This past year has been undoubtedly the one where all the pieces and experiences in my life have finally begun to come together coherently, and it’s also been one of my hardest without my hero. Yesterday made it officially one year since my Dad passed away. The shock of his death, the anger immediately after the loss, the incredible pain of moving on every morning without him were some of my most difficult days.
I’m the one with the super-fro with my fingers in my mouth. 🙂
Then, just a few months later, another loss: my good friend Heather succumb to lyme disease after an intense, decades long battle. Not because it had finally ravaged her body, but because she decided that the best conclusion to her life was to walk in front of a train one night to end her pain.
The day I showed Heather around the Getty Museum in LA.
It cracked my heart open all over again. It drained me completely, and left me back in that bewildered fog I had just pulled myself out of. I’ve read a lot in loss literature about “What to expect” from grief, but the truth is, our experiences are all completely different. Our losses are different. Our moment to moment feelings are different. So, instead of telling you what to expect – because I can’t – or telling you what I wish someone would have told me – because I heard it all and that really never made a dent – I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about grieving this past year. From my heart, to yours…
Take care of yourself – Putting yourself first is very important, especially in times of loss. If you haven’t figured this out by the time you lose someone you love, it can be a great time to start. Eat healthy, do some yoga, work out, get out of the house. Your loved one might be gone, but you’re still here, so make the most of it.
Get Grateful – This was one of the things I posted about when I first spoke about living my medicine a few months after Dad passed, and it’s only been more solidified for me. Appreciation will get you through just about anything. Stop to feel your departed loved ones presence with you. Smell the roses. Watch the sunsets. You won’t regret it.
Get Lively – Not Lonely – Don’t shut people out. One of the first things I did after a few days of phone-off, bed-ridden grief was to reach out to my dear friends and loved ones – many of whom I had no idea had experienced similar losses to mine! This is where I found a lot of my comfort and coping mechanisms.
There’s No Such Thing As Prepared – Did I know my Daddy was dying from cancer for 2 and a half years? Yup. Did anything prepare me for the emotional toll it took to help him in his last few months? Did anything prepare me for actually being there, watching him suffer, struggle and ultimately let go? No. Nothing could have. No matter who or what it is, nothing can ever really full prepare you for the shock to your body that comes with grief. So however you find yourself going through it, go. Go whole heartedly and with reckless abandon. Because no one could have told you about how this felt even if they tried (which they may have!)
A Distraction Is a Distraction – …. Is a distraction is a distraction. It doesn’t matter what name you call it, distracting or otherwise suppressing your grief is not helping you and certainly doesn’t help anyone around you. This tends to make us bitter and manifests itself as disease. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. But the sooner you face it, the sooner you can begin to heal.
When does this thing end? – I thought feeling grief was something I’d “get over”. Turns out, it doesn’t end. I’ve lost a lot of friends, in fact, so I thought I knew what to be prepared for. Uh, no. Losing a parent was an entirely different experience for me. It wasn’t long before I realized that the emptiness from losing my Dad was going to be there – FOREVER. And P.S. It’s going to get re-triggered every.single.time I lose someone else. But instead of getting panicked about it, I got grateful. I made it my mission to begin to do things not only for myself, but as a legacy to Dad. In this way, I feel I’ve accomplished more in the last year – emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically – than I feel I did for the 27 years he was with us. It’s given me an opportunity to grow, expand, learn and get better in a way I just never would have otherwise.
Don’t Stop Working – Pushing the pain away is, at the most, a temporary option. If you need a break, take one, but taking too much time off can lead to a depressive, loaf-tastic episode or worse, losing your job. But really, in the bigger sense, don’t stop working on yourself. Don’t let death take your life away. Keep smiling, keep laughing, and remember: the world is still spinning. I have worked more, harder and better on myself in the last year than I have ever before in my life. This is, for sure, a positive result of losing my Dad.
It’s natural – 5 Stages? I wish. Throw those notions about what grief is “supposed” to look like out the window. Grief is messy and confusing and comes and goes in waves and roller coaster rides. One of the most powerful things I learned is that grief is a completely natural response to losing a loved one. Your brain actually has to process what is notwhich is much harder to process than what is. We grieve because we loved, and the loss of love is very hard. Grief is a feeling in the process of moving onto a place of healing, but it’s not the whole process.
Comfort is everywhere – and it comes from very unexpected places. The first person who ever said something super comforting to me about my Dad was a stranger making a passing comment to me on the streets of NYC the day after the funeral. He had no idea what I was going through, but he said exactly what I needed to hear. Often times when we expect certain comfort from our friends or loved ones, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is often the time when friends and family will show their true colors, so be prepared. It’s sometimes necessary to seek out ways to grieve on your own. I’ve created meditation practices and little rituals for myself, for instance, that I do every day and especially on hard days. I also started taking (and making!) tinctures for myself specifically targeted for grief and shock, like 21 Drops Carry On blend and Dr. Bach’s Star of Bethlehem.
Focus on the big picture – Admittedly I still get peeved when people use the word ‘ grief’ haphazardly, or in relation to a breakup or the end of a friendship. I know, I know. I’m working on it. Grief is a powerful, unique, personal experience and it means something different to everyone. I’ve learned to also be careful with my own words and language. I’ve been very up on my NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I don’t use phrases like ‘ I hate.’ Or ‘ I can’t.’; instead I’m focused on making my words meaningful and most importantly, empowering. This keeps my thoughts empowering and keeps me moving on. Getting stuck on the little things – like ‘trigger words’, sad songs, or whatever is holding us back – can be caught and changed immediately. I’d say I’ve gone from JV to Pro at this in the last 12 months. Ain’t nobody got time for tiny pet peeves.
All in good time – It wasn’t until last week that I even touched the photo album I have with all my Dad’s photos in it. It took me about 6 weeks after the funeral to listen to all my Dad’s voicemails. I immediately recorded them to have forever, but I’ve barely heard them since. It goes in reverse, and they span over the 2 years he was sick, so Dad goes from sounding young and healthy to sick and dying as you listen, which makes it creepy and also incredibly real for me. The point is, there’s no ‘ right time’ to look back, remember, or cherish memories you had with your deceased loved one. Do it when it doesn’t hurt you. I can look at the photo album of my Dad now and smile, laugh, and tell stories and jokes. It took me almost a year, but it feels incredibly rewarding. You’ll never forget them, but you don’t have to flood yourself with tough memories to ‘ get over it’.
It’s your experience – I know I harp on having a PMA (positive mental attitude) a lot, but for me there’s no other choice because it has shown such massive results in my life to keep my head and chin up, even when I am feeling down. Even if I am “tricking” my body into feeling better, the ultimate result is more love, light and miracles in my life, so that doesn’t feel very deceptive to me. I can say that, even through the loss of my friends, or my Dad, I’ve been happy. There is a saying, “ Don’t let a bad phone call give you a bad day.” For instance, you may speak with someone who puts you in a negative mood for a moment, but that doesn’t have to put you in a bad mood for the next day or the next week! This is your experience and yours completely. Life rarely hands us things like that, so make the most of it and make it empowering for your life. Think of the good times, laugh through the bad times, forgive yourself, let yourself have some inspiring a-ha moments, and then relax. There is nothing more you could have done or said. Whether you write about your experience, give back to a cause in their name, or somehow share your experience in an empowering way, make the most of what you’re going through. What feels like the end of something if often a new beginning. When one door closes, sometimes a whole other house is built, just waiting for you to stop by and make a home.
Finally, a helpful meditation for those of you who are grieving a loss:
I woke up in the same bed facing the same corner of the same room I was in when I spoke to my Dad for one of the last time’s before he passed away 5 months ago.
After a good cry session, I left the house to head down to the beach, in search of healing.
Honestly, I was so sad on the way there. I mean crying in front of strangers sad (not my thing, btw). I was walking by the beach, staring at the beautiful, roaring ocean, letting the tears come. I had a destination in mind, but instead I walked another mile down to the Self Realization Temple.
Passing by throngs of strangers, trying to hide my tears, I heard a voice say:
‘How can you be sad? Everything has been given to you.’
I looked around me, but either the person had already left or…
A wave of peace rushed over me and I stopped walking. There, in front of me, were two empty chairs overlooking the sunset. I sat down and stared at the tranquil ocean. I felt, I swear, like I was sitting there with him.
I knew my Dad had already given me everything and anything I could ever have wanted. He affected my life in the best way possible. He loved me In a way people rarely receive love. Unconditionally.
And I am here, now.
I have to appreciate that.
After I moved, he would always ask me if I planned on staying in California. Not because he wanted me back in NY (I was flying back home to visit just about every month… cause damnit, I missed him!) but because he wanted to make sure that’s where my destiny was supposed to take me and, most importantly, that things were working out. That means that the best way that I can live. . . is to make things work out. And maybe I don’t have him here to guide me (at least not in the way I was used to), but I know he’s helping me work out the kinks in his own way.
I gave myself blessings for my good health, strong will, and a host of other things I’ve become extraordinarily grateful for. Honestly, watching him suffer so much, and losing him, was one of my greatest fears, and I still bravely face the reality of it each and every day. I smiled on a day I never, ever thought I’d be capable of smiling.
We all want to believe that our trials in life are harder than other’s. It gives us a sense of importance, or entitlement. How many times have you heard someone say, “If someone had only gone through what I had gone through, they wouldn’t be…” There are a lot of people who’s main joy in life consists of comparison – a small comfort to bring a sense of triumph into their own lives.
Your health, your youth and your livelihood are all influenced by your mind. Self pity is one of the worst mental habits I, or anyone, could have right now (or ever!) It creeps in and makes allowances for our faults, places blame on others and robs us of our self respect. So don’t ever let someone, or some event, try to take your happiness away from you. It is better to have your conscience and your logic and your health and your sense of well being, than to have the approval of people. I miss my Dad. A lot. That’s the truth. But the bigger truth is: he’d want me to be happy. No one took anything away from me: in fact, quite the opposite. I truly feel like in having my Dad in my life for the 27 amazing years that I did, I was given an amazing gift.
The best view of all is what you see in others. There is a lot of happiness cultivated in small things: in gratitude, in noticing details, in stopping and remembering and in focusing on your breath. In listening, and appreciating what is right in front of you, right now. I encourage you to find your Happiness. Your happiness is your success.
A couple of months ago, one of my greatest fears came true. My hero, my Father, passed away. Watching a parent die of Cancer is a life changing experience, and it’s definitely kept me from making unhealthy decisions all willy-nilly the way I used to in high school and College. Facing your mortality isn’t always the most comforting experience, but if you use this to empower your life, it can be incredibly rewarding. I have allowed myself to really live, mostly because that’s what my Dad would want me to do.
For the first few weeks all I wanted to do was sleep. It wasn’t real to me, I didn’t feel like myself and I was completely exhausted. Caring for my Dad in his final months, as well as the emotionally exhausting part of realizing he was actually gone, had drained me in every way.
+ Live, Learn, Do Nothing
When I came home I spent a few days curled up with a good book, listening to a ton of lectures about spirituality, dealing with death and life empowerment. This proved to be extremely important, since a lot of times I was at a loss about how to be comforted. My dear friend Josh Rosebrook actually sent me some great YouTube videos about crossing over and dealing with your departed that really changed the way I was grieving (for the better!) almost immediately. I also took a social media break and allowed myself plenty of time to just do nothing, which was hard for me but has proved very integral to healing.
Travel is one of my greatest therapies and I feel so lucky to be able to do it. I finally lived out my dream of driving up to Northern California from Southern California (and back!) to work a Whole Foods Event in Monterey. We were graced with incredible weather, food, people and organic products, as well as toured the Monterey Bay Aquarium before it opened. I also went down to NOLA for my first time at the beginning of the month for an exciting project that I can hardly wait to share with you guys! New Orleans is amazing and I had a blast.
+ Healing Rituals
I light a candle for my Dad, my family and all my Ancestors once a day. It keeps me mindful of where I came from, and grateful for who I am.
Whether it’s hiking, walking, swimming, surfing or just taking Raels for a good walk, I go out and spend some time in nature each and every day, no excuses. My Dad actually inspired this a ton. While we were going through his things for the funeral I found “running log” books dated from before I was born well into 2000. He ran each and every single day, wrote down his stats, and even made little notes in the comments section about how he felt he was doing. That kind of dedication inspired me incredibly to live his legacy in that same way.
Once a day, at least. On the beach. Thanks, Dad. 🙂
More of it, and everywhere. I visit the Self Realization Temples in Hollywood and Encinitas, but I also practice quite a bit at home and in nature.
It’s just fun. 🙂
Oh, books. What the hell would I do without you? I’ve devoured quite a few – books on healing, autobiographies, some sci fi, and lots and lots of quantum theory. This especially helps me to put my life into perspective, and even gets me lost in thought for the afternoon in the best ways. Books that have been especially helpful are The Field, which my dear & talented friend Richard J Oliver recommended for me, Gandhi’s Autobiography, and The Book Of Secrets: Unlocking The Hidden Dimensions Of Your Life by Deepak Chopra, where he talks about losing his Dad quite a bit.
Between listening to it, working on it, and doing tons of music videos, music has kept me crazy amounts of sane these last few months. Since the Arctic Monkeys video I did a couple of months ago, I’ve done videos with Young Money, Lea Michele, Calvin Harris, A Day To Remember, and Snoop Dogg, to name a few, and did my first casting work for a Demi Lovato music video. I really, really enjoy this work. It’s fun and creative and everyone is so great to work with. Thanks, LA. You really know how to keep a girl on her toes!
Not only have I found my perfect mix of supplements for amazing skin, I found an incredible all natural esthetician and have started getting the most life changing facials. I’ve also found some holy grail green products that I can’t wait to share with you guys that have truly saved my face! I feel so much better, younger, and confident.
I took my first acting class this week and I think I have found my new therapy. I missed it so much. Acting is definitely one of my greatest passions and I really look forward to pursuing it in LA. Another reason to wake up in the morning? Check, plz! I’ll take it. 🙂
+ It’s Pamper Time!
I got myself a new ‘do. Thanks, Groupon. You can get a girl a makeover without breaking her bank. 😉
+ Natural Rx’s
One of the first things a doctor suggested when I explained that my Dad had just passed away, was drugs. “Short term anti-depressants” she called them, and took out her pad to write me a prescription. Not relying on something prescribed to “calm me down” at a time like this in my life would have seemed totally impossible just a few years ago. I told her pretty plainly that it wasn’t an option for me. The only kind of treatment I’d leave with would be vitamins or supplements, thank you. Luckily, she quickly obliged. But the suggestion reminded me of days when I truly believed there was a cure in taking “short term” drugs every day. We all make different choices in how to heal, but personally, I think myself and my soul are perfectly fine without them.
Between all your incredibly touching words, messages, suggestions, stories and encouragement, I have been so overwhelmed with Love and Kindness since sharing my story that I am at a loss of how to begin to thank anyone. Just knowing that I am not alone or crazy in the way that I feel about death or losing a parent or any of that is comforting enough. I can’t even name the now hundreds of people who have made me feel better in just the last few months. We are all stronger than we know and smarter than we think, aren’t we? Thank you all for sharing parts of yourselves with me. I really look forward to sharing some new, incredible things I’ve discovered on this journey with you.
Today’s Mantra: The higher you climb the better the view.
First of all, I wanted to say thank you for all of the love, support, and kindness you’ve shown me since I shared that my Dad passed away. I have poured through your overwhelmingly beautiful messages and gifts of strength, that have come to me in so many different shapes and sizes. The absolute grace and fortitude that life has shown me during such a difficult time through the beautiful gestures of other people still overwhelms me. I can’t thank you enough. I know we are all fighting hard battles and I appreciate those of you who are there for me as you go through your own. It means everything.
There is and always will be a hole in my heart, even as I try my best to celebrate my Dad more with every day that passes, instead of getting overwhelmingly sad. As many of you know, losing a Parent, the person you look up to the most, is hard as hell. And being in this “watch helplessly while your Parent dies of cancer” club has been, well, terrible… and incredibly difficult. Nothing can prepare you. And believe me, there’s a lot of us. Too many. Being there with my Dad at the end of his life and witnessing his suffering, transition and passing was (and continues to be) an overwhelming experience that created a spark that I will always carry with me in the appreciation and respect of my own life and path. But man, it’s still hard to deal with and I miss him so much…
And even though writing is one of my absolute favorite ways to express myself in the whole wide World, I need to allow myself some room to breathe before getting back to my little corner of the internet. We often push ourselves to “bounce back” from emotional trauma, not only because we truly WANT to be okay, but sometimes other’s expect us to just “get on with it”. Yes, maybe we still have to work, shower, eat or do things here and there that we’re not sure how we even seem to manage while grieving, but emotional trauma can cause just as much damage as physical trauma if it’s not addressed and dealt with in a healthy way. As much as we can look okay on the outside, if we’re not addressing what’s going on on the inside, we’re in dangerous territory.
Really, what this means is, I have to put myself first before I can go on helping anyone else. I haven’t made any commitments to myself as far as blogging other than: When I come back, this thing is going to be even more amazing than it was before. And I am gathering a pretty incredible, super talented team to help me make that happen. 🙂
Thank you all for being so patient with me, for honoring my space to grieve, for being so kind, thank you for being so understanding, and for sharing your own stories with me. Thank you for being you, and for being here. I am beyond grateful for each and every one of you.
As many of you know, my Dad had Cancer for the past few years. He was doing very well and able to overcome a tremendous amount of obstacles – still active, golfing, and going to the gym until just a few months ago. About a year ago, the Cancer traveled to his brain, and after multiple surgeries, treatment & putting up the bravest & strongest fight I’ve ever seen, my Dad passed away exactly a month before his birthday. His whole family was in the room, we were talking to him, praying for him, and sent him all of our love. I got to spend many precious hours by his side and I will cherish every moment until the day that I take my own last breath. It is still unimaginable to me that I will never see him again in this life.
I would truly love and appreciate your patience with me and the respect for our privacy during this incredibly difficult time. I am taking some time off to grieve with my family and properly feel the loss of my Dad.
If you knew Dad and would like to attend his wake, feel free to send me an e-mail for details. If you’d like to send condolences, please donate to the Hospice where he spent his last days. They took such good care of him and made him comfortable and peaceful for his last moments, as well as treated us so wonderfully. These things are so important at the end of life and we are so grateful to all the incredible people who showed us so much love. We are also donating to the National Brain Tumor Society, since this is the Cancer that ultimately took him from us.
My beliefs in life, exploration, passion and finding your own path to healing grow stronger with each passing second. I appreciate each and every beautiful moment that I got to spend with my Dad and I fully feel each and all of your wonderful words of strength and encouragement. Thank you to everyone who has shown my Family Love.
We all have our reasons for Healthy Living, and here is mine: My Dad.
Dad was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2011. It began in his lungs and eventually ( and quite rapidly) spread to his bladder, kidneys and brain. He was diagnosed right after I moved 3,000 miles away, and so these past months have been some of the most trying, difficult, heartbreaking, character building and honestly miraculous months of my life.
I have watched him recover enough to play golf and travel just weeks after they removed his left kidney, seen him battle through the affects of not one but 2 different chemo medications, watched him reading the paper and discuss stocks just hours after brain surgery #1, and now, months after the radiation meant to kill the cancer still left in his brain, he finally needs my help. It’s quite honestly the least that I can do for a man who took care of me my whole life – who’s my adoptive Father as well as maternal (and only) Grandfather, and the inspiration, as well as the reason, for everything good in my life. It’s been difficult not knowing what is temporary, what’s permanent, or how much time we have together, since they gave him 6 months left to live over 2 years ago.
Have I cried a lot? You bet. Have I gotten angry a bunch? Hell yeah. Do I bawl every time I get off the phone with my parents? You betcha. Does it hurt being so far away? Jesus yes. Have I thought about moving back home? Every day. Is it extremely difficult to discuss? What, am I made of steel?
I don’t believe in feeling sorry for myself, but it hurts a lot to see and hear my Dad in pain.
And I must say, I’ve learned a lot. The first thing my parents told me after I suggested moving back to NY just a month after moving to Cali was, “Don’t even think about it. You have your own life and you have to live it and live it well.”
Man, was that one important.
I do get to come home often and though it’s kinda tough to admit when your parents know better than you, they really were right: it HAS been much better this way. I’ve grown a lot by moving and traveling and am much better able to help them, be patient with them, and speak with them kindly and openly. It’s definitely helped me put Life in perspective and throw a lot of my selfish needs and unhealthy lifestyle right out the window.
I don’t take a single moment with my parents or my loved ones, or the way I treat myself, for granted. At all. I’m not perfect, but I do my best to live the way that would make my own children (and that makes my parents) very proud. It’s been a series of beautiful life lessons and I feel very grateful to still have Dad around to hug and kiss and love on. Yes, you can blame the nasty chemo drugs that stole his appetite, his energy, his motor skills and his hair for why he’s still kickin, but ask him what his plans are next year, and he’ll have an answer for you. It’s completely his mentality, his bravery and his strength – completely – that has kept him with us. I truly believe that.
And after over 2 years of only my closest friends and family knowing about this, I share it candidly with you today. If it helps even one person out there to feel less alone, or to live a little better, it was totally worth it.
I hope this inspires you to hold your loved ones a little closer today, to value your health, to believe in yourself, trust your body to healing, and leave the bullshit at home. Not a single moment is guaranteed to us. I am beyond grateful to have made it this far and to be given the beautiful opportunities, family, friends & experiences that I have.
Life is short: do what you love and love unconditionally.