Happy Birthday, Brother

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 54 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I can not help but remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my experience of loss with you today on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.



*This nickname died with my brother. When he was young, he could not manage to say Michele and so I was Shell to him for as long as he lived.



This post was originally written on February 19, 2017 and posted after my blog went live on March 24.




My Journey to Strong: Chapter 1



Chapter 1: Fear is an Excellent Motivator


Dear Reader:

The day I met my personal trainer, my ankle was still swollen and blue from the fall I’d taken the week before. I wore work-out clothing and furry slippers. My husband chauffeured me to my appointment as I hadn’t driven since my mishap. Indeed, I had barely left the couch.

We pulled up to a small office building where the first thing I noticed was the stairs leading to the upper floor. Thankfully, the gym is tucked behind the stairs on the ground floor. I hobbled in and Jonathan greeted me with energy and enthusiasm (two things I lacked).

“We’re lucky you’re on the bottom floor,” I said. “And, by the way, I’m so nervous that I need a drink!

He laughed and offered me something to drink. I declined feeling sure that he meant to bring me nothing more potent than a glass of water. And, of course, it was a joke (sort of)! I had come ready to talk about getting in shape. We began by discussing my goals. They were as follows:

  1. Fall less often
  2. Fall less often and
  3. Fall less often

I told him, what only those really close to me know, that I fall with some regularity. My last meeting with the pavement really scared me. I explained that fear was my primary motivation:  fear of injury, fear of doctors and hospitals and fear of aging badly. I was anxious to know if my goal was doable and he assured me that it was.

“Balance is strength,” he said, and “strength is balance.”

To prove his point, he asked me to attempt the 1-legged standing balance test. I passed! I was even able to balance on my still recovering right ankle! He explained that strength would determine my ability to respond to challenges to my balance. I could offset my inherent klutziness and my tendency to spend too much time dreaming, plotting and planning rather than observing my surroundings.  I was elated… for a brief moment.

Then it was time for me to be weighed, pinched and measured.  I turned away when Jonathan checked my reading on the scale. I did not peak at my measurements as he listed them on my chart. And I displayed no curiosity about my fat to muscle ratio. I just submitted to the process. I was focused on getting stronger. I’d worry about getting thinner later. That brings me to my first bit of newly acquired wisdom on my Journey to Strong.

Wriggle into your black leggings and check your vanity and embarrassment at the gym door!  Just do it!











Dia De Los Muertos

My altar
Catrina draped in my grandmother’s rosary beads
A lamp made by my brother

Dear Reader:

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.

In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.

The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los  Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.

In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.

I remember:

  • My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
  • My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
  • My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
  • Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.

During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?

I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.





The Comfort of October


“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Dear Reader:

There’s something so comfortable about October. It’s a month to simply enjoy. It doesn’t ask much of us, unlike November and December that bring with them expectations and responsibilities.

This month I’ve enjoyed:

  • artichokes in balsamic with sun-dried tomato aioli (bubbles on the side)
  • a visit to a pumpkin patch with three lovely Cal Poly students
  • hot chocolate with whipped cream on top
  • cozy sweaters, warm socks and dachshunds in my lap
  • pumpkin bread, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin everything

I  ask only a couple of things of myself every October:

  1. I begin my holiday shopping! It gives me such pleasure to find the perfect gift for everyone on my list. (My daughter’s birthday is December 20th, so I get to buy twice as much for her!)
  2. I fill up bags of food and warm clothing to donate at my local food bank and homeless shelter. It is somehow even more rewarding to help others as the holidays approach.

And every year I find myself, quite unconsciously at first, reflecting on the year that is drawing to a close and the year ahead of me. The chill in the air and my plans for the future exhilarate me in a way that the month of January does not. I love October!

Hope you’ve had a wonderful month, too.





The Bouquet on my Desk


Dear Reader:

I wore my first sweater of the season last week; it was a chilly 68 degrees. It’s fall in California, but I have a summer bouquet to enjoy every day.! It was created by my blogging friend, Tamara Jare at My Botanical Garden. It was spring when I selected the lovely watercolor and I was anticipating summertime as I always do. I framed the small piece and it sits on my desk in the pink shed. I can almost smell the peonies, roses, grasses and spirea in full bloom.

As Tamara said, “It’s a special arrangement in the same way that each summer is special.” It’s particularly meaningful to me because it’s a reminder of one of the first friends that I made after creating my blog. I have a friend in Slovenia! I never thought I’d be able to say that!

Tamara found my site just two days after I established it and became one of my first followers. I was glad, not only to have her as a reader, but also to discover the beauty on her site. We developed a connection over the past months and have continued to communicate through e-mail.It was fun to discover how much Tamara and I have in common. We are about the same age and happily married with grown children. After she read my post  about aging, she shared that Oil of Olay (tanti anni fa) was the secret to her youthful good looks, too! We agreed that they must have a good advertising company!

We are both creative women who feel happy and complete in our lives. Tamara began her blog when her mother was terminally ill and the artistic expression helped her through that very difficult time. I started my blog when my one -and -only left me to go to college. If one could bottle creative expression, it would be truthful to state that it is a potent remedy in times of loss or change.

I’m sure that I will sound my age when I say that I am amazed to find women who are so seemingly like me in all parts of the world. I’m an “old dog” who learned a “new trick” and I’m grateful to be part of a blogging community with no boundaries.

I am hopeful that someday I’ll meet my friend in Slovenia, but, until then, her art keeps me company while I pursue my creative side.

Thanks Tamara!



A Band-Aid for My Bleeding Heart

Dear Reader:

Never say never! How many times have we all heard that expression? At the ripe age of 57, I’ve learned just how true those words are. During the past week, my bleeding liberal heart has been assuaged by …Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and John McCain. Surprising? Yes! But simply shocking:  I was also comforted by the thoughtful words of President George W. Bush!

I strongly disagree with the politics of all four of these men. But, they voiced what I have wanted to scream from the rooftop since POTUS entered the political arena. This is not normal! This is dangerous! This is sad! This is demoralizing! And, this is embarrassing!

Way back in the 1990’s, Mark Singer of The New Yorker wrote an in-depth profile of a real estate mogul . He concluded that the man had achieved something remarkable:  “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Alas, that man now resides in the White House. I do not sleep well.

Another truism…my least favorite:  life is not fair. I’ve always had trouble with this truth. I can not wrap my mind around the fact that a man with no honor has been rewarded with the highest office in the land.

Pundits are quick to point out that President Bill Clinton did not behave in an admirable way, at all times, in the Oval Office. History has chronicled the exploits of President John F. Kennedy. Ken Burns just brought a recording into our homes of President Lyndon Johnson acknowledging that the war in Vietnam could not be won many years before he sent more troops in to fight and die. We are still suffering the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s unjustifiable and unnecessary “crusade.” Politics is an ugly business and history is as imperfect as the worst of us.

And yet, we learned of the sins of past presidents after their actions. Our current president did not even attempt to hide who he is. He clearly, loudly and proudly told us all that he is a bigot, a misogynist, an ignoramus and an egotist. Then we elected him.

I like to imagine I have a crystal ball and I can see the future. It allows me to write history. In my book, the couragous women and men save us from the lies and hate and insanity. I’ll just keep telling you, dear readers, as a way of telling myself:  Truth will be told. Democracy will survive.









Lazy Post

I’ve had this book for years; apparently I no longer need it!

Dear Reader:

I am feeling very lazy. I can’t seem to make myself write or clean or anything. (Oh, that rhymed!) I went to the grocery store yesterday; today I’ve cleaned up after the puppy. That’s it. I’ve felt this way all week. It’s been ten days since I posted anything despite the fact that I have a half dozen drafts that I could finish.

I’m not depressed; I know how that feels. I’m not ill. I’ve got nothing to complain about.

It’s times like this that I remember a line from a very helpful counselor I saw twenty years ago. “Make friends with the feeling,” she’d say over and over again. I’d say this psychologist earned her money, as I pull that advice out of my pocket often. Here’s the reasoning: feelings can not be wished away. Feelings exist regardless of our desires to manipulate them.

Sometimes, there’s a clear reason we feel the way we do. If we’ve suffered a loss of any kind, we feel sad, alone and lost. How should we feel? Exactly as we do. But, there are times when it may be hard to determine why we feel what we do. It is these times when we must be patient with ourselves.

Perhaps, I just need a rest. Or maybe, my seasonal allergies are tiring me. It could be that the news has overwhelmed me (fires and floods and Weinstein and the POTUS). Then there’s the coastal fog that’s pushed out the sun most of the week. Whatever the reason, I have no ambition this week and I am going to make friends with the feeling.

How are you feeling, dear reader,


P.S. I’ll be back next week…I think!