Friday, July 29, 2011

Let it Rain

Ellen Newmark in the Himalayas, 2009

My friend and writing sister, Ellen, died last month. I got home from Europe and took a flight down to San Diego so we could say good-bye. She taught me so much about living life -- really living it -- and then she taught me about dying -- bravely, and with gratitude. She was my friend but so much more...too much, I've decided after many failed attempts, to convey in a blog post. 

We have all lost people we love. We have all felt the spreading void of their absence filling the rooms, the streets, the fields, the very sky, until we find ourselves pressed out on the ground underneath the weight of all that emptiness, wondering how? How can this be? And how will we possibly get up and face a world that feels so different now?

But we do get up, eventually, and we go on living -- really living -- because that is the best way to honor the dead, and ourselves. It is what Ellen insisted on.

She is gone, but still I feel her here. I feel her like I feel the scarf she gave me -- light, warmth, comfort, a hint of her perfume. How can this be? And yet it is.

Back in March, I wrote the following post, but I didn't publish it. There were a lot of scary things going on in the world, as there always is, and I was trying to wrap my head and heart around the fact that Ellen was not going to recover as we had so fervently hoped.


There's a storm hitting us, and it's ferocious. The rain and wind batter away at our Barngalow, so loud now that our dog, Stuart, and our cat, Bob, keep looking up from their naps to the ceiling, then planting their eyes on me, asking What the hell? 

Through the window, the tree branches have transformed into a crowd of rioters, going at each other in a panic, throwing the weakest to the ground.

But it's only a storm, not a tsunami, not an earthquake, not escaping steam from a nuclear power plant, not a war-zone. We are warm and snug and safe in the moment, something I wish were true for everyone in this world.

My friend Diana and I had plans to drive an hour south and hike Mount Tamalpais today, but you know what they say about plans. Instead I'm still in my pjs, nursing an extra cup of coffee, thinking about all that's happened this past month. As Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

My own dream in my own little corner of the world, finally realized. And yet, as more good news from my agent came in emails and phone calls, I watched the nightmare unfolding in Japan and then Libya, watched unfathomable devastation wreaking its havoc on people who had woken that morning much like I had woken, thinking about whatever it is we think about in those first moments when we're on autopilot. I'd like to say I always wake with gratitude, but sometimes my mind is bent on the need to get the coffee going, take the dog out to pee, pay this or that bill, and get this done or that done. We wake as if it's just another day, ho hum, la-tee-dah, as if we have all the time in the world. But the truth is, none of us have that kind of time. We're all going to die, but most of us don't know when or how. Most of us, myself included, would rather not think about it.

Someone I love very much is teaching me about dying. It's a privilege to talk with her. She knows things the rest of us can't know until we're willing to sit face to face with our own mortality. I am learning how to listen. I am trying to learn to quiet the NO that keeps shouting through my head so I can truly hear her. I am trying to learn how to someday say good-bye to her with acceptance instead of fear or denial or a clutching heart.

Today's storm will move on, leaving the sun to do its thing. The trees will rest in peace again, raindrops like crystals on a chandelier will sparkle from their calmed, harmonious branches as Mother Nature takes a deep breath, decides to return to civility. Yes, the sun will shine again, gloriously, but as always, keep casting its shadows, too.

It's such a mixed bag, this life. The sorrow -- we all know it wouldn't be so hard if the joy wasn't so damn sweet. And good-byes wouldn't be so difficult if the love wasn't woven through our core, connecting every part of us. But what can we do? Go ahead, I say. Love with utter abandon, drink up the joy with lip-smacking gusto. And when it's time to cry, let it rain. Let the raging storm have its way.


  1. This was a beautiful post.
    That's really all I can say, that and I am very sorry to hear of your loss.

  2. Amazing and heartfelt. I am sorry for your loss, though this story/essay is beauty in itself.

  3. Hugs Seré. I feel your loss and sadly, fully understand this sentiment. Yet I, too, often "wake as if it's just another day..."
    Yet it's not another day, is it? It's another goddamn blessing! And we should honor it (and others who no longer have the privilege of doing so) as such by, as you say, living it fully "with lip-smacking gusto."
    Yes! Ellen knows you'll continue to do this, to live and love life, to make each day more than just a "ho hum, la-tee-dah" breeze.

    You, dear Seré, listened well to your good friend. She's smiling, you know.

  4. beautifully said, Sere - as always.

  5. Sydneylk: Thank you, and thanks for stopping by. So nice to meet you.

    Shopgirl: You are so kind. Thank you!

    Wow: Hug received and much appreciated.

    Jayne: Even your comments are inspiring. Thank you my friend. (Read her blog; it's a knockout.)

    Angelica: So good to see your sweet self here. Thank you. :)

  6. What a wonderful way to remember Ellen. Just seeing that photo of her, so happy and so full of life, brought tears to my eyes. I did not know her well, but she was very supportive and encouraging to me. At least she had four years to see her dream of being a famous author fulfilled, and also to live life to the hilt.

    You're right. All we can do is love life with abandon. And love our friends while they are still with us for who knows what will happen. I loved your ode to mortality and could relate to it closely. Last year was a storm for me with the death of one of my best friends and the unexpected and shocking, loss of my greatest love.

    As you wrote about the storm,"When it's time to cry, let it rain. Let the raging storm have its way." Then, once the storm is passed, we learn to take joy rather than sadness from the loss of our loved ones, and feed on our memories of them, and on the treasure that their lives and friendship gave us.

  7. So sorry.

    I'm sure the loss is weighing on many lives.

    Such a hard thing. Probably never meant to get easier.

  8. Pennie: It's my favorite photo of her. I'm so glad you got to meet Ellen. What a difficult year that must have been for you with so much loss. But I love your perspective -- you have an inspiring attitude that always comes through your blog and your comments. Thank you.

    Jason: Thank you. Yes, she touched many people and was so encouraging to other writers. I've noticed how encouraging you are to other writers, too. :)

  9. Beautifully said Sere. Yes, let it rain, a downpour of sorrow. I miss her. I still think, how can she be gone? But she isn't, we carry her in our hearts, and blogs, and so many places.

  10. What a beautiful post and tribute to your friend. Such an honor to read (and so sad, too). I'm so sorry for your loss, but I also love how you are focusing on LIFE as a way to honor her passing. Such wise words. xo

  11. Chelo: Yes, Chelo. And in our dreams, too. :) Thank you.

    Sarah: So lovely to see you here. Thank you for stopping by and for your very kind words. I think we must be related in the publishing family tree via Denise and Elisabeth! Lucky, lucky us to have both of them.

  12. Elle was such a wonderful woman and will be sadly missed! I never had the chance to meet her personally but have "known" her for over 4 years. This was such a beautiful post - thank you for sharing it!

  13. xowi abt ur siz n hug hug
    Lets follow each other

  14. Beautiful post. I didn't know your friend Ellen but the feeling of loss and dealing with it is universal, so I felt your pain and loved your way of dealing with it.
    After reading your post here, I'm even more looking forward to reading The Underside of Joy.
    It isn't released in Australia till Feb 2012.

  15. Having lost my youngest daughter to a brain tumor last year after a seven year battle, she left three teenage sons. She lived life to the fullest and planned her own celebration of life. She was a nurse, but at the celebration I found how many lives she had truly touched. Her 33 yeats were a gift to all of us. Your blog I found via Writer's Digest and I am glad I did cause it really touched my heart. Thank You for sharing it. May your path in life be smooth and your winds comforting, Turtle

  16. tg: Thank you! So sorry for this slow response. I've been neglecting this blog but am getting back to it. I'm glad you had the opportunity to know Elle. In this ongoing missing of her I also know how lucky I am to have known her.

    chulala: Thanks for stopping by.

    the tame lion: Thank you very much.

    dale: Thank you. Nice to hear from an Australian friend. The book comes out in the US on January 12, so you won't be far behind. Your kind words and interest mean a lot.

    turtle: Your comment really touched me. What a huge loss you've experienced. I am so very sorry. Your daughter sounds like such a beautiful, giving soul. As a mother of sons, my heart goes out to those three boys. I'm glad they have you. Take good care, and please know how much your words mean to me.

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  25. This was a beautiful post. That's really all I can say, that and I am very sorry to hear of your loss.


  26. The Underside of Joy by Sare Prince Halveson 2012 303pg
    This is the story of a woman who has repeated miscarriages resulting in divorce. She marries a man whose wife has deserted him and left him with 2 small children. This is an Italian family that had experienced being Illegal aliens during WW2. The book is about stepchildren, post natal trauma and the fact that people struggle to live with family secrets. First book by this author and is superb, it takes place in a small town in California.
    I hope this is the first of a number of novels by this author.