal and raw.

The really neat thing about an ordination is that people from all corners and phases of your life come to honor the person you were, the person you are, and the person you are still becoming. Holly’s family was there, and her friends from childhood, and her friends from divinity school. People were there from the church she grew up attending and the church she interned with and her current church home. Old classmates and old professors and old family friends.

What I hadn’t put together beforehand was that I would be the sole ambassador from Holly’s college years, the years we were roommates, the years our friendship blossomed and grew strong. As I walked into the church and sat down in a pew, I found myself looking around for the third pea in our pod: Celine.

Everyone else had their people from their phase of Holly’s life. Celine would have been my person there. I felt like I was trying to hold up a mantle for both of us, a mantle that was meant to be shared, that was too heavy for me alone. I felt sad and awkward under the weight. Because Celine should have been there, too. If life were even close to fair or sensible, she would have been there sitting next to me, holding my hand as we both blinked back proud tears for our girl Holly.

Holly’s childhood friends came in then, and I have met them all before and they are lovely, and they scooted over on their pew so I could sit with them. We chatted and caught up on each other’s lives. It was comforting to know that they had met Celine — that if I spoke her name they would share stories of her and remember her, too. I wondered if they thought of her when they saw me.

The strange thing was, even as I grieved anew the loss of one of the brightest lights I have ever known, I could also feel her presence more vividly than I had in a long time. I could imagine her there next to me, wearing a white top and a yellow skirt and a purple belt, with dangly earrings and red lipstick, her long hair pulled partly back with bobby pins. I could clearly imagine her hand in mine, with her round nails painted turquoise. I could see her looking at me with her big eyes, smiling at me as we talked about some random memory from college. She would stand up and greet people, shake their hands and say, “We’re Holly’s friends from college.” We are. How lonely the “I” is, when compared with “we.”

But as the service began, I was overcome by a profound sense that I was there not just as Dallas, but that I was representing Celine, too. I knew without a doubt that she was there in spirit — that she was indeed sitting beside me, holding my hand, in whatever way she could. Only in the physical, mortal sense was I there alone.

At the ordination after-party, they served lasagna.

*

After an amazing whirlwind weekend, on the plane from Nashville yesterday morning, I was reading through an old issue of a literary journal. An essay by Emily Arnason Casey described a Greek myth of the lark, taking place in a time before the world began, back when there was only air and sky and wind. The lark’s father dies and there is nowhere to bury his body–no ground for him to rest in for eternity. The birds all gather together and try to decide what to do, but they cannot think of any solutions. Until finally, Casey writes, “the lark decides she will bury the body of her father in the back of her mind, and this is the beginning of memory.

When I looked up the symbolism of larks, I found these words that burst with resonance of Celine:

Larks are known for their melodious singing. They also sing while they are flying, unlike most other birds, who only sing when perched. This indicates cheerfulness and reminds us to find joy in our own lives.

Larks have a crescent shape across their breasts. The crescent shape often signifies lunar qualities, and the moon is often linked with the concept of self. Therefore the lark reflects the inward journey that’s often associated with self-discovery. This goes hand in hand with their singing, something that, for humans, is often considered a private activity and a deep reflection of inner self. Lark encourages us to explore our inner selves and sing out loud.

I don’t think I came across this essay in a random literary journal from 2012 by accident during my flight home. I believe it was a message from Celine. She wanted to remind me that she is buried inside me, and inside of all of us who love her, and the well of our memories with her runs ever-deep, like a cup that can never be emptied. Her memory encourages all of us to find joy in our lives, to explore our inner selves, to sing out loud.

Celine would be turning 30 this Friday. I am celebrating her birthday by getting together with friends for dinner and then going out to a bar where the waiters sing show-tunes. I am going to remember Celine by laughing unselfconsciously and squeezing people I love in big bear hugs and singing along to Broadway show-tunes at the top of my lungs.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following prompts as inspiration for some free-writing:

  • Write about a person you miss, whether they are gone from this life or are simply someone you have lost touch with. What do you miss most about them? What memories with them do you treasure?
  • Think about an animal that carries symbolism for you, and write about the ways this meaning has touched your life at different points.
  • Write a love letter to one of your dearest friends about all the things you love about them. Bonus: send it to them!

a guaranteed way to make a girl scout smile

Have you noticed? It’s Girl Scout Cookie Season!

Every time I run errands, or simply drive around town, I see them: tables set up with glittery posters and a rainbow of colorful cookie boxes, and girls in green uniforms, cheerfully and patiently selling their wares. Girls in pony-tails and braids. Girls with braces and girls with gap-toothed smiles. Girls who remind me of Céline, who fill my heart and break it at the same time.

Céline was an extremely proud Girl Scout and, apparently, a cookie-selling legend. Every year in college, we would order cookies from her to support her old troop. She kept boxes of Thin Mints in the freezer. I’ve always been partial to the Shortbread and Samoas {…or, should I say, Caramel deLites?}

These days, in many ways, my eating habits are a lot healthier than they were back in college. I eat fewer processed foods and zero frozen dinners. I cook meals from scratch frequently. Instead of fat-free rice cakes and cheap booze, I fill my grocery-store cart with fresh produce and healthy fats. And I’ve cut back drastically on sugar.

Maybe you’re like me. You want to support the Girl Scouts, but you simply don’t need a bunch of cookies in your pantry.

Or maybe you DO love buying, and eating, Girl Scout cookies, which is also great. As Robyn, one of my favorite nutritionist bloggers, puts it: a healthy diet means you eat cake AND kale. Nutrition, variety, and pleasure — these are things we should receive from what we eat. Food is not just fuel, it’s also something to enjoy.

In any case, whether you plan to buy one or one-hundred boxes of Girl Scout cookies, here is a guaranteed way to make a Girl Scout smile. This is something Céline learned from her experience as a Girl Scout, and something she would do whenever she came across a green-vested girl selling cookies. Now it is something I do in her honor — one of my favorite ways to remember her.

girl scout cookies

Step One: Ask the Girl Scout what her favorite cookie flavor is. {She will think you are asking her for advice about which kind of cookie you should try.}

Step Two: Buy a box of whatever her favorite type of cookie is.

Step Three: Hand the box to her and explain it is a gift for her to enjoy. Here’s what I say, “My friend was a Girl Scout and she told me how hard it was to be selling all these cookies without being able to eat any yourself! So these are a treat for you to have. Keep up the great work!”

Step Four: Enjoy all the warm fuzzies filling you up inside.

One Final Note: This is not only a way to make a Girl Scout smile, it is a guaranteed way to make yourself smile, too. 🙂

Happy Friday, friends!

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

celebrating martin luther king, jr.

Today we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m celebrating by participating in a community service project and by doing as many random acts of kindness as I can fit into my day!

I’m also spending time today reading the words of Dr. King and reflecting on his wisdom. I was especially moved by this passage:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation.” {Source: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/pacificaviet/riversidetranscript.html}

My dad’s wonderful column this past week was about Dr. King and I want to share it with you as well: http://woodywoodburn.com/column-let-service-ring/

I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s year of Wooden post. Hope you are having a beautiful day filled with service, compassion and reflection!

Question of the day:

  • What are you doing to celebrate MLK day?
  • What are your favorite words of wisdom from MLK?

happy birthday dad! {and happy memorial day, everyone!}

Today is my dear daddy’s birthday! I feel so grateful that I get to be home to celebrate with him! My dad is a truly amazing person. He is my friend and role model, my biggest fan and supporter, and one of the most genuinely kind and caring people I have ever met. He is also hilariously witty, goofy, and fun! I love every minute I get to spend with my dad. I hope he has a fantastic birthday today! I love you, Dad!

me and dad

On this Memorial Day, I also wanted to take a moment to remember and say thank you to all the brave, selfless men and women who have served our country. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for your sacrifice and service — not only today, but every day!

We read this poem in church yesterday, and it really struck a chord with me, so I wanted to share it here:

Two Sides of War (All Wars)
by Henry Grantland Rice

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished toys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

veterans1

Please take some time today to remember and give thanks to our veterans! I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s Year of Kindness Challenge.

saturday upsides: special delivery to the nursing home

saturdayupsidesbutton

Happy Saturday, everyone! So we all survived the end of the world … hooray! There’s an upside right there. 😉

Another upside: today is my brother’s 23rd birthday! Happy birthday, Greg!!

happy bday gb

We are going out to brunch, per our special sibling tradition, and we’ll be going out to dinner as a family. I’m excited to celebrate the birthday of my amazing brother! My first-ever memory is when he was born. I was two-and-a-half years old and I just remember standing in the living room of our old house, telling my mom to “Call Daddy, call Daddy!” My dad was at work and my mom was home with what she thought was the flu {it was two weeks before her expected due date} when her water broke … my dad rushed home and we just barely made it to the hospital in time! My family always jokes that I almost delivered my brother that day!

do good feel good

My final upside for this lovely Saturday is based on the idea “Do good, feel good.” There’s nothing like those warm-fuzzies you get when you feel like you did something nice for someone else — I find it especially powerful during the holiday season. It means so much to feel like I could make someone’s holiday a little brighter!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of my friend Jewell, who passed away two years ago in February. She was an incredibly sweet and compassionate person and I used to visit her at the local nursing home, where we shared many meals and long conversations. Here we are about a year before she died:

me and jewell

And here she is wearing a scarf I made her for Christmas:

jewell

I used to enjoy making Jewell homemade Christmas gifts and cards, and last Christmas {the first once since her death} I really missed her. This year, I had an idea: I could still give a gift to Jewell by doing something kind for others in her memory.

So I whipped up a batch of sweet treats {my butterscotch pudding cookies & holiday white chocolate pretzels!} and spent an hour making homemade cards. I used crayons, stamps, stickers, and markers to make my own designs, and I also “upcycled” some Christmas cards we’d received in previous years by cutting off the front picture and gluing it to a new piece of cardstock to make a new card.

more cards

more cards 2

I made sixteen cards in total. Then I packed up some treats on a plate, gathered all my cards together, and headed out to the nursing home for a Yuletide delivery!

special delivery!

I could feel Jewell’s warm spirit with me as I delivered the cards and cookies to the nursing home residents. They were so happy and waved and hugged me and said, “Thank you!” and “Merry Christmas!” I hope Jewell was looking down and smiling.

Want to do a similar project in your town? Here are some examples of notes I wrote in the cards:

  • Hope your holiday season is filled with joy and peace! Love, a friend
  • Someone is thinking of you this holiday season and sending warm wishes your way!
  • Merry Christmas! Have a wonderful season filled with warm memories, hope and love!

Now I’m off to finish wrapping Greg’s birthday gifts! 🙂 Have a fantastic day!