Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Legacy Bigger Than Cancer

It's the end of January and I'm sitting here with my Passion Planner answering the seven questions in the Monthly Reflection like I do every month. Without hesitation I answer the first question: What was the most memorable part of this past month? Matt's memorial service. 

Last Sunday I attended a funeral for someone I've never met and walked away with a renewed conviction to live my life well. His name was Matt Fulton and his legacy is bigger than the cancer that took him. 

It's been a year and half since my friend Sarah told us her younger brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. My heart broke. At the time I was still processing my dad's sickness and death so I knew what NOT to say to her. Instead of serving her a  platter heaped with meaningless platitudes I simply texted I'm so sorry. 

I let her know I would be there when people she considered her friends suddenly acted weird or not show up. I've traveled the long, treacherous road that loomed ahead of them and in that moment I decided I'd go to his funeral when the time came, secretly praying it wouldn't be for years. 

The greatest gift my friends gave me during my dad's funeral was their presence. I didn't know how much it meant to me or how deeply I needed to see their faces until I saw them through the haze of my grief. There were also the friends who "showed up" in the form of flowers they sent to the cemetery or the cards/gift cards delivered to my house. I learned that I valued presence more than the empty "thoughts and prayers" and "sorry for your loss" sentiments I received during our time of sorrow. 

I'm not sure what I expected at Matt's memorial service other than the proverbial Psalm 23 I've heard in the hundreds of funerals I've attended in my life. When you grow up Filipino and Catholic, funerals become a normal part of life as baptisms and weddings. I was five-years-old when I experienced my first one for my best friend, my great-uncle Loy, whose absence I still feel acutely today. It was at his funeral where I first became acquainted with the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want proverb. 

Skyrose Chapel
Sunday was one of those warm beach-worthy days in Southern California even though it was the middle of winter. I slowed my roll as I walked toward the Skyrose Chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park to savor its beauty against the backdrop of the clear turquoise sky. After I hugged Sarah, silently admiring her composure, I slipped into the last pew of the most extraordinary chapel I've ever set foot in. I suspect I resembled a Bobblehead trying to absorb the exquisite architecture surrounding me. 

When the service began I made sure I had my Captain America tissues on standby expecting a long drawn-out sermon delivered by a well-meaning pastor/clergyman/reverend. Instead, Matt's mom walked up to the podium to give her eulogy and I felt a mixture of awe and sadness. Awe for her courage to speak in honor of her baby boy and sadness for her unbearable pain. I didn't speak at my dad's funeral not because my dad specifically requested no eulogies but  because I knew I would break down before I managed one sentence.

Yet, there were Shannon and Sarah, Matt's sisters, sharing their love and memories of their brother. I laughed and cried with them as I got to know the brother I never met. They shared how they would receive one text from him venting about the excruciating pain he was in and a second text immediately after asking for their shoe size. From the stories Sarah told me I knew Matt's heart was abundant in generosity and thoughtfulness. 

A few of Matt's friends also ventured up to the podium to give their eulogies but judging from their initial reaction when they faced us I could tell they weren't expecting to see a packed chapel. I thought yeah, that's how it's done son!  I've always believed that a great life spent in serving and loving others is evidenced by the number of people who show up for your funeral. It was obvious that not only was Matt well-loved but he reciprocated that love tenfold. 

I almost put my Captain America tissue back in my bag until Matt's husband, Price, started speaking. His soft-spoken words laced with suffering caused a seismic shift within me. Price described how it felt to start over, to learn how to be Price without Matt. I stopped breathing while he spoke. 

I'm familiar with the memories that taunt you once death alters your life. In the most inopportune times the memories that punch you with a straight uppercut are the ones plucked from the mundane ordinary routine you once had. 

When Price described how he missed waking Matt up at 8 a.m. wishing he could still wake up beside him, I was reminded of the things I take for granted. My own dude does the same thing every morning. Even though I work from home and only need to walk next door to my office I would probably log in late every day if he didn't wake me up on time. I made a mental note to express my gratitude to him as soon as I got home. 

Apparently, Matt's love for trash t.v. ran deep and Price often questioned his poor choice in their evening viewing. Now he'd give anything to have another chance to sit next to Matt laughing with him while he watched his favorite trash t.v. shows. Again, another powerful reminder for me to squash the irritation and appreciate the inconsequential quirks of my loved ones. 

Without missing a beat Price urged us to "take a moment to hug the people you love because I envy you that they're still here." There wasn't a person in the chapel who wasn't crying after Price walked back to his seat. Matt planned every single detail of his service which was a true celebration of his life, filled with his family's and friends' tributes instead of an impersonal long-winded sermon. Well played, Matt, well played. I'd fist bump him if I could. 

I drove home after the funeral with a full heart and a long list of convictions to live life better, fuller, vibrant, grateful. Even to the end Matt didn't let cancer dictate his final moments as he went shopping at Pottery Barn on his last day. Legacies effect change and from my vantage point in the back pew Matt's legacy will continue to live on in every single person who showed up for his service. May we all strive to walk in the giant footprints he left behind. 

Price during the dove release

Monday, December 31, 2018

2019, Come At Me Bro

It's the last day of 2018 and I'm enveloped in silence. It's a practice I've included in my self-care regimen this year and one that I crave almost daily. Silence. If I had to describe its taste I would say delicious. This silence won't last, I know. 

My life is filled with noises and sounds that I either get annoyed with or take for granted. I allow myself this small sliver of silent time especially today as I reflect on how 2018 unfolded. 

The End Of The Year Reflection in my Passion Planner always asks one thing: Review your planner for the past year and assess your priorities. Are you happy with how you spent your time? My answer: Damn straight, I'm happy! 

In my end of year blog post last year, Reflections Over Resolutions , I wrote about how I intended to live 2018 with an untethered soul. I committed to "experience the gift of life instead of fighting with it" as Michael Singer writes in his book, The Untethered Soul. That decision opened my life up to better experiences than focusing on meaningless resolutions. 

Experiencing the gift of life meant embracing the unexpected life events that caused stress, worry and anxiety without reacting in fear. I grew up believing that every New Year's Eve you wished or prayed for the new year to be good. I realized I was programmed with the wrong mentality as it didn't prepare me for the bad that inevitably happens in life. I was never taught to face the bad and ultimately deal with it. I realized I resisted the bad things instead of accepting them as a normal part of everyday life. No one ever told me it was okay to have bad things happen. 

In 2018 I was better equipped in handling my emotions when I received bad news such as a loved one attempting suicide and harming themselves. Or when we found out at the beginning of summer that we'd need a new air condition unit which was out of our budget. My old self would've seethed with anger, worried about how we could replace it, or went fearful for not knowing how I'd survive without AC. Instead I accepted and dealt with it by buying a portable AC unit. Thank you, next. 

My new year intention last year was to spend good quality time with the people who mattered to me. I welcomed any interruptions in my schedule if it involved my people. I planned my 50th birthday so that I could travel to Seattle for the first time and finally visit my best friend. I carved out time in my work schedule to attend my good friend's baby's funeral. It was more about being fluid with life and less about adhering to set schedules. 

Setting daily intentions helped me live each day fully present. Sure, some days I failed but I learned to give myself permission to be imperfect. Before I fell asleep I reminded myself to release all thought or actions that no longer served my higher purpose. Doing this provided me a clean canvas to start a new day. 

I finally read Rachel Hollis's book Girl, Wash Your Face and there's a quote of hers that I wrote in my journal: Every day you get to choose the way your world looks. Regardless of how you were raised or what you were taught to believe, you get to decide where your story goes from here. After I read this I gave a mental high-five to Ms. Rachel Hollis. 

That's the thing, I was never taught to access my empowerment. It truly is within my power to choose the way my world looks regardless of my circumstances or the people in my life. I can't say I'm good about making this choice every day but when I notice myself spiraling into the dark abyss of my negative thoughts I can catch myself before I've fallen in too deep. 

I journaled every day with Marianne Williamson's daily devotional, A Year In Miracles which helped in centering myself and setting the tone for the day. I'm excited for 2019 as I recently bought Rachel Hollis's Start Today Journal  to help jumpstart my new year. 

I'll close my last blog post of 2018 with another Rachel Hollis quote: 

Every year you close a new chapter in your story. Please, please, please don't write the same one seventy-five times and call it a life. 

May we all write a brand-new chapter in our stories this new year. Peace out, 2018. I'm ready for you, 2019. Come at me, bro!  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Putting Myself First On My To-Do List

My matcha tea was getting lukewarm. I could tell by the almost invisible steam wafting from my coffee cup. Having an intense and long conversation with one of my girlfriends meant neglecting my drink. Her words carried the weight of her heart while mine broke as I listened to her.

She was the fifth girlfriend this month who unloaded her heart's burdens in an apologetic tone as if she wasn't allowed to have them. Please don't apologize, I told her.

I noticed a common theme in my conversations with my girlfriends via phone, email and text. We've expended our energy taking care of our people but failed to place ourselves as top priority. It reminds me of Michelle Obama's quote in my passion planner: We need to do a better job putting ourselves higher on our own "to-do" list.

The issues I've heard from my girlfriends this month ranged from a husband's infidelity to a baby's stillbirth; from a child's diagnosis of autism to a confusing breakup; from an elderly parent's death to an impending loss of income. Some have lost their way feeling disoriented in unfamiliar territory while others experienced debilitating grief incapable of feeling anything but anger, depression or emptiness. I've quietly listened while these lovely women cried about the hollowness inside of them or the exhaustion of waking up with anxiety every day.

During a lull in conversation I've asked them one question: What do you do for you that makes YOU happy?

Silence...more silence.

Sadly, every answer they gave me included someone else.

I love watching movies with my husband.
It makes me happy when my kids and I go shopping.
I feel content when I take my parents out to dinner.
It brings me so much joy when the kids and I people watch at Disneyland.

I wasn't surprised. As women we've been programmed to sacrifice ourselves for our tribe at the expense of our own happiness. I'm the oldest daughter in a Filipino family which meant executing the only three duties expected of me: caring for my younger siblings, obeying my parents without question and never talking back to my elders. Eeasy peasy, amirite?

The problem with this was taking care of my younger siblings meant it interrupted my reading and crashed into my bliss. From the moment I could read my face was always half obscured by a book and I was immediately catapulted into its story. I was oblivious to whatever crap my younger brother and sister got into, ultimately resulting in my punishment for neglecting them. Obeying my parents without question meant I couldn't speak up about the unfairness of taking care of two siblings who were clearly beyond my control. To my old school Filipino parents, speaking up meant talking back and talking back was a sign of disrespect. As you can imagine I was in constant trouble.

It's not only Filipinas but women in general have been forced to drink the Kool-aid of sacrifice and silence. We've been led to believe that putting our needs last was praiseworthy and pursuing our happiness was selfish. As in, Hey Mom and Dad, I want to be a photojournalist because documenting real life brings me fulfillment. To which they replied, Ay naku (Oh my gosh in tagalog), stop that nonsense. You need to go into the medical field so you can make money and take care of your family.

To be fair my parents experienced the atrocities and trauma of World War II. While I understood their intentions I knew that trying to convince them otherwise was futile. Once I accepted this I began the process of undoing the programming in my head by beginning to put myself first.

This isn't just slapping a hashtag in front of the words self-love and self-care on an Instagram-worthy photo for my followers to scroll through. Putting myself first means saying no to obligations that waste my time. You know, those times when an acquaintance asks you for a favor like Hi, can you photograph this event we're having for a good cause? It might be a wonderful cause but if I know my yes will only deplete me of energy then I've learned it's okay to decline.

There was a time when my close friends nicknamed me Superwoman. My chest used to swell with pride thinking yeah, I can DO everything through my exhaustion! I was managing three teenagers (let's be real, with teenagers you manage them not raise them), working three jobs, taking three classes at a junior college, hanging out with my friends, working out, volunteering at church, going to weekly family functions, etc.

As time went on I became secretly unhappy, bitter and angry. I hid it because Superwoman doesn't experience negative emotions. That's what I've noticed with my girlfriends who've confided in me recently. I hear the guilt in one's voice when she speaks about her child's recent diagnosis with a social condition. As if it was her fault. She said she felt safe telling me about it since I've experienced it with my own. My heart ached for her when she didn't buy my words of reassurance that her best was good enough for her child.

There are a handful of my closest friends who are internally suffering the ravaging effects of miscarriages. On social media they post beautiful pictures of their smiling selves but they tell me how completely broken they are inside. I can only express my sorrow for their pain, letting them know it's okay to be hurting and pissed the eff off at the same time.

When my girlfriend's self-esteem plummeted after her husband's infidelity she was tortured with thoughts about her aging, her weight, her looks. As I quietly listened to her make excuses for him she owned the infidelity as if she forced her husband to cheat with another woman. I grabbed her wrist to interrupt her. 

My friend's life orbited around this husband so much that when I asked her what she did for herself that made her happy she blinked at me as if I spoke a foreign language. When she slowly listed what her happiness consisted of everything included her husband or kids. 

Ladies, it's time to stop feeling guilty for longing to be number one. We need to stop wasting time owning someone else's problems when we're only responsible for our own. We don't have to stuff our bras with blame for everything that goes horribly wrong in our lives. 

I don't have the answers to my friends' issues and I accept that I can't fix them. The only nugget of truth I can give is to seek your happiness with only you in mind and give yourself permission to embrace it. 

It's going to look different for everyone. 

My sister books monthly massages for herself knowing it makes her happy after working with patients in her physical therapy assistant job.

I make it a point to work every Friday at my favorite coffee shop for a couple of hours and treat myself to a matcha latte with almond milk and a vegan donut. That cup and donut holds much happiness extending praise to myself for kicking butt during the work week.

I've learned not to wait for anyone to shower me with praise or affirmation. My daily mantra: get it girl, you got this! Making yourself top priority will feel strange at first. It will take serious commitment to deconstruct the beliefs you've been ingrained with.

In the beginning you'll feel unrooted from the familiar landscape of saying yes to everyone but yourself. You'll feel guilty because people will project it on you when they start noticing your happiness. Don't lose your balls, this is the time when you dig in your heels and say, No! Me, me first!

I assure you, create this habit and you'll feel fortified enough to face whoever needs your time, attention and care. You'll react less out of anger and more out of love. Typically, the first symptom that shows up when I've given all I've got is the snappiness toward others. When my dude lets me know I've hit my snap threshold I know to remove myself from his presence and do what makes ME happy.

See...more happy, less snappy.

Your brokenness and pain won't miraculously disappear. Your child's social condition will have it's good days and bad days. You'll feel unattractive and bloated on Monday, utterly fabulous on Tuesday. But once you begin treating yourself the way you deserve I guarantee it will take the edge off all the negativity. YOU matter. 

To all my sister friends who are feeling imperfect and inadequate, go! Go get you some joy without guilt or apologies! You're number one today for 30 minutes, an hour, half a day or all day. You owe it to yourself and I promise you it will be okay. 

I'll leave you with words from one of the most encouraging woman I follow on social media. You're welcome! 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

You Had Me At CicLaVia

My cousin Lyn, my sister Nelyn & I
Ahhh, L.A., our old stomping grounds. We always wondered how our favorite city would look without the endless traffic snaking its way for miles. I actually didn't think it was possible to travel through L.A. without sitting in a car inching slowly to our destination. 

Today I finally knew what it felt like to cruise down Grand street in Downtown L.A. to Macarthur Park, Koreatown and finally to Hollywood near the iconic Capitol Records building without traffic congestion. My dude and I participated in our first CicLAvia event and we kick ourselves for not doing it sooner. 

My sister, bro-in-law and cousin have a few CicLAvias under their belts including a couple of Critical Mass events. I thought I had to be a hardcore cyclist to do these but my family scoffed. Although, after riding16 miles on my beach cruiser today I decided to finally listen to Ray and seriously save money for a road bike. 

Our meeting place in the morning was at the Grand Park Hub between the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Along the route from DTLA to Hollywood we were entertained by performers and musicians as well as numerous vendors. 

Ray, the mad inventor I call him, converted his beach cruiser to an e-bike while my sister rides an actual e-bike. I was the only one riding a beach cruiser and it was apparent within the first incline that I should be riding a road bike like the one my bro-in-law and cousin were cycling on. Had it not been for Ray who would grab my backpack, throttle his e-bike and push me up the inclines I wouldn't have made it. He said I was a trooper for riding the entire route (round trip) on my beach cruiser. 

Below are the photos I snapped on my phone and Sony A6500. I also shot a few with my film camera but that roll won't be developed for awhile. Of course, my pictures don't do CicLAvia justice. I dare you to go out and ride the next one! 
Taken by my dude early in the route

Thanks to the volunteers!
With my bro-in-law Stefano
We heart CicLAvia

These mandatory dismounts killed us
but we love all the volunteers!

When we knew the end of the route was near.
Hollywood sign was our beacon.

Ran into friends!

Silent dance partayyyyy

And here I was complaining about
MY bike! 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Protect The Children | March For Our Lives

She was singing along to The Schuyler Sisters from the Hamilton Musical soundtrack when I interrupted her. 

Hey, would you be terribly upset if I didn't go to Grandparents D- 
YES!, she said, cutting me off. 

It's not that I didn't want to go to Grandparents Day but I was sort of hoping she'd let me slide for reasons I can't write about in deference to my kids. Grandparents Day fell on the same day as Valentine's Day so it was a double whammy of celebrations. 

My workload that morning was heavy as usual but I woke up excited for the eventful day. When I walked into the school office to check in I scanned the doorway and noticed the number of people who filtered in and out. I had a fleeting thought, jeez, anyone can just walk in here and start shooting. I hated myself for having those thoughts but can anyone blame me? If my mind were a movie screen in that moment you'd see how unfairly I profiled the people signing in after me. 

My grandkid and her classmates were engrossed in making their special crafts for the grandparents. The room moms, including my middle spawn, were busy with their room mom duties. I hovered in the background watching everyone until my daughter snapped at me to engage with my grandkid. I told myself to relax and enjoy the moment instead of indulging my paranoia. So I helped the grandkid finish the crafty magnet all the kids were gluing together for their grandparents. 

Driving home afterward I chided myself for being a total paranoid freak. Nothing happened, I thought to myself. With Grandparents Day down I had the rest of the day to celebrate all the glory cheesiness of Valentine's Day. 

I had the biggest smile as I walked through the front door of my house eyeing the bouquet of red roses my dude got me. My smile withered quickly when I heard the news reporter's voice coming from the t.v. he was watching. I ran to the living room and watched in horror as the t.v. screen was showing another school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At that time the death count was only at 14. Ha, only. 

The rest of my day was pretty much shrouded in heartbreak and tears as I learned that 17 people died because 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into the high school with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with the sole intent of killing. Valentine's Day forgotten, I spent a few hours alone that evening either weeping in despair or seething with anger trying to process the senselessness of the shooting. 

I sat in my car in a strip mall parking lot and remembered how earlier that day I laughed at myself for being a paranoid grandmother at an elementary school. I seriously shook my head at myself for believing I couldn't visit my grandkid's school without low-key profiling other grandparents. 
As of May 2018, there have been 23 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week.
This is the America we live in. The land of the free is now the land where my fourth-grade grandchild comes home and tells me they had a lock down drill instead of doing fun things. My teacher talks about bad stuff all the time, she lamented. Bad stuff as in what to do when the bad guys with guns start shooting people at school. 

As most of us do when we're feeling all kinds of pissed off we take our rant to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If not to change minds at least to unload the heavy burden from our chests. I took to Twitter hoping to alleviate the boiling level of my anger which quickly turned to disbelief when my feed showed a stream of adults bullying the Parkland teens fighting for gun reform. More shame, more anger. Yet, also more hope. 

The teens from Parkland weren't taking this sitting down. They galvanized a movement and called it March For Our Lives encouraging young adults to register to vote. 

June 21, 2018

I started this post at the end of March right after the March For Our Lives event in Los Angeles. Obviously, it's taken three months for me to finish writing it what with world events happening at breakneck speed. I can't keep up. 

Where are we right now

The inspiring kids from Parkland are touring the country lobbying for stricter gun control, speaking up against gun violence and encouraging people to vote. Those kids are our future and their fervor to create change is one of the reasons why I marched on Saturday, March 24th. 

You've seen their faces on t.v., social media, magazines and online newspapers: Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzalez, and David Hogg to name a few. While dealing with the aftermath of losing their friends during their school's Valentine's Day massacre they've been attacked on social media and accused of being actors by adults. ADULTS! 

Instead of enjoying spring break and living like carefree teenagers facing college prospects they're using their voices to create change in a broken system. 

What they're trying to accomplish: 

1. Fund gun violence research.
2. Eliminate absurd restrictions on the ATF.
3. Universal background checks.
4. High-capacity magazine ban. 
5. Limit firing power in the streets. 
6. Funding for intervention programs. 
7. Extreme risk protection orders. 
8. Disarm all domestic abusers. 
9. Gun trafficking. 
10. Safe storage and mandatory theft reporting. 
***To read more about these reforms in depth click here for their website.***

As I've repeated many times to people who oppose the change these kids are fighting for I'm not advocating for the disarmament of responsible gun owners. Newsflash, we are responsible gun owners. 

In a perfect world (or perfect country) my granddaughter would have the freedom to go to school without the fear of shootings looming over her head. Is it too much to ask that my granddaughter doesn't come home to tell us how their day was spent in practicing lock down drills while her teacher "talks about bad stuff"? 

Or what about my daughter-in-law who's employed in an art school where they practiced lock down drills so much that when a real one finally happened they sprang into action without hesitation. They immediately barricaded themselves in the classroom for an hour and a half until the campus was cleared of all threat. 

Is it too much to hope for a world where my daughter-in-law, who was seven months pregnant, doesn't have to barricade herself in a classroom with her students due to an imminent threat on campus? 

Are my concerns legit? Am I wrong to want to protect my grandchildren, daughter-in-law and other innocent children from gun violence? This problem won't disappear on its own as the number of victims of gun violence continues to grow. We need to be part of the solution. We have to back these kids up who are touring the country helping others to register to vote and educating them on gun reform. 

Head to the March For Our Lives website to find out about #RoadToChange or text CHANGE to 977-79.

Head over to my photography blog to see the rest of the images I shot from March For Our Lives. 

I brought my film cameras to the
March for Our Lives event in Los

Angeles. You can see all the inspiring 

people and photos on my website: