I Miss Her. In honor of Denise on her 52nd Birthday

I miss my friend. Those blue eyes that always sparkled with life and intelligence no matter what was on her mind. Her gentle voice, always steady, even up until the end. It seemed like we were sisters. I was immediately drawn toward her when we first met. She was the real deal. No drama there, ever. She was kind, thoughtful, smart, and conscientious. She was beautiful but wore her beauty loosely. She loved the outdoors, and good books, and real talks and deep laughs.

I took this photo of Denise while we were on vacation in Florida, right before our Bahamas trip.

I took this photo of Denise while we were on vacation in Florida, right before our Bahamas trip.

Her hands, touch and love are all over this place.  This is where I was shortly before she died and I felt her presence so strongly, as if she were in the room with me. She was here so many times sharing our life before the fire.  She was here after the fire as we sifted through ashes.  And, then here as we began reclaiming the land. She is in the yurt where she slept for our writer’s retreat, I hear her voice there and see her sitting in the circle with the other women. She is in this house as she joined me and David one long day as we stuffed insulation between the gaps between the framing and the windows, high up on ladders, seeing this dream come to fruition. She is here on one of my first nights in the house as David was traveling, pulling up in her first new car in decades, a symbol of her allowing herself to experience the fruits of her labors and leave that well-worn Subaru behind. We had the first real fire in the fire pit and she stoked the flames high as we sat in the darkness and laughed and talked as only old and dear friends can. We (probably me only) got nervous as she built a rager of a fire, flames leaping out of the depths of the pit and sparking in the night sky in front of our newly built oasis and me holding my breath as I watched the house illuminated in the dancing flames.

She was a friend you could always count on, beloved by so many. I haven’t had a chance to mourn her properly as my mom died suddenly two days after Denise. Now, sitting in this cabin, I reach back into my memory banks to pull out something I can touch. I feel so close to her when I am here, at this place that she loved so much, as I did.

She was my first first friend to visit our new Salida life - and true to form, she rolled with it all. Even sleeping on the floor in our new house.

She was my first first friend to visit our new Salida life – and true to form, she rolled with it all. Even sleeping on the floor in our new house.

Today, I listened to her voice from the Firewalker Writing Retreat that Denise and other women attended in October of 2013 here, pre-Tiny Mansion, when there was just a yurt and 3 vintage Airstream trailers and six women coming together to write with me for a weekend.  Here’s what I wrote in preparation for that:

Our group will gather on this barren yet fertile landscape and look at where we are both barren and fertile.  We will name the stories that hold us back and see how we still demand an impossible standard of perfection of ourselves – one that we would never ask of others.  We will admit how this drive holds us back and stops our dreams dead in their tracks.  I will hold the space, as well as sharing my similar tales, and I will keep pointing to the land.  When they first arrive, they will remark on the beauty as people always do – initially not seeing the scars and devastation from the fire, instead seeing the expanse of peak after peak well into the distance, hundreds of miles away.  I will point to the charred remains of trees; I will show them the blackened earth; I will show them where my house once stood.  They will begin to take in the totality.  And they will see the richness of it all – the ugliness and the harsh beauty and the ripeness of new life taking form.  They will contemplate that – admiring what Mother Nature is capable of.  And, we could just stop there. 

Yet this weekend, we won’t.  We will look further at our own burned out corners and crevices that we want to hide from the light of day.  We will peer into the fire in our souls that we seek to dampen so as not to be improper, disliked or make too many waves out there in the world.  We will strive to hold both the dark and the light.  We will talk about those crazy thoughts that leave us feeling different yet are the very things that connect us deeply in our humanity. 

We will also destroy the notion that anyone will leave the weekend “fixed” never to look back again, never to struggle, always to welcome life, and always to succeed. 

In the instructions for the retreat, I wrote the following:

Please bring an offering for the land – something that means something to you ie: a feather, rock, small figurine, coin. Something you will leave on the land – and you will be invited to take something too (which we will talk more about at the event). Please be prepared to share why you chose what you did.

The women were then invited to take a found object similar to what they brought – or they were invited to pick something from our collection of charred artifacts left over from the fire.

Denise brought a stone and these were her words describing what it was and why:

I knew right away what I wanted to being as and offering to the land but I also found myself reluctant to let it go.  It’s a rock I gathered on a hike while I was training at the HeartMath Institute in Boulder Creek, CA and this rock has been on my desk ever since (9 years ago or so).  What it represents for me is the beginning of my transformation and my heart journey.  And, what I want to do is leave it on the land as a symbol of the transformation that the land is going through – and the love that I have for this place and for you – and now all of you that we got to share it together.  That is my gift to the land – to allow it to continue its transformation and healing process and to (I can’t make out the rest).

At the retreat. Typical Denise joie de vivre!

At the retreat. Typical Denise joie de vivre!

Today, I sit with the memories of one of those rare types of friends that words fail to describe.  To further honor Denise on her birthday, I share with you the toast I gave to her on her 50th, 6 months before she was diagnosed with cancer.  I love you Denise.  And, I miss you terribly.

5/7/14 An Ode to Denise:

50 years around this rock

How did we get here is really the first thing I think of when I write that.  50 years…  Being only 2 years behind you on reaching this milestone, I speak from understanding – and not just a little apprehension.

At 50, it’s a time to review how well we did the first 50 and to truly create how we want the next 50 to go.  We may ask important questions like – how fully did I love?  How big did I create?  How much did I experience?  And, we may begin asking questions like – just how low will my chin sag?  Will I really have to pluck whiskers from unnamed places for the rest of my life?

We may also look back gently (or regretfully) on how much we took for granted in the first 50, and vow to not do that again.

At 50, hopefully we are only halfway there, yet by now, we know that every day is a gift, even if we forget to live from that place.

You have gleaned the wisdom to take life by the horns and to come from the knowing that life is precious and often fleeting.

At 50, you have earned enough of your stripes through the school of hard-knocks.  You have been around the block a few times.  You have lived through loss, disappointments, physical challenges.  You have watched people you love struggle, and you have experienced the tragedy of losing some them as they pass on.  You have seen a lot – and you have heard it all.

At 50, you have celebrated countless victories, done so many things you never thought you would do, met people and traveled places that have altered your world.

You, Denise, are a warrior of life.

What we love about you. We love:

  • your bright mind that you have nurtured through studies and counseling those who grapple with life
  • your kindness – you are truly good.
  • your incredible depth that bubbles beautifully to the surface sometimes in inquiry, sometimes with a heavy heart, mostly in laughter.
  • your serious side – you are not a bullshitter – we all know we will get the truth from you.

You are lover of dogs, the outdoors, of laughter.

You don’t let fear stop you

You are a loyal friend – someone we can count on to be there through thick and thin – until the end.

You have arrived at 50 well.  You are not a statistic – you are not someone who will die with your music still inside you.  You are someone who sings their song.  And, you continue to re-write and expand the song that you are here to sing.  You continue to dream and want – and go for your dreams.  You do not give up.  You are a force to be reckoned with.

If I had to find one word to describe you, it would be grace.

Happy 50th Denise.  We all love and cherish you and are honored to get to celebrate this milestone with you.


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