First Thing in the Morning Mourning

 

 

Have you ever taken a break from FaceBook and then come back to FaceBook…

 

And then saw a friend of yours tag another friend of yours…

 

And then thought: hey what’s up with that friend, haven’t seen him in a year…

 

And then realize he had died.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

I cannot tell you how hard I cried this morning scrolling through all the bereft posts on his page. Howled. It’s not over. I’m still crying. I don’t even have to squint, tears are flowing from my resting neutral face and landing on my damp hair and pajamas.

I have to tell you about Russell.

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

Russell was an angel. Not like the halo-wearing kind, but the kind of angel surrounded by light at all times. He lit up every room he entered. His energy was infectious and I absolutely LOVED being in his presence. He was magical.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

Russell was a performer, both onstage and off, entertaining anyone lucky enough to be in proximity to him. He dated a very good friend of mine from college and I got the opportunity to take their headshots together in Red Rock Canyon.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

This was such a meaningful experience for me.

I love to combine my strong desire to help my friends and be artistically creative. Russell made this day extraordinarily light and fun. He had this natural ability to simultaneously deliver and enhance; when I wasn’t shooting him, he was using his energy to bring all of our spirits up.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

That was just how Russell was…he was always working…but his work was love…and light. He was ALIVE. To be in his presence made you feel more alive, too. We laughed the whole time, my face hurt from smiling so hard and focusing the camera.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

When I asked my friend to join me, to dance in the One Billion Rising for V-Day Flash Mob, he said yes and made a point to tell me that Russell was so excited. I cannot tell you how that made my heart swoon—swoon? Yeah, it swooned. When I ask people to volunteer for V-Day, usually I either get a ‘not this time’ or an ‘okayyyyyy’…but Russell was excited…he was so pumped for every single aspect of this.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

If you knew Russell, you would know that a Flash Mob is right up his ally. He showed up like he always did, radiating light with this confidence that made you want to be around him forever.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

My first time Flash Mob nerves melted into laughter and excitement; Russell helped me get out of my head and into the moment.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

Russell showed me what it looks like to be ALIVE.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

Before my last Facebook hiatus, I was very closely following Russell and his dream to read every single Stephen King novel. I thought that was so cool. I have read many of those same novels and appreciated his appetite for more books!

 

This morning, when I saw my friend tag Russell on FaceBook, it reminded me that I hadn’t seen him posting about his novel reading status in a long time and it hit me—you probably didn’t add him as a friend when you rejoined FaceBook—so, I clicked on his name thinking I would add him and get all caught up on what he had been reading…which shows he would be performing in…

 

I did not expect to see so many people mourning Russell. How could I? How could this happen? I don’t understand. I began to sob instantaneously, thinking about how I was not done…I intended to hug him again…I had plans to be in his presence more…

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

You don’t understand. Russell was an angel. It was healing to be in his presence. I am crying so hard as I type this out…oh Russell, do you see and feel my grief??? It’s not just me, it’s almost been one whole year since you’ve been gone and there are so many people aching from losing you.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

Many people are using this god-picking-flowers analogy for you, Russell…I had never even heard this one before and MANY people are using it to describe what has happened here. I get it. Put Russell in a crowd and he does shine the brightest.

 

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

I don’t really pick flowers though, I let them grow.

 

This is what I will be doing with our relationship from now on, Russell, allowing it to grow. I feel you. I hear you. I will not resist that. It’s okay to cry because I can’t hug you or watch you perform onstage. It’s not okay to convince myself that it all ends here because that is simply not true. Relationships never die.

 

I’ll hold you in my heart forever and feel so much lighter as a result.

 

Thank you.

 

XO,

Rachel

Russell Ray Slouffman

 

On Brother Grief

Got brother grief? I do…

 

I want to talk about my brother, Jody.

 

I call him my brother because he literally embodied the definition of the word for me at a time when I was very confused about its meaning.

 

Brother.

 

I always had them. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. Divorce and remarriage changed all that. In so many ways.

 

My oldest brother (by 5 years) did not speak to me from age 11 through 18. We never discussed why when we spoke from age 18 through 22 but it was always assumed that it was not my older brother’s fault at all, even though we lived in a small town of almost 2000 people. Even though I was just a little girl. I won’t ask him now, since he hasn’t spoken to me from age 22 through the present (age 32) and because I don’t care to hear the answer, I already know.

 

My other older brother (by 18 months) was the kind of best friend who, it was understood, would rather be with our older brother if he could, but since he can’t right at this particular moment, then we could be best friends as consolation. The kind of best friend who allows you to sit at his cool kids lunch table in high school but doesn’t say a word to you for that lunch hour every day for a year. WHY??? I don’t know, I always assumed it was because I was worthless, but I asked him recently and it seems to be simple high school survival behavior he deeply regrets.

 

The combination of the above two paragraphs left me in a weird spot in high school with regard to the word “brother.”

 

When I was 14 my mom and I went to go live with her boyfriend who later became my stepfather. My stepfather also had 2 sons and a youngest daughter, just like my family. Jody was 5 years older than me, like my brother Kevin, and I fell in love with him immediately. It was embarrassing. I knew we were now family, even though it would be 2 more years before our parents officially married each other; I knew it would not be appropriate to be IN LOVE with my future step-brother.

 

Sometimes I would make him food. He was so skinny. Unlike me or my brothers, Jody could eat anything and it never showed. He admitted to me a decade later that he always had to secretly throw away more than half of his plate that I prepared because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings that he couldn’t eat all of it.

 

He didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

 

I could tell. He was doing what I was doing: we were watching each other. He read, understood who I was, and he wanted to protect me. The more we got to know each other, the more clear it became that we truly understood and practiced loyalty.

 

Loyalty.

 

That word has always been among my top 5 personality traits. That word has also always haunted me. Why??? Because I was giving it and not getting it, the loyalty was not always reciprocal. I used to think that’s what drew Jody and I together: our understanding of, appreciation, and yearning for reciprocal loyalty.

 

I understand now that it’s much more than that.

 

I remember the last conversation Jody and I had together, 6 years ago now. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and he was skinnier than ever. He lit up when he saw me. I know he lit up because not only did I see it with my own eyes, but it also reflected back into me and I actually felt warm and loved.

 

He was telling me he received my wedding save the date. I rolled my eyes like: oh that old thing and told him all discouraged that I wanted it to have been much more creative but I’m not good at that stuff so my save the date is actually kind of boring compared to what I’ve been receiving in the mail from more artistically inclined friends. Blah Blah Blah. Boring.

 

Jody shook his head slightly, smiling, and told me he had never even seen a wedding save the date that was a magnet, he described how excited he was to open my mail and be reminded that I was going to marry Chris. How he loves to see it on his fridge every day. His sincerity was so calming to me; his support was palpable.

 

Jody was always a fan of Chris. I remember when Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together at our first apartment in Buffalo. For a variety of reasons, that holiday meal was extremely stressful to prepare (I won’t go into that here) but, long story short, the combination of our divorced families and the tardiness of the meal resulted in a miscalculation of wine intake and a pass (out) on dinner.

 

What I’m saying is: by the time the food finally made it to the table, Chris had to excuse himself from the table and literally never came back; therefore, I hosted our divorced families for the first time by myself.

 

If you know me, you can look right at me and know what I’m thinking. My face is very expressive. Jody watched the tension in me rise to a boiling point. He smiled at me. He told me the food was excellent. He told me he was having a great time. It was right around his Birthday so I made him a cherry cheesecake pie, a new recipe. I had asked him what he wanted for his Birthday cake and was startled when he told me no one had ever asked him that before. Cheesecake. I had never made one, but I bake pies so I made that for him special and was so worried it would be a flop.

 

We sang Happy Birthday to Jody, his son blew out the candles and, even though he was so full from dinner, he ate his entire huge piece of cheesecake. His Birthday cake. He hugged me so hard. He loved his cake! I found my smile again.

 

brother grief

 

Before he left my apartment that evening Jody told me: don’t give Chris a hard time. I looked at Jody sideways, he never told me what to do before, but Jody just smiled at me until I smiled back and said: ok.

 

That really blew me away at the time because I was like, why shouldn’t I give him a hard time?! What’s the big deal, why do you care what happens to him? Because I know Jody, I already knew the answer. Just like me, Jody could read people, and, just like me, Jody decided immediately he loved Chris.

 

brother grief

 

This is the Christmas card Jody handed us just a couple weeks later. Jody was excellent at picking out greeting cards. They were never random. The card says:

 

“For You, Sister, and your family. Your home is a happy and welcoming place where there’s love in the air and a smile on each face…”

 

I cried when I opened this card. I cried because the one thing I have ever wanted my entire life was a family of my own and I knew Jody was right: me and Chris were a family now. I cried because Jody was being my brother and I needed it. I cried because Jody’s heart was so big.

 

Chris and I always talk about the time Jody lent us his boat. It was a disaster. Something happened and the boat kept filling up with water?! We were super concerned that we were going to sink his boat and that he would be angry thinking the boat was filling up with water because of something we may have done. When we got home, Jody just laughed and said: I’m sorry that happened! He was smiling while we explained how worried we were that we had done something wrong. Jody was not at all concerned. He shrugged and said it’s ok, he would fix it. No big deal.

 

Jody could fix any boat, he was a real genius at it. Most people would at least tease the person who almost sunk their boat, but not Jody. He was very careful with my emotions. Probably why he didn’t tease me and say: blah blah blah, when I shot down his compliment of my wedding save the date magnet.

 

9-19-09. That was my save the date. It used to haunt me. I mean, who sends out a save the date over a year in advance and then dares not to get married that day? Me. Some of my friends still have that magnet on their fridge and I used to look at it as a symbol of my failure and be like: why are you doing this to me, take that thing down at once!!!

 

I don’t see 9-19-09 like that anymore. Ever since I started to embrace the grieving process, I also started to see 9-19-09 as an inevitable part of my journey. That actually did have to happen that way. I didn’t make a mistake. Not at all.

 

Today I allow myself to say: I am that person who rescheduled their wedding date due to grief. If Jody wasn’t doing 9-19-09 then neither were we. I planned a totally different wedding that did take place on 5-8-10 because life happened and I adapted. I honor my body and I do what feels right when it feels right.

 

My brother Jody is with me all the time. Even so, I still feel his absence and I still mourn our connection on this earth. I wish we could spend this Thanksgiving together and our Birthdays and Christmas. Anything.

 

I’m not done talking about my brother Jody and I never will be.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

PS: Full Disclosure: while writing this blog, I cried the whole time…on a spectrum ranging from silent stream of tears to scream sobbing; I also used my shirt as a tissue after the box of Kleenex next to me ran out.

House Plants & Feng Shui

House Plants & Feng Shui

 

I am loving my home right now.

 

Why?

 

House plants.

 

Me?!

 

I know.

 

It’s kind of a long story. I never thought that I would have real live plants in my house, as I was raised to believe it was too complicated to figure out how to properly care for them.

 

But then I read this short article about 7 quick steps to Feng Shui and thought it was significant that one of the seven things you can do is incorporate lots of plant life into your home.

 

Hmmmmmmmm…

 

We do have one plant, I admitted to myself. A lucky bamboo given to me by my dear friend and mentor, Jenny, when we moved to Las Vegas in 2010.

 

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In fact, that bamboo was so lucky, it was still alive in 2014 after many haircuts and those trimmings were alive as well.

 

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So actually, I had 2 plants to take care of that were doing quite well. But I still wasn’t sure what that had to do with Feng Shui.

 

Then I went to Colorado to celebrate my 10-year dating anniversary last October and while we were there we got to visit one of my childhood friends who has always been a role model to me. I have always admired Liz’ style and, once again, I was not disappointed with the new home Liz had put together for her husband and brand new baby. I pointed out her lamps, her end tables, the ottoman she was restoring, the curtains in the baby room, her wedding picture frames, the built in wine glass holders, and then it hit me. Really it was the plants everywhere that I loved most of all. Not just one or two, but plant life wherever the sun would support growth.

 

So I pointed out to Liz that I really LOVED the plants in her home and revealed that I had been thinking about incorporating more plants into my home but…well…I was afraid that I would…kill them.

 

What Liz said next really helped me:

 

Yeah, Rae, plants die and then you get new ones. Enjoy them while you have them.

 

Hmmmmmmmmm…

 

Flash forward three months later and I am noticing that my friend Libby also has beautiful plants inside and outside of her townhome in San Diego. Succulents. Super cool. I want that. So she sends us to her favorite nursery and I pick out 3 new plants to take care of.

 

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I make my husband pull over at the beginning of our 5 hour car trip home at the first Ross I see so that I can pot them immediately when we get home with the special soil that we lugged all the way home from the San Diego nursery.

 

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Desert plants.   Apparently, you only water them once per week. Weird. My husband waters the lucky bamboo plants practically every day. I nervously dote over all of the plants, talk to them, let them know I am glad they are here. Secretly I worry the new plants will die, but I don’t want to let on.

 

In February we took a much needed family vacation to the Grand Canyon. The house we rented was amazing. The mountain view, the loft with the full on drum kit (!), the stars at night, the art on the walls and, wait for it, the plants. The house had plants EVERYWHERE. It was super cool. I found myself staring at a plant no matter where I was and that is when I finally understood Feng Shui.

 

When we got home, I set to work. First I tackled the space near the window in my bathroom. Taking baths here is now officially amazing. The orchid was a gift from my husband and has been in full bloom for over two and a half months. Glorious! The palm tree and pot came from Lowes.

 

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I then became obsessed with hanging plants. I love how the leaves look like hearts.

 

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This next one is hung in my bedroom over my Kelly Rae Roberts couch and I realize that my hanging plant obsession has a lot to do with the pots I found at TJ Maxx Home Goods. Beauty matters, I surround myself in it.

 

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The third hanging plant is hung in my kitchen. I could not find a third glass hanging pot for the life of me, so I ordered this one from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BD6X1II/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and it makes me very happy.

 

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At this point, my husband is like: I think we have enough plants in the house, don’t you?

 

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And I’m like, wow, why would you even say that to me right now? I’m on a roll here. See, what happened is, I got sad. I got sad and then I got these plants from the Home Depot and these pots from Ross:

 

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And I told my husband: selecting the plants, the pots, bringing them home and then getting my hands dirty repotting them is therapeutic for my grieving process.

 

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These are my friends.

 

house plants

 

I love them.

 

house plants

 

Are some of them struggling?

 

house plants

 

Yes. Just that one actually and I think that is a success considering how many I am responsible for. Aren’t we all struggling? Caring isn’t too complicated at all. The reward far outweighs the burdens of responsibility.

 

This used to be a bulb in a plastic bag until I put it in some dirt 10 days ago:

 

house plants

 

I can’t wait until my Mother’s Day Dahlia blooms, but right now I am thrilled with what looks like celery stalks. I show my 2 year old the rapid progress every day. He loves to say good morning plants (!) when he first wakes up and I am delighted that we share the same favorite (pink) plant:

 

house plants

 

(don’t tell the other plants we think that).

 

What activities help you through the grieving process? Please leave me a Reply and thank you for reading!

 

XO

 

~Rachel

Heal your Self, heal the world