When a shirt is more than just a shirt


I know I keep sharing A LOT of stories right now about how happy I feel with my health transformation.  But I just can’t help myself.  Everyday there is something new that I am discovering and experiencing.  For all of you have been following me through the rollercoaster of the past 3 years, I want to share the ways that joy is becoming a stronger thread in my life.  As I unfold more parts of my healing journey I stand in awe of the power we have to heal ourselves, especially if we are blessed enough to be wrapped in love from communities of people.   I simply can hardly believe how many shifts I am personally experiencing right now.

The shirt I am wearing in the picture here is one I bought on a shopping spree with my kids in the first few months after Russell died. We were quite impulsive in those first few months, saying YES to anything that brought even a few moments of a smile and some happiness. When I bought this shirt I bought it because of the tree that reminded me of the tree necklace my sister, Becca, had given me that never left my neck in the week Russell was in the hospital and for the months after he died. That necklace was my talisman and I held it ALL of the time as I would focus on just breathing through my days. When I saw the shirt I knew I had to have it, even though it was way too small and I might never be able to wear it. Just having it in my closet as another visual to take a breath and be gentle with myself was all that I needed.

Grief clogs our bodies as if lead has been poured directly into our bones.   As we travel through the first days, weeks, months, and years the toll upon our beings goes far beyond anything we can imagine.  The shock of everything in those early times can send us spinning into a space of seeking comfort in any way we possibly can, just to find even a few moments of ease for our aching hearts and minds.  We practice self-care. We cry. We laugh at the craziest of things. We hugs the people and animals who bring us relief. We shop. We sleep. We look for things that can bring us glimmers of joy. We spend time with people who will support and love us even on our darkest days.  We just focus on our breathe some days. We eat whatever brings us comfort.   We do whatever we can simply to get through our days without falling completely apart.

Some of the things we do are able to bring us true comfort and ease, even if only for a short time.  But some of the things, in bringing us temporary ease, can set us onto a path that further clogs up our hearts, our minds and our bodies.    The unclogging of ourselves, after the shock has settled, can be as monumental of a task as learning to live a life without our loved ones.   Even with a lot of support, it can feel so daunting that we spend years moving through our lives as if we are stuck in mud up to our knees. Oh we can make progress forward towards living a new  life, but getting there through the muckity muck we are now immersed in can feel beyond exhausting.   We take a step, yanking our leg up out of the mud that keeps us stuck, then we take another and wonder if we will ever, truly feel free to move again.

It is only recently, in my new dedication to learning healthier habits and reclaiming my body, that I am coming to realize how deeply the emotions and internal struggles of the past 3 years since Russell died have settled into my physical body.   All of the aches and pains and inability to move has been connected to my physical weight, but more powerfully it has been the physical manifestation of my emotional, grieving and healing journey.  My poor body has held sooooo much pain of my own and the others close to me who are grieving.   That I’ve not had a complete physical breakdown is a kind of miracle. Actually, I think that is true for all of us who experience traumatic losses in our lives.

As I lose the weight that has physically weighed down my body, the greater joy for me is the feeling that my heart and mind are losing the heavy weight of grief as well.   It’s as if, in saying YES to fueling my body in healthier ways and watching the pounds melt away, I am also saying YES to releasing some of the threads of grief that are wrapped around me.   Not only is my body moving more freely but my whole being feels lighter and ready to transform into a newer version of me.

For 2 1/2 years my tree shirt has hung in my closet, front and center all of the time, to serve as a goal for that someday that I can wear; that someday that I have released enough of the weight to fit into it. On Saturday night, I decided it was time to try it.  And IT FIT!  I cannot describe adequately enough what it felt like to wear this shirt that is sooo much more than a shirt.  Yes the shirt is one I love and am very excited to be able to wear again because of my physical transformation.  But more importantly, it speaks to the heart transformation I am experiencing.

Just as I’ve held onto a lot of extra pounds, I’ve held onto my grief for the deepest loss in my life so far.  As I stared at myself in the mirror with this shirt that I had to have “just because”, I was struck by the freedom I felt.  The freedom to wear something I’ve wanted to wear for 2 1/2 years; the freedom to believe that my transformation is really happening; the freedom to admit that the mantle of grief I’ve been wrapped up in is beginning to ease away.

I have no doubt that there will be moments for the rest of my life that I will grieve but for the first time in 3 years I am freely moving with new things that are completely my own, not connected with Russell.  The cottage we live in is ours.  The new “I am a Warrior” path and retreats are mine. The new steps as a health coach are mine.  I am actively creating a life for myself that is not under the umbrella of my grief.  And that brings me great joy.

This tree shirt is about way more than a shirt or even about losing physical pounds. It is about how, like a warrior, I am striving for the transformation I want even if it takes me years to get where I dream of being.     I am feeling way too good about my body, my heart, my mind, and my life’s purpose to stop now.   And if I can hold onto a shirt for 2 12 years with deep hope that someday I would be able to fit my body into it, then I can most definitely hold onto hope that I WILL  become the person I most long to be.  What a joyous thing that is!


Not Enough Words & Too Many Words


There is so much rambling inside of my heart and head right now that I find it near impossible to find the words I want to write, no that I need to write.  No words seem adequate and yet there is too much I want to say as well.

For the past 24 hours I’ve been in deep shock, a shock as deep as the night that Russell died.  Rocked to the very depths of my being, I have been curled up in a ball crying and shaking and reminding myself to breathe, Just Breathe!    I stepped back into another rabbit hole last night and have been traveling the twisty paths of Cuckoo Luckoo Land – that place where things just make no sense.

Last night we received word that Ayanna,  my life coach, my mentor, my most trusted confidant, and my lifeline for the past several year died on Wednesday after a battle with cancer.  From the sounds of the information from her husband it was a very brief battle of just a few months.  Considering I hadn’t seen her for about 7 weeks, knew nothing of her cancer, she was younger than me, and last time I saw her she was the epitome of health, the news is beyond shocking to me.    I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and then shoved me head first down a rabbit hole into the darkness again.  As I tumbled down the hole my entire being just kept screaming “What? Why? How? Whhyyyy?”

I’ve texted some with Ayanna’s husband but it has all been supportive messages between us. I’ve withheld from asking the hundreds of questions running through my mind.  He doesn’t need to answer anyone’s questions right now. There will be a celebration of life ceremony for Ayanna sometime soon and perhaps then I will find some answers. Most likely I will never know all of the story.  But then again, I know that none of us ever can really know what the whole story is anyway.  Even if we are there for the acting out of the story there is always some shadow piece, some part of the puzzle that remains unknown to us.

As I have followed the twists and turns of this new journey in Cuckoo Luckoo Land I have slept and eaten very little.  The pain is too raw, both physical and emotional.  Ayanna has known more of my story – every little nuanced piece of it – for 5 years that I cannot imagine her not being part of my ongoing healing and transformation.  With her I was always able to say anything and everything that I needed to say. Plus she could hear the things even I couldn’t speak out loud. She had this amazing ability to read the unspoken words of my heart and heal me in more ways than I can even name.  The tools that she helped me to learn are more valuable to me than anything I ever learned from a book or in a school.

Just being in her presence could provide peace and healing for me.  She would walk into a room like a radiant, light and love filled Amazon Warrior Queen.  When I was with her I believe anything was possible, even the seemingly impossible.  More than any other person she was an advocate for me to write my story – my story of Cuckoo Luckoo Land with Russell and the healing steps I have taken since.  She was going to help me write that book and also a book about healing through grieving. We talked about creating a program to help those who support people who have lost a loved one. She was going to do programs at Avalon Sanctuary – a space she believed was infused with light and love and that is truly a magical space.  When she was there at our anniversary bonfire she said she could feel the room pulsing with healing energy.  There were so many more things I hoped to journey through together.

Part of the powerful light throughout this 24 hour journey has been Ayanna herself, smiling to me and speaking clearly to me. “Dive into the pain Lara. Dive deeper. Keep diving. I am here in the light. Breathe and dive into all. Feel it; scream it; know it.  I’m still here. You can do this. You will do this. You’re not alone.  Love and Light and Peace is all around you. Trust the journey.  You are a warrior of love and it is your time to step forward and stand on your own. You are ready. Dance in the shadow place. Write your story. Heal your heart.”  Throughout all of my crazy dreaming as I’ve tried to sleep she has been in them, smiling and speaking to me.  What a gift that has been.

I honestly do not know what I will do without the presence of this unique, powerful, love filled, healing woman in my life.  Never have I met anyone else like her and never have I entrusted anyone else with as much of my full story as I have with her.  Her presence in my life over these last 5 years has brought me to more understanding about myself and the world than I ever could have imagined. She has helped me transform myself and my relationships in profound ways. And I do not believe I would be anywhere near as far along my healing path since Russell’s death as I am today.     I have a long way to go in many aspects but I credit her with helping me get to where I am today.

Tonight I watch The Matrix, a movie Ayanna and I often talked about as we explored the ways in which we can rethink what reality is.  It’s a favorite movie for both of us. “You are faster (or stronger) than you think. Don’t think you are. Know you are.”  “I’m trying to free your mind Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.  You have to let it all go. Fear. Doubt. Disbelief. FREE YOUR MIND!”    Morpheus just spoke these words to Neo as I was writing.  THIS is what Ayanna wanted me to believe.  That I could free my mind. That I am powerful and magical and full of infinite possibility.  She believed in me and this is what I will choose to take with me as I now make my way out of Cuckoo Luckoo Land back into my world.

Ayanna has reminded me again that there is no time but the one we are in.  I must live my life as authentically, as powerfully, as fully in the moment as I possibly can.  I must live my life out loud, telling people that I love and believe in them.  I must follow my dreams now.  I must do what I can to help heal the world and provide a place of breathing sanctuary because I believe this is part of my life’s purpose.  I must write my stories and share these with the world; it is for my healing and for those who need to hear only the story that I can tell.  I must be the warrior woman of love and light that I want to be. I must seek joy and believe it is okay to do so.

In this time, in this moment I breathe and I am thankful for the light that Ayanna has been for me.  May I continue to share that light with those around me who need it.  As I step out of the dark and back into the light I promise you Ayanna, I won’t forget the journey we’ve had.  Thank you!


Inhale, Exhale


To breathe – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.  Sometimes, oftentimes, that is all I am confident I can do. It’s what got me through Russell’s traumatic illness and death. It’s what got me through the days, weeks, months of shock that followed. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale – over and over and over again. Standing still, eyes often closed to picture my breath, letting go of any and all expectations upon myself but to focus on my breath.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

I find myself turning to this again as I prepare myself for Kateri to move to her new job in Hampshire, IL which is about 5 hours from home. She will be working at a horse farm with a talented rider and trainer who she greatly respects.  It is a wonderfully grand adventure for her first move away from home.    Just writing those few words took longer than it normally would as I had to stop and breathe – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

As thrilled as I am for this new opportunity for Kateri, an opportunity that fills her with confident excitement, the thought of not seeing her everyday threatens to drop me to my knees.  Being with my children everyday, being able to hug them and talk with them everyday, has been one of the key pieces of my healing journey.  To not have one of them here is almost unfathomable to me.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

The moving out of a child is hard for all parents I am sure. We want them to grow and fly free. But we also want them to be close by, able to be hugged at a moment’s notice. We want to see them become strong, confident adults while also wistfully longing for the days we could still hold their hand in public.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

I am experiencing a rawness, a view through a darker lens as I am poignantly reminded that I alone am the parent helping launch Kateri into the adult world and will be doing the same with Soren and Demetri in the next several years.  I am reminded more deeply, more singularly that as my children leave I will soon be alone. All of the dreams that Russell and I shared for “when the kids are grown” are no longer a possibility. They shattered into a million pieces when he died.  And in the preparations for Kateri’s move I am made vividly aware that all dreams are now just my own. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Layers upon layers upon layers of emotions I’ve been feeling these past weeks have left me near mute.  I haven’t been able to write about it much less talk about it.  And I haven’t even wanted to – for my own sake as well as Kateri’s I have chosen to stay in the moment, embracing and loving every precious one as the gift that it is.  I’ve chosen to wait to share my story so as not to draw away from Kateri’s joy.  I have chosen to see the awesomeness of this new path for her and help her find her way through her own fears, worries and questions. I have chosen to love this time for all that it is – the joy and the sorrow, the looking forward and the looking back, the mystery and the known, the tears and the laughter.  All of it is part of one magical whole. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

As the words bubble up inside of me, ready to spoken, I focus again on my breath, the most powerful tool I have to stay balanced and grounded.  With tears flowing down my cheeks and a smile on my face I trust the path I am on and the one that Kateri steps onto today.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.