The Final Chapter: The Tragedy that Changed My Life (Part 6)

While this is the last post in the “Tragedy that Changed My Life” series, as the title says, I’m forever changed. The lasting effects my family’s loss will have on my life will continue — probably forever — and bring up feelings, questions and major life decisions, many of which I will share here. I could never sum up in six parts what impact my family’s loss has had on me, my husband and children, and will probably never truly grasp it myself. But I can share the insight, wisdom and clarity I feel I have been given, maybe helping others who struggle in certain areas of their own lives.

Kristen and Me 2003

5 Life Lessons I Learned from Loss

Teach by Example Since July, I put myself and my work on hold. For a while there, I felt paralyzed, having no clue how to move forward in that arena while being the best possible wife and mother to those who needed me most. But I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and my needs during that time. In fact, I’ve learned over the past six months that to be the best I can possibly be and to teach my children everything I can, I need to lead by example — not by words. And you know what… that example sometimes means prioritizing my own needs whether they’re physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual. I’ve learned that I need to just say no when necessary and I am working on taking time to live in the moment (and breathe). I may make mistakes (many, many mistakes), lose my temper or temporarily forget to focus on what’s really important, but I am human. It’s not about the mistakes I make, but how I respond to those mistakes, learn from them and grow as a human being.

Stop Focusing on the Shell For one day, stop and count how many times you negatively refer to your own body. Think about all the things you do trying to keep yourself looking young and how much time, effort and money you spend to get there. As a society, we are so focused on a person’s “shell” and so often miss the beauty within. Spend time fostering your inner spirit, finding the people, activities and choices that make your heart sing. Instead of an hour at the gym, take a hike with friends… commit to taking a couple of hours on the weekend to do something you’ve never done before… or choose to let go of that person you think everyone else expects you to be and just be yourself. In my opinion, we could eradicate obesity, disease and depression if we let go of focusing so much attention on our shell and, instead, spend time everyday feeding our heart and soul.

Simplify This has been one of the biggest life lessons for me and has created some major change in our family. Since July, we have decided to up the ante on the quality of life and do away with anything that keeps us from achieving it. I no longer dream of the day I can unload my mom car (the ever-sexy “Hotyssey“), have cut down on unnecessary spending (like those five billion channel TV packages when we hardly watch live TV) and have cleaned out closets, drawers and those baby items we will never (yes, I mean never, ever, ever) need again. Life is too short to live among the clutter.

But the biggest step in simplifying, hands down, is the huge undertaking that is downsizing our home. When we bought in 2005 — with a 14 month old and 7 months pregnant with our second — we could never have imagined how different our life would look just a few years later. I always figured I’d be working full time, bringing in a hefty second income and living the dream with our two elementary-school-aged mini men. Adoption, autism and asthma weren’t even a consideration — all of which require more money, energy and effort than I could have ever imagined. We moved over the holidays and now live comfortably (as soon as we’re entirely unpacked, that is) in a home that’s in walking distance of the boys’ school — giving me an extra 20 minutes of walking exercise each day (woot!) — and cutting down our living expenses by approximately 35%. We have absolutely no need to keep up with the Joneses and even less interest in being friends with them.

Let Go People can be mean. You know it’s true. And sometimes, no matter what you do, they’re just not going to like you (sometimes even your own family). Does that mean you should bend over backwards and try to change who you are? Hell no. Accept that they have their own things going on and let go of trying to please them. Often times, those who judge others the harshest are the ones who aren’t happy with their own choices and behavior. Smile and move on.

Create Your Own Legacy Every one of us will die some day. While I hope to have several decades ahead of me, we really never know when our time will come. One thing I learned from my niece’s death is that it’s all about how you touch others’ hearts and lives and what you choose to do with your time on earth that will live on forever. Kristen, who worked tirelessly to earn the title of paramedic just months before she died, spent her days doing for others, whether it was saving a life, holding a hand, or just smiling at a frightened patient. She never hung up without saying “I love you” and was the first to cross a room and make a person — whether it was a cousin, her grandparents or someone she had just met — feel like the most important person in the world. Her legacy continues to inspire others to be the best they possibly can with our short time here, something the rest of us can learn from and aspire to achieve as well.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for all of the comments, emails and words of support and encouragement I have received from writing this series. It has allowed me to re-connect with family friends I haven’t seen in decades, meet new friends and talk with those who have shared similar experiences.

While I write for myself, I keep writing for all of you. For that, I thank you.


Intentions for a New Year

For me, 2011 has been a year of tough lessons, personal growth and major transitions. But instead of complaining, I am feeling grateful, because without 2011 I would not have found clarity, purpose and direction.

I think it began days before my 40th birthday last April, when one of my major clients had a huge shift in direction and I (along with hundreds of other people) found myself with a lot less work and a little extra time on my hands. While it was a blow to the wallet, I decided that, instead of jumping into another monster project, I would take the opportunity and step back from the insane juggle I was performing and breathe. My plan was to give myself until the new school year to figure out what it is I really wanted out of life.

In June, I took a trip to Boston with the kiddos. Jeff stayed back in LA to work on a project for Food Network and the three littles and I flew back to join my 12 siblings and their families for my dad’s 75th birthday. It was during that trip that I got my first taste of uni-tasking, focusing on just one thing at a time. For over a week, we lived out of backpacks, slept in an RV, made simple plans and spent time with family and friends. There was no house to run, bills to pay or deadlines to meet — it was exhilarating.

I returned to southern California a changed woman. I was committed to slowing down and smelling those roses. For the next few weeks, we enjoyed lazy summer days, stayed up late for “nighttime swimming,” ate our share of s’mores and initiated the very first Friday pizza/movie night, something that remains on our calendar whenever possible. We relished in our new, simpler life and I was moving closer to being happy.

In fact, I was so excited about my new found uni-tasking/happiness connection, that I began working on a post called “Why Multi-tasking is Bad for Your Health.” In a time when people text and drive, eat on the run and have panic attacks when not constantly connected to technology, it’s no wonder we’re more overweight, unhealthy and stressed out than ever before. Never mind that when you’re focusing on too many things at once, the quality of work, relationships and potentially your entire life suffers. Would we strive to multi-task if we really knew the negative ramifications?

I never did finish that post. I was halfway through it when my family suffered a huge loss and I found myself writing a series of posts titled “The Tragedy that Changed My Life” (look for something to be published in the coming days). Little did I know when I began my quest for a more simple, meaningful life, that something so unthinkable would be the very thing to validate my new life direction. I was more committed than ever to cut out the B.S. and make important, positive changes to improve myself and my family.

Next thing I knew, my uni-tasking, soul-searching summer transitioned into a new school year, filled with homework, social skills classes, behavioral aides and some life-changing decisions — but still no work. I had just spent six months working on becoming the mom I wanted to be, getting our home life in order and prioritizing what’s truly important, I couldn’t even imagine doing all of that while juggling clients. It was like my spirit was a hard drive that was spinning and spinning and I had to stop and re-boot or else I was going to crash. I just never expected the re-boot to take so long.

But as fall arrived and the leaves began to change, so did I.

I began to miss my spark, the one I get when I’m feeding my mind and soul. My heart was overflowing with love for my friends and family but I was missing the other side of me, the side that wears pants without elastic waistbands and drives outside of the four mile radius around home, school, the park and grocery store. With my priorities now clearly in place and a new understanding for what things must be done and what can wait, it was now time to put myself out there and get my own needs on the calendar.

So I started to get a bit more involved with our production company, Morgan MacDougall Productions, and now co-host Broadscast, a weekly Web radio show with best selling author and victims’ advocate, Kim Goldman. I’ve worked with clients on social media training and a bit of video production while Jeff takes on Food Network, Oprah and Yahoo. I began to push myself physically by jumping into a group of P90X challengers with a fabulous (and free) online coach and even enjoyed a weekend away with girl friends.

It was during 2011 that I discovered my own personal quality of life equation — a balanced mix of feeding my heart, mind and soul through relationships, self discovery, tearing down obstacles and treating myself with the same love, patience and acceptance I try very hard to provide those I love. As millions make resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking or save money, I will use this fresh new year as an opportunity to re-affirm my intentions by taking the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and apply them to my life in new ways. I will spend less time worrying about the kitchen floor and more time to play with my kids. Instead of answering emails or checking Facebook while waiting for kids to get out of school or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I will take a few minutes to just sit quietly and allow myself to recharge. When I ask my husband how his day was, I will really listen (that’s right, honey) and give him the love, support and encouragement I promised in our vows nine years ago. I will look at healthy eating and exercise as the solution to so many unnecessary problems instead of feeling deprived and defeated by what I can and cannot have. I will read more, judge less, speak kindly (most of the time, anyway) and breathe more deeply. And I will grab the professional bull by the horns and show ’em who’s boss.

Alright, enough about me. What are your intentions for 2012?