Four Years Gone

You know what the funny thing about death is? Nothing. (Cue the sound effects please. I’m completely aware of the first line’s seriousness.)

What is funny however, is how death can make everything illuminated after the fog has lifted. By fog I mean, your initial emotions, the pain, the constant reminders, it’s the sense that comes after a storm has ceased. I would liken the passing of a loved one to experiencing a fierce storm in your own body that takes time to progress and then begin to calm.

It has been four years, to the day, since Debbie passed away. If I stop and mediate on that day, what transpired, how I felt in those moments, I am taken back to those emotions quite rapidly. Even with the passage of time, nothing can erase how an experience made you feel. I remember saying to my husband, “Now I know why people drink and do drugs. The numbness is a medication to what they’re experiencing in life. This hurts.”

Everything in life is a lesson. Once I understood this, fully, I became more present and open to facing the choices I had every day, and really, in every moment.  Learning how to grieve, face pain, and move through life with it, was and still is a journey. There are times, days, and moments when I am hit severely with a wave of grief that washes over me. I try to recognize my triggers, sometimes it’s just something as simple as a word, or a song. I find it helpful to create a visual of a wave and allow it to wash over me and provide a salve of tears. Nothing and no one can replace a loss because it is an experience that is now a part of your very core. The loss becomes woven into your story. It becomes a part of the framework that trails along with you every day.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have learned that I am not my grief, it is a part of me. I lean heavily on the truthful, beautiful, harsh, and comical memories I shared with the amazing person that Debbie was. Carving out an allowance of grace for my emotions and journey is essential. Continuing to learn about how the human brain processes trauma, loss, and growth has helped me tremendously be more empathetic towards myself and others.

If I could tell my sister anything it would be this:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for always loving me, even when I was hard to love. Even though you’re not here physically, you’re always near to me and in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m using my elephant memory that you said you’d rely on. You’re still teaching me so many things, thank you. You’d be so proud of your son. He’s grown tall, and handsome and he is still really sweet. He knows how to be kind and he can be humbled by life which is key. He’s so loved and he’s doing fine. He loves his cousin Leo, who holds your initials. You’d love your nephew too. He’s a spunky, book loving toddler who is obsessed, with your Declan. He calls him, “Yea-Yea,” and tries to talk to him with every phone call that comes in. We’re all ok. I love you more every day.


Your little Sister



A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”


Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.


For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:


May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.


Hong Kong a year later…

Hong Kong a year later…according to my brain as of late

“Here and there and every where.

The bustle, the travel, the hustle, the flow.

The ebb of the tide, the flow of the roll,

the glow of this city’s lights.

Entrancing, never letting go.”

A poet, I am not. I shall leave that genre of the written word to my father, however, I may tilt my pen towards the muse of rhyme from time to time… 

“Reflections 365 days later…”

Life in this city was astounding, loud, noisy, enticing, invigorating, crowded, thrilling, overwhelming, amazing, and technologically fascinating.

The circumstances in which I went to Hong Kong were dire. Traveling to visit a loved one fighting the battle of a life time was so overwhelming, and humbling. I couldn’t wait to sit at my sister’s side, hold her hand, and give her hugs all…the…day…. long.

We did all of these things.

And so much more.

I provide for you a visual imagery of some of the things we saw, felt, touched, and experienced together.

Life is so precious. Remind yourself to appreciate the little moments. BREATHE, reflect, and appreciate.

Every day is a struggle, every day is a gift, every day there will be a whole bundle of tumult rolled into a package we call life.


When I arrived on Halloween, we wore matching wigs as a necessity of course. “Hi there, yes we are sisters, yessss….we are wearing wigs, thank you for staring. Good day sir.”


This view from a high rise building where I waited while she attended healing yoga for cancer patients astounded me. This is a really large city. I am jet lagged. I sat down and faced another direction because I got dizzy so quickly.


Hello peaceful turtles in Hong Kong park. 🙂 I did a little jig when I saw turtles, because I mean, TURTLES!


This is my beautiful nephew, we take selfies, yes he’s cuter than me. Shhh, don’t tell him though, it’ll go to his head. 😉 JK!


There was this waffle place, when one sees a waffle place, one stops to eat of course. He even posed for a photo patiently before digging in.


Photo session on the bus back home after synagogue. This took 3 photos to actually capture all of our heads, but I mean who was counting?!  It was so much fun. Except for the part as we went to get off 2 blocks before our stop, and we waited 12 minutes because of traffic….. 🙂 thank you Hong Kong.


After a long morning of chemo, we took a walk through the park to get sunshine and matched with our smiles.


What caught my attention was the first two bold printed lines. My brain role played back as follows, “Yes, you have my attention, awesomeness, I’m interested…”


My first panorama attempt at a fancy posh-y soccer/ dare I say football field. Thank you brother in law. 🙂


I like this quote today, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy!”


I took a lot of bathroom photos. My brother in law thought this was quite strange. What can I say? I’m pretty strange…that’s an understatement.


I was really interested in this pink wig option. She didn’t feel it was an every day look though…. Beautiful salon visit to help with a wig adjustment. Loved those stylists.


Colorful and lovely back drop of the H.K. smog-city sky line.

DSC01615 DSC01614

These photos are included…just because they are funny and we were laughing. 🙂

The photo list could go on and on. I’ll reflect more later at some point. Sparkle on friends!

Dear Andy and Rachel…

Dear Andy and Rachel in 2003,

Who could have been certain to know where we would end up twelve years later? The first date occurred because you asked me out after we discussed what we were both “not” doing on black Valentines Friday. You see when you are nineteen and twenty three, you are certain that everything you feel is truly from the depths of your soul and that it will be for an ever-lasting period of time. I had no idea about what I knew for certain in life, but I did know that there was something special that connected us two.

Life is made up of choices.

And I chose you. And you chose me.

We had no idea what we faced on March 19, 2005.  The future was laid out before us, much like  the aisle way that lead us before our family and friends during our marriage ceremony. Traditional in a sense, but unconventional all the way. Our sisters stood at our sides and also lead the ceremony that joined us in a union that we cherish to this day.

The first moments we spent together were quiet and nestled in what I call the bowels of the Lincoln Hall building at PSU. Only the most unromantic of all buildings in the city of Portland. However, I found those sacred moments tucked away into hallway corners as romantic as they come. I can still feel the pitter patter of my heart beat as I think about our stolen kisses between classes and performing arts venues.

We had no idea the storms we would weather together in the next ten years of time.

I have often been asked the following questions, usually in succession too many times to count: “How long have you been married? Wait, when did you get married? How old are you?”  The responses are often filled with shock, or with some sort of unwanted commentary. Mostly, I believe, people smile and are pleasantly surprised.  I appreciate the cynicism and welcome their doubts.

Nat King Cole’s words echo in my mind when these inquiries are made, “They tried to tell us we’re to young. Too young to really be in love. They say that loves a word, a word they’ve often heard, but never really known the meaning of.”

I watched a video recently with Beyonce commenting on her life, her passions, and her experiences as a female performing artist. A specific line about her marriage resonated with me. It was the following, “People feel like they loose something when they get married. I don’t agree…There’s something exciting about having a witness to your life,” Beyonce.

I have compiled, but will not limit our experiences to bare witness to thus far.  In the last ten years, we have a list, there have been too many tales or tails, what have you…to make a running commentary on all of the events that have transpired.  I thought this might make both of us smile, laugh, and cry all together.  Just like the great Dolly Parton said, “Laughter through tears, is my favorite emotion.”  So here goes my dear, take a deep breath and plunge forward.


-Circa London, England: Brown’s restaurant eleven years ago. The man that kept counting out his bill in single pounds, ever…so…slowly.

-The sparkling white walls in that restaurant seemed to glow more brightly when you handed me that little jewelry box.

-Walking into the flat and having your parent’s beam with anticipation.

-Planning our special day and you demanding we buy a wedding planner binder, who knew you’d want to be so organized. 🙂

-Friends, family, and loved ones gathering around on March 19, 2005 in Oregon.

-Meeting my Grandmother’s cousins and only living relatives on my maternal side. ❤

-The epic airplane journey across the ocean to Hawaii, laced with an episodic second night as, “man and wife,” that involved far too many roaches to make a memory worth describing.

-Becoming one with the sun, and lobsters in human bodies, all in the same day.

-Rainbow license plate obsessions and wild chickens roaming the earth while stalking cats lingered nearby.

-The unwrapping of giant presents and the using of huge mixing bowls to make our first meals together.

-The white fluff ball cat I decided to name Bella entered our lives with fleas flinging from all four of her sides.

-Cat claws, paws, and tears.

-Herding dogs in 800+ square foot spaces makes for interesting conversations.

-Bouncing kitten and bookshelf adventures

-Singing duets with a poorly played saxophone one floor below.

-Midnight phone calls on crackly phone lines

-Learning and exploring how to sing with a belt and win with musical theatre versions of Country songs.

-Being introduced to the one and only Patsy Cline through song.

-First birthday cakes on sheet pans welcoming you home after playing for yet another long weekend of Army work.

-Hanging laundry on the deck door with naked neighbor cats walking far, far below.

-Competing for parking spots that were the size of twin sized beds

-Black lined bathtub confessionals and scrubbing by one’s mother in law grease on elbow grease.

-Moving with cat and dog hair flying around in swirls throughout the hallway

-A sheep herding animal sure she’d be left behind, frantically pacing and panting.

-Moving back upstairs with the same desk multiple, multiple, multiple times

-Riding in the car with unusual smells, and finding tiny brown packages left by our I.B.S. ridden dog who was all too eager to clamor into the front seat of said car. 🙂

-Cold wet nose alarm clocks and black and white bed cover burrowing caves.

-Meeting first our nephew and then our new niece born one month apart.

-Hannukah and Christmas bake off’s with two worlds of tradition in a small apartment.

-Catching the stove on fire and opening all the windows in a 1000 sq. foot apartment all the while welcoming me home from teaching assuring me that nothing was burned….well…not too badly that is.

-Adventures in lone trails and back woods of Oregon in a small kia sephia.

-Camping for a weekend with a lovely crazy dog and fishing for leg trout, I mean trout.

-Plucking pheasants and other such things on a back porch

-Warming our toes with the light of a soon to be discovered expensive fire place

-Opening presents one day early assuredly know one would know, shhhhh.

-Almost burning down the apartment in the middle of the night with the most romantic bathroom candle light possible. Note to self, always blow the candles out.

-Discovering the broken Italian butter dish, with a warm and googy welcome home from said butter thief, who was all too eager to share her discovery.

-Hidden tennis balls beneath the green couch of destiny.

-Closets and litter boxes, enough said.

-Four living beings between five small walls.

-Karaoke sing off’s and $100 cash

-Ivory keys and grand piano sounds resounding in a beautiful home.

-Riding shotgun for tows and flatbed work

-Rebuilding a neighbors fence after driving for way too many hours to be even mentioned.

-Snow storms of the century, locked away for a week together and we still made it out alive and smiling.

-Snuggles with a dog and a cat on one couch

-Sondheim sing off’s in the smallest apartment in Beaverton

-Introduction to the smells of marijuana through bathroom vents, and me searching for rotten eggs…yeah…

-Listening, rehearsing, and debating about the ways of becoming a real life Peanut character.

-Stacks, and piles, and more stacks, and piles of…children’s books, until being cut off…and using the trunk of a car as a new storage site.

-Mine and yours matching ice cream pints.

-Naming our first fish, placing them lovingly in unbalanced pH water, and later fishing them out of said tank when they had traspired.

-Celebrating friend’s marriages, knitting parties, and birthdays over two blissfully exhausting years of stress, work and a masters degree later…

-Studying, conducting, and driving all through a blurry eyed view of the world

-On the brink of winter break, a blurry drive home, a looming move, and a diagnosis we couldn’t yet decipher but yet still lingered.

-35 Boxes and 1 furry gray cat disappearing into a box or two, or 35 later.

-Moving again, and again, and again.

-Coping that first year, needles and oranges, needles, and pavement, needles and running shoes, and finally a first triathlon later.

-Injuries and proud scars, living through the tears with laughter

-Wrapped bandages and a masters degree in hand.


-First half marathon later.

-First interviews and 45 miles a day commute to a first position for four years.

-Four schools later for a woman who was determined to continuously work through a recession that would not relinquish it’s hold on the nation.

-Hearing, “Happiness,” sung by the cutest middle schoolers around.

-Pursing passions on and off stage with art as a focus and collaboration the key to a musical success.

-Tears, laughter, family and friends moving and growing.

-Airplane flights and faux fights.

-The odds of searching, discovering, and purchasing a property we still are discovering

-Clinking of keys and the unlocking of a door to which we own

-The true definition of, “hangry.”

-Learning to speak UK English, French, German, Italian, and Dutch over the course of thirty days, lucky enough to encounter this experience twice in our life times.

-Bonding with humans we love near and far around the country for life.

-Entrusting our fur babies to our amazing adopted daughter of sorts.

-Countless wonders of the world, singing on the Champs Elysses, 14 days, 3 train rides, countless public transit experiences, surviving no-pick pocketing, and 2 passports later, landing back in the land of the US and reuniting with our old lady dog and cat.

-Sending our pup over the rainbow.

-Rescuing when having fallen in the middle of a run.

-Getting running shoes back on after multiple falls.

-Living through looping with students across a town, 25 miles each way for two years.

-The constant patience of a loving man and his ability to listen to each story day in and day out.

-Learning to re-pack a classroom for the seventh time.

-Snuggles in the dark.

-Smashing yellow jackets on or off of my body.

-Pushing each other to be the best people we can be.

-Thinking through if we would rather, “be right or be reconciled.”

-Learning just how communication really plays a key role in any relationship.

-Helping whenever we can lend a hand, or knowing before the other person even realizes it is needed.

-Being a wonderful partner as best we can be on a daily basis.


-Having a best friend brought in out of state, to the school I worked at, and being told your 30th birthday present is…. 🙂

-Loving the best and most unattractive parts of the other person through and through.

-Laughing, and laughing some more.


-Knowing it’s ok to not to like one another sometimes, but always loving them through each emotion.

-Bringing unexpected thoughts, gifts, and hugs when they are needed the most

-Holding hands when we take walks everyday.

-Listening some more.

-Finding ways to spend time together no matter what might occur.

-Playing chaffer to and from Portland.

-Sitting through hours of practice, rehearsal, and more practice of music we have both heard forwards and backwards.

-Wiping away tears when we just can’t make lemonade.

-Sharing our musical gifts together.

-Singing that song after seven years had passed AND rocking it.

-Loving our siblings together.

-Appreciating, caring, and gratifying the amazing parents we were given on this Earth.

-Watching our nieces and nephew grow and reflecting on the people they have become.

-Celebrating and counting the blessings of friendships we have every day with amazing people near and far.

-Believing the best throughout the constant struggle of what life is.

-Being ourselves through and through.


And you my beloved Andy, are my favorite person on this earth. I feel grateful for each day I am bestowed upon with time to spend with you.  I admire your humanity, your kindness, your love, and your skills at living life to the fullest. I am proud to be your partner for life. Cheers and let’s toast and say, “L’Chaim,” to another decade. ~’Mwah~   :-*