59. DANCING WITH DEATH – July 22nd – Aug 6th

Excerpt from “My Lovedance”

JULY 22nd
I arrived in Houston Friday night under a crescent moon just like when I was born. Mom birthed me into this world and now I was there to help birth her into the spirit world.

I am Mom’s doula…holding vigil as she dies. I’ve dreamt it. Me, Jarys, Kyra forming the triad necessary to hold open the portal.

I’ve been dreaming of Mom a lot, mostly me taking care of her and she’s a little girl, sometimes a baby. A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream that she looked like one of those troll dolls I used to play with when I was a kid. You know the kind – stick up hair, small carved face, pot belly and impossibly big feet.
When I saw her the first time I came to Houston, gosh, that was just a week ago, Mom looked just like she did in my dream. The edema made her feet look impossibly big; the cancer swelled her belly to the size of an eight month pregnancy and consumed the rest of her flesh so her upper body was tiny and her teeth seemed too big for her face. To complete the image, my sister had colored her hair the same reddish brown I saw in my dreams and it was sticking straight up.

Saturday Mom rallied. She woke up hungry after her big dose of bedtime cannabis. She had a dip egg and toast, some watermelon and then a nap. I fed her three times, got her up to the bedside commode, but her kidneys were shutting down. It’d be soon.

My sister and her husband left for their anniversary trip to Italy. Mom asked for a malocchio from the motherland. She won’t be here when they get back.

My sister had been holding off giving Mom opiates, using the cannabis for the pain, trying to keep her lucid for me and the twins. As soon as they got to the airport, the pain became so intense I had to start the opiates. The first dose knocked her out for twelve hours. So far out, I had to give her oxygen to keep her lucid for my other sister to arrive. And hopefully for my children. They were due to arrive on Monday.

She waited for my sister to leave to begin the process of dying. She waited for me to midwife her death.

Sunday morning I got Mom up for the last time to the commode but for naught. Her kidneys had shut down. But with the help of my nephew’s fiancé, I gave my Mom a spit bath on the commode. Gotta meet death looking your best.

Dying is very much like giving birth. There’s the burst of energy, then the labor begins. For Mom birthing us was difficult. Dying wasn’t easy. The labor began on Sunday.

So I created an altar for Mom. One devoted to her peaceful release. She’s blessed to be here, to have her daughters and grandchildren rally around her. This process of dying is hard on those unused to witnessing the end. I’ve done it many times. As a nurse, my daughter is used to it too. My youngest sister witnessed the demise of both of her in laws. And it was quite traumatic hospital experiences. As much as I hoped Mom would come home to California so I could help her through this portal, I believe she came here as a gift for my sister and her boys. To witness a peaceful passing filled with love.

Mom’s hospital bed was placed near big bright windows where she could look out at my sister’s beautiful pool and fountains, see the kids swim and play. We congregated in the great room with Mom. Singing to her, massaging her limbs, kissing her cheeks, bugging her I’m sure, but heck, it’s our Italian way to love you to death.

After I anointed Mom then did some energy work to help her release her form, she seemed to leave her body. There would periods of peaceful sleep, then she would be slammed back into her painful dying body. She would thrash about restlessly and moan in agony.

I had to begin the drugs given to us by hospice to relieve her pain, trying to give her the least amount possible to keep her comfortable but lucid for when my other sister arrived.

A few hours after I did the release work, both my husband at home and my sister in Italy texted me: Did Mom pass yet?

When I replied: No, she’s still with us, they were surprised. They both felt like she was with them. So Mom really was out of her body that day, perusing the ethers.

I read her “Death as a Birth” from LoveDance® – the chapter in which Yeshua helps Mary’s grandmother die. When I wrote it eleven years ago, I was more like Mary very much attached to the form, but now I feel more like Yeshua, knowing that this body does not contain us.

“Love is eternal and since each of us is Love, then we are also eternal. Not the body. No, the body will die. But who I am as Love can never die. I have always been Love and so have you.”

Yeshua begins by teaching the children how death is a birth into the spirit world. And the chapter ends with the children celebrating their great-grandmother’s death with a birthday party.

When my sister finally arrived that night, Mom seemed to recognize her then really perked up when my sister played an audio of the great-grandchildren singing: “Happy Birthday to Grandma Honey.” I guess she was listening.

Monday was the hardest day. My kids missed their connecting flight and didn’t arrive until after midnight. It was all we could do to keep Mom with us. When they got off the plane, I had Jarys call to keep her going. He ran through the airport singing “Ah Maria” the same Louis Prima song my grandfather sang to Mom when she was little.
As soon as they arrived, my daughter quietly stepped in, explaining to her sibling what was going on, her aunt and cousin listening intently. I felt such a great relief to share the medical aspect of death with Kyra. Finally, I could be with my mother as her daughter.

Kyra decided we should make a giant bed to be closer to Grandma Honey. So the boys pulled the ottoman, love seat and chair up against the bed to create a playpen. My children and I climbed in with her. Our intimacy with death, frightened my sister and nephew, but in the end they joined us.

Mom’s transition was actually quite beautiful. My daughter and I laid on each side of her, holding her in our arms while my son prayed and sang “Ah, Maria”. I witnessed her last breath, heard her last heartbeat. Her soul just floated peacefully out.

On July 21st at 3:33 am PST, Maria Anna Diodato returned to the spirit world.

I called my sister in Italy. She cried and told me that while she planned to get the malocchio on Mary Magdalen’s feast day on the 22nd, Mom had come to her and said “you’d better get it now”. I called her five minutes after she purchased the malocchio.
The business of death took over the rest of the day. I handled hospice, the Neptune Society, called all the relatives on the East and the West Coast and stayed up when the rest of the family passed out from exhaustion to talk to a couple of patients. Mom never got the chance to use her bell to keep me on schedule like she used to in the office.

After hospice left, we let the dog back in the house. My sister’s chocolate lab had held vigil with me the entire time. She laid by Mom’s bed day and night. She came in wagging her tail, went to her toy basket, and then to Mom’s bed, where she gently placed her purple ball, then walked quietly away. A gift for the afterlife.

By the end of the day, after holding it together to deal with everyone else’s grief, I fell into a dreamless sleep. We spent the next couple of days sharing Grandma Honey stories, eating her favorite foods. I changed my flight to leave early with the kids knowing I could not truly grieve until I was home in Steve’s arms.

When I arrived in Ojai, Mom’s energy greeted me. She’s permeated every aspect of the office. I can hear her footsteps coming down the hall as she calls for me. I laid on the lounge under the oak tree where she spent time recovering from her hospitalization.

There’s a Native American saying: “The soul would have no rainbows, if the eyes had no tears.”

My soul is very colorful right now.

I am blessed to have been able to share my home, my life, my children, my dreams with Mom. She helped me accomplish my vision of an integrative health practice and then ran all three of my businesses for eighteen years. She helped me found Divine Daughters Unite, a nonprofit organization that empowers young women through charitable works. She was the eldest board member.

Since Mom passed, there’s been an empty space behind me. She liked to come up behind me, wrap her arms around me and kiss my neck. I shared this with my sister in Italy. A few minutes later, Kyra said her aunt texted her that I needed a “Grandma hug” and gave me one. So sweet, yet it’s always been Mom who had my back.

Still she must be busy. We’ve been trying to get a business credit line for the last four years. This past month, I’ve been getting lots of offers for funding in the mail, some with deadlines due soon. So before I left for Houston, I connected with Mom and intuitively chose one, applied over the phone, and forgot about it.

The day after she died, I got a call. It was from the bank. “Congratulations, you got the credit line!”

I cried, “Thank you, Mom.”
The bank rep was confused, “My name is Todd.”

“I’m thanking my mother, Todd. She’s pulling some strings in heaven as we speak!”

It’s surreal living without her.

I’m not sure how to be a motherless daughter.

I know she’s with me in spirit, but I sure miss her hugs.

Thank you, Mom, for dancing with me all of my life and now in spirit form.


Where is Mom but within me?
I feel her when I think of my sisters and how hard they are trying in their own lives. About their soul lessons and wishing them the best of luck and enlightenment. It’s strange. Losing mother yet gaining her as an aspect of self.

I had a dream that illustrates my view of the circle of life and death.

I am on a great stage with all my family, my sisters, my children, my friends, my patients. Everyone I know and love are there on stage with me acting out their parts in this play called Life. And there is a thick, thick curtain separating the backstage from the front. Most of the other actors in the play do not seem to know what’s backstage or who’s directing us. I know Mom is backstage, with all my dead loved ones, preparing me, guiding me. I know where the curtain parts and slip between to be with her. And I can also see from the director’s view – this great play, both on stage and backstage – everything connected. I feel comforted by this connectedness and wake up smiling.

For Mom, the pain and the joy could not be mixed. Family and friends were her joy. Cancer sucks. Like all dis-ease, I believe it is symbolic of buried emotions hiding deep soul issues. During the last months of Mom’s life, she released a lot of pent up painful emotions. While she was with me, I tried to escort her to those dark places to release the karmic suffering that inevitably gets passed on to your children and grandchildren.

My journey with Mom. So much insight. So much spiritual healing. As much as she could, Mom allowed me to disentangle the family cords that bind us in guilt, shame, disappointment and fear. This spiritual work was a great part of our work together for the past 13 years. It wasn’t just healing others, it was healing ourselves.

Through this heart-wrenching journey with Mom, I was set free and now so are my children. She is so very present for me, more so than when she was alive. Since I was a tiny child, I could sense her emotions, her pain, her fear. I could call her to me when we were miles apart, just like I did with Nana. I was so fortunate that she was open enough to respond. So many stories, most have no idea how gifted Mom was and is.

On the blue moon, just ten days after her death, she showed me in a meditation that fear (in all its forms -guilt, shame, anger, disappointment) is like a thick bank of fog that is so very difficult for her to penetrate. She comes easily to me (rather through me as it feels like she is part of me now) because I released my fear.

Oh yes, I had guilt about not being able to save her. My first dream of her after she died was a guilt dream. Since then she has come through me sharing precious wisdom, like my left breast pain which used to be her “boob alert” – meaning something was wrong in the family- I have it now. She told me it’s my sense of responsibility for everyone and to LET IT GO! I’m working on it.

We grieve what we’ve lost, what will never be. Yet life goes on or rather Love. Love goes on.

Mom was Love pure and simple. I feel her in me…the way she loved me, my sisters, my nieces and nephews, even my husband who she loved like a son. The quality of my feelings towards my family, especially my sisters, have shifted since she died. I truly Feel Her. I Feel the Way She Feels about them. It’s rather amazing. I have more maternal compassion than ever before. I even see myself with new eyes – her eyes!

So let’s release our fear and remember her laughter, her wisdom, her joy.

That is how our loved ones can be with us, when we’re happy!

59. DANCING WITH DEATH – July 13th.

Excerpt from “My Lovedance”

Mom, Kyra and me, Mother’s Day, 2008

At this point I truly wished I felt more confident about this path I’m on with Mom. It was easier when she was here. I could take her pulse and reassure myself that all was well.

She’s been gone two weeks and I haven’t heard from her. She’s in transition from my care to theirs, but since we began working together at Full Circle Family Health, not a week had passed that I hadn’t heard Mom’s voice, received a text, an email, a Facebook post – something.

Guess I’m being prepared for the inevitable. It’s easy to talk. The walk is much, much harder.

One sunny afternoon in late March we were out in the courtyard, enjoying family, food, and music, so I invited Mom to dance. She has always been an amazing dancer. She even danced on American Bandstand in the fifties. Some of my earliest memories are dancing in the living room with my mother, my baby sisters doing their best to keep up.

Fifty years later, I held my mother in my arms and we danced. Even through a wave of nausea that day, she kept dancing. Not even cancer could keep her from feeling the music. Mom’s the one who taught me that life is a dance. And I now see that the dance never really ends.

JULY 13th
The time has come to say goodbye. Mom is near the end. Like a shooting star whose light is ever so bright, Mom burnt through our lives and our hearts.

Helping her pack in April for her trip to visit my sisters, I found a box shoved under the guest bed. In the poor light, I thought it read “Maria’s Dude Box”. Mom laughed, “that’s my dead box!”

In 2005, Mom joined the Neptune Society. Thank goodness she opted for the travel plan, since she became a gypsy in her last few months.

After a month in Utah, Mom finally landed in Texas. She will take her final breath in my youngest sister’s beautiful home. After setting up in-home hospice, I write this on the plane from Houston, coming back to mail out Mom’s box. Then I’ll return to help release her so she can pass in peace.

The first few weeks after she left, we had no contact. I missed her terribly. She did not answer my calls releasing me perhaps. So I spent my time searching the Internet for clips of her dancing on American Bandstand. And I found her.

In 2002 I was invited as endocrine advisor for Great Smokies Labs (now known as Genova) to review a new cell metabolism test. Everyone else brought their spouses to the lavish dinner aboard the Queen Mary. I brought Mom.

The CEO asked me to help the group of West Coast doctors understand how the new test could be used in our clinical practice. While I was in the midst of my explanation, the CEO could not keep his eyes off Mom. Suddenly, he pointed at her and exclaimed.

“You’re Maria from American Bandstand! I rushed home every day after school to watch you dance!”

I searched through several Bandstand clips before I saw my mom’s signature dance move. I replayed it over and over. Yep! That’s my Mom! Steve thought so too, but just to be sure, I showed it to Mom.

Sitting on my sister’s couch next to Mom, we watched the clip. She immediately started naming the dancers including her cousin and friend. And of course, herself. Watching my sister’s face the moment she recognized Mom was precious.

Mom told me that my grandparents didn’t approve of her going to North Philly. It was rough. After school, they took a bus from South Philly, then a monorail train, and waited with the “regs” at Pops soda shop to be called on stage. Mom said the “good dancers” always got called with the “regs” (the regular bandstand dancers). Of course, she always got called.

She acts like it was nothing. “I was embarrassed when that CEO recognized me. He became a doctor and my claim to fame is a dancer on American Bandstand!”

Not your only claim to fame, Mom. No, there are thousands of Full Circle Family Health patients who will never forget how you made them feel like family. There are hundreds of people who you served and cared for in your community. There are dozens of young women you taught as a Girl Scout leader. There are nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, three grand son-in-laws, one granddaughter-in-law to be, three son-in-laws, and three other daughters who you loved and mothered fiercely, passionately, thoroughly.

And there’s me, your eldest daughter. I could have never become the nurse practitioner, the mother, the wife, the friend, the woman I am without you teaching me how to dance through all of life’s transitions.
Especially this, our last dance on earth.

It’s hard to let your loved one go. My youngest sister an RN was quite capable of starting hospice. She just needed permission. She needed me to say it’s time. The twins, still struggling in denial of the fact that our mother is dying, were encouraging her to do more. But neither of us nurse practitioner sisters were there when Mom started going downhill. I told my youngest sister that I trusted her to be our eyes, our ears, our hands. I trusted her nursing instinct. And she was right. Mom’s liver is failing now.

Both my youngest sister and I married our high school sweethearts. Before Mom got sick, my sister and her husband booked a 30th anniversary trip to Italy. Mom insists that they go. “Don’t change your whole life for me!” My sister’s afraid to go and leave Mom with the non-medical twin, the one most afraid of death. So I’m flying back to Houston on Friday and I’ll stay until my sister returns eleven days later. She thanked me for making her feel safe. I hope I can help the twins make peace with this. Mom hopes so too.

And Mom promised to wait for me.

I am forever grateful for the past 17 years I was able to work side by side with Mom. We laughed, we cried, we argued, we hugged. We always kissed so long. Never goodbye.

No matter how many miles away she is, I feel her. I don’t believe this will change when she releases her body. Mom will always be with me, always a part of me.

I spent Sunday afternoon calling all the relatives. Mom hasn’t been able to answer their calls for a couple of weeks now. Her best friend and her cousin bemoaned not coming to see her. “But you did see her. When she was well last year.” Mom was divinely guided. She went back to Philly last summer and had a great time with her childhood friends and cousins. If she knew it was “good bye”, she might not have been as free to enjoy the precious moment of Now.

Unfortunately, Mom’s not ready. Her body is done, but her spirit is strong. She wanted to hold another great-grandbaby. The hospice chaplain reassured her that she will, before anyone else. She will hold each and every one of the babies to come.

I pray to be able to help her be at peace.

Just as she birthed me into this world, I am privileged to midwife her into the spirit world.

Life is sweet and sweeter yet when you’re dancing with death. And we’re enjoying every step with Mom!

Death is not an ending; it’s a beginning of a new way of being.

Editor’s Note: And so Concludes this four part journey into life and death entwined.

59. DANCING WITH DEATH – Jan 26th-May 8th

Excerpt from “My Lovedance”


I type this listening through a baby monitor as Mom’s oxygen concentrator hums and puffs, I truly never expected this.

So much has happened, I can hardly breathe. Finally feeling the enormity of this event.

Yes, it’s stage IV adenocarcinoma of undetermined primary…probably small bowel as the pancreatic markers are negative. Definitely not breast, colon, lung. PET scan confirmed – no bone mets, no brain mets, nothing in her chest. But three large tumors in her retroperitoneal cavity and many metastasis to her spleen and liver.

I believe her cancer represents her fears. The first one off her duodenum is FEAR. How fear has ruled her life…it’s the mothership that launched the rest…otherwise known as the primary tumor. Then there’s one inferior to her pancreas, long and lean…I believe it is REGRET…all the regrets of her life, not doing all the things she wanted to, not forgiving herself or others, especially Dad, and Nana. Then there’s a smaller tumor near her aorta…this one is DOUBT. How Mom has doubted herself all these years. Never good enough, educated enough, smart enough, brave enough. Then there’s her VULNERABILITY splattered as mets on her spleen. She’s always been vulnerable to codependent relationships and being taken advantage of. And last, the liver mets represent her WORRY. How much time spent worrying about everything– money, love, other people’s drama.

These five fears must be released to be healed.


After more than a month, Steve and I got to get away. Just up to Santa Barbara for two nights. A glorious day in the sun, nearly as hot as summer in mid-February, lounging on a private beach. As I stood in the water communing with the Divine Mother, whales swam by and I could feel their energy… “you know what to do.”

We just got the final news when we left. My youngest sister told the twins. I tried to prepare them when I got the PET scan and pathology back, but they needed to hear it from the doctor who frankly said very little except that without treatment, Mom has maybe a few months and with treatment, if she can stand being sick all the time, maybe a little longer, up to two years…but eventually the cancer will become resistant.
Mom has chosen to treat her cancer with cannabis. There’s no guarantee, but at least she’s not in pain, and has an appetite. She’s had problems with nausea, dry heaves and occasional vomiting bile, probably due to pancreatitis and tumor obstructing her bile ducts. She’s finally off oxygen as the blood clots in her lungs slowly dissolve. She’ll be on blood thinners for at least six months.

My sisters might be more comfortable if Mom chose chemo as her treatment option but it’s so hard to see her sick and frankly, Mom has never believed in chemo.

At least they agreed to the cannabis. Living with Mom high has been quite the adventure.

This would be so funny, if it wasn’t so sad.


A few weeks ago, on one of Mom’s good days, we were taking a little walk to the mailbox and she stopped and squeezed my arm.

“You know, my cancer is going to catapult your healing practice into the future you’ve always dreamed of.”

“Thanks, Mom, for the many gifts you have given me.”

In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, we traversed our soul paths together. Without Mom, Full Circle Family Health would have never been realized. Without Mom, I could have never birthed Genesis Health Products. Without Mom, I would have never founded our charity – Divine Daughters Unite. Mom has always been my biggest cheerleader, breathing hope into my dreams even if she couldn’t believe in her own.

Sometimes healing means releasing the old ways of being to make way for the new.

Everything’s a gift. Our challenge is to be open to receive the gift of each and every encounter.

MARCH 20th

Right now, Mom is at a beach house in Oxnard with my sisters, giving them time to process the reality of the situation. We’re not all on the same page medically. So we had a meeting. Mom said there were three rules: no harsh words, we had to laugh, and ultimately remember that this is her decision. One of my sisters is still struggling with letting Mom go. It’s better now that she can witness Mom’s decline first hand, yet it’s still hard.

After my sisters were finished deciding what was best for Mom, I asked her what she felt was happening. She said she thinks that she hasn’t decided whether to stay or go and that’s why it seems like the cannabis isn’t working, that’s why she’s still sick.

I told her that I do not believe there is any “thing” we can give her that will cure her cancer. I believe that only she has the power to cure herself. And if she chooses to go, I told her I would help her pass as gracefully as possible.

MAY 8th

Mom is gone.

Not to heaven, not yet. She’s in Utah.

After that horrific two weeks in March when Mom finally understood she was dying, she returned to my care. She had lost another ten pounds, was weak, dehydrated, worn out from pain. I got her rehydrated, switched her cannabis from oral to suppositories which controls pain and nausea much better without the psychoactive effects – sometimes I feel like I’m on the set of Breaking Bad as I experiment with the best way to formulate cannabis for her.

I called hospice for palliative care, got physical therapy started, and got her to work with a psychospiritual therapist. I then sat down and had a come to Jesus talk with her (or come to Buddha talk, as she was reading Buddhist books at the time). I asked her again if she was ready to die and she said emphatically, NO!

“Then, Mom, you are going to have to take control of your health care. Just like I teach my patients. You must be in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health.”

Mom showed her true spirit and rallied. She took over her own meds, even learned to administer her own suppositories. Mom was sure she couldn’t possibly reach. I reminded her she’d wiping her own but for 70 plus years. She gave me the stink eye, but managed to administer her own suppository. Yes! Goodness knows, if we couldn’t find the humor in this cancer-drama and laugh, we’d be crying all the time.

Mom began preparing her own meals and ate every couple of hours trying to gain the pounds she’d lost. She became discouraged when her weight didn’t change after a week of trying, so I taught her how to eat consciously. How to not just be grateful for the food, but to bless each and every bite, and instruct that precious food to do for her body what she wished. A week later she had put back on six pounds.

Under the guidance of her therapist, Mom arranged meetings either by phone or in person with the people in her life she needed to release. On Easter Sunday, she even performed a profoundly beautiful and heart wrenching ceremony, first releasing her mother, then my sisters, and finally in tears…me.

I tried to help Mom die consciously, and she began to live consciously.

By mid-April, it was clear Mom had taken a turn for the better. It was time for her to be with my sisters and her other grandchildren. She agreed.

I called my sisters. They were excited that Mom seemed better. I warned them that it was the calm before the storm. The time when the terminally ill rally, seem so much better, then slip away. They didn’t care. They just wanted to spend what good days Mom may have left with her.

So I did for Mom what she did for me and released her.

My sister flew out from Utah and drove our mother north. Mom finally got to see Jarys’ new apartment and bring him a fruit bowl (because it’s not a home unless you have a bowl full of fruit to offer your guests). Then they headed to Vallejo to stay at at the twin’s beach house for a few days. Last Monday, my sister flew with Mom to Utah.

It was hard letting her go. Trusting that she would be ok without me. Trusting that I would be ok without her.

It wasn’t an easy transition. The day my sister arrived here, Mom got off her schedule, skipped a dose of cannabis, became paranoid, insomniac, emotional. Her change in mood appeared to be chemical, but perhaps it was fear.

Too much, too soon, yet there so little time left to complete her “bucket list” (Mom’s terminology, not mine). I don’t believe in putting all my dreams, wishes, aspirations into a bucket to do “someday”.

I believe the time is NOW – to be fully present each and every moment.

Before she left, Mom wanted to see Kyra. When Mom first got out of the hospital, she dreamt Kyra told her she was having a baby. That evening Kyra gave her a stuffed elephant she bedazzled with her crocheted wedding doilies. She told her Grandma Honey to please sleep with the toy to imprint it with her energy so when she’s through with it, Kyra can give the elephant to her babies. After sleeping with it for the past four months, Mom returned the elephant to Kyra.

59. DANCING WITH DEATH – January 6th

Excerpt from “My Lovedance” Editor’s Note: Part one of a four part series.

On January 6th, 2015 life threw me a curve ball.

I took one look at my mother and knew life was about to change. Mom was sick, really sick. And I know sick.

I’ve been working in the medical field for over thirty years. I can smell disease, feel tumors, see death. And Mom rarely ever gets sick.

But after flying to Utah to spend Christmas with one of my sisters and then driving from LAX to Big Bear to entertain my youngest sister’s family for New Years, Mom was tired. And she’s never tired! My mom is the Energizer Bunny! Plus she had a strange rash on her her legs.

So that day despite being “my worst patient” as she proudly claimed, Mom got up on my exam table so I could check her out.

The rash turned out to be phlebitis and I didn’t like what I felt in her stomach. And the abdominal ultrasound confirmed my suspicions.
So I consulted with my collaborating physician and ordered a CT scan and a venous Doppler. Mom’s bloodwork didn’t look great either.

The next week as I was orchestrating Mom’s care, my other sister (there’s four of us girls, less than four years apart between me and the youngest with twins in between) texted that she was driving from Northern California to check in on Dad.

My parents have been divorced for twenty-five years but still lived in the same town.

Mom drove up to Ojai to stay and work with me, managing my businesses since 1997. And she insisted on driving the seventy miles back home so we could have our separate lives. A very self-sufficient woman, our mother raised us girls to be strong and independent.

Dad seemed to have the same neurological symptoms he had five years earlier, so I set up an appointment with his neurosurgeon, ordered blood, and an MRI.

Mom had a tendency to focus more on others than herself, so I didn’t think she needed to know about Dad yet and she was adamant that I not tell my sisters about her until we knew more.
So the next morning, I’m with Mom at the interventional radiologist getting her liver biopsied while juggling calls from my sister regarding Dad’s medical care. When it rains, it pours.

That evening my sisters were giving me a hard time for not getting more involved with Dad. I went in to check on Mom and she took one look at my face and asked what’s wrong?

“Please,” I begged her, “let me tell my sisters.”

She agreed.

I called a conference call knowing my three sisters would think it was regarding Dad. “This isn’t about Dad. It’s about Mom.”

And then the tears began to flow.

The great weight was lifted for a short time. The next day Mom insisted on going back home to pack. Since her venous Doppler showed no signs of deep vein thrombosis, my collaborating physician and the interventional radiologist agreed that she could go home. I let her go, knowing my sister would stay with her.

But Mom felt fine and sent my sister home!
Sunday morning at 7:15, I got a call from Mom’s partner. “Deb, the paramedics are here and they want to speak to you.”

I instructed the emergency personnel that Mom was probably having a pulmonary embolism. By the time I got to the ER in her home town, they had brought her back to life three times.

I walked into the emergency room – the same one I volunteered as a candy striper before going to UCLA nursing school in 1981. There I found my mom intubated, panicking, but very much alive.

I kissed her, tried to orient her, asked the nurse to please sedate her, and consulted with the emergency physicians. Then I texted my sisters. “You need to come now.” They all flew in that evening. By then mom was in the ICU.

That was Mom’s worse nightmare.

I know nearly dying, being intubated and tied down (yes, they use soft restraints to keep the patients from pulling out their ventilation tube) would be most people’s worst nightmare, but being taken to that particular hospital was hers.

You see, both her parents died in that hospital.
In December 1982, my beloved grandparents moved from Philadelphia to California to be near their only daughter and granddaughters.

I was just a nursing student at UCLA but when Poppop got off that plane, I knew he was going to die. And he did, three weeks later.

Less than two years later, Nana died in that same hospital.

Mom never ever wanted to go there…but there she was in the ICU, unable to communicate with a tube down her throat and her hands tied down. Have you ever seen anyone yell with their eyes?

Thank goodness for my daughter, an ICU nurse, who knew those machines like

The back of her hand. The rest of us nurses…yes, three out of four daughters…hadn’t been practicing in the hospital for years.

Five days after that fatalistic call, Mom was discharged from the hospital into my care.


After nine years of working as an employee first at an urgent care then with an ob-gyn, I had a dream…to start my own holistic health care practice.

So I left a private practice seeing 27 or more patients a day as an employee to slow down and spend quality time with my own patients; time that they gratefully compensated me for and then submitted their completed bill of services to their own insurance. Finally I was independent of the insurance industry. Soon a trend began as patients invested in their care became increasingly more responsible for their health.

My dearest patients supported my entrepreneurial nature by following me into my new integrative medical practice—Full Circle Family Health. One day I was evaluating a woman with postmenopausal bleeding and had an uneasy feeling. A few years earlier my intuition led me to discover a rare growth on her liver. She trusted my feelings and did not hesitate to agree to an ultrasound. That’s when we discovered the tumor.

I had diagnosed patients with cancer before. I had even lost a few to the disease. But this beloved patient was different. Her cancer became our dance floor. I learned to partner with Barbara to the rhythm of her dis-ease, to the changing beat of her desire, to the symphony of her life’s purpose. I held nothing back, dancing with her through choices that I may not have chosen, orchestrating a care plan that fit her needs—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I researched every option, conventional and alternative. She fought the good fight, but in the end…she showed me how to slow dance.

On the morning of her death, I felt Barbara as a bubble of delight floating through me. Not an hour later, her daughter called to tell me she had just passed. For the first time in 25 years of healing, I experienced the grace of death.

Like most health care professionals, I had viewed death of a patient as a failure and could not fully receive the gift of their passing. But hers, I embraced. I surrendered to loving her as a person, to getting close to her family, to being a part of her circle—truly Full Circle Family Health.

At the funeral, others commended me for coming. How could I not? I came to honor her, to support her family and to let her go. Like many of her loved ones, I shared my thoughts. Mostly I thanked her delightful spirit, free now from pain playing with her little grandson.
This is the way it used to be. Before insurance carriers and malpractice, we used to get involved with our patients. We knew their families, we birthed them, we helped them get through tough times in their lives, and we buried them. We understood the circle of life. They understood too. We respected one another; we were part of a community.

As I dance my dreams into reality, they expand to encompass all I love. Transforming my health care practice into one that supports my relationships, my health and my soul purpose—my LoveDance®—has allowed me to model a healthy balanced life which helps my patients achieve their goals. And those who are ripe for healing arrive from across the globe. They come because I dance their dance.

Excerpt from My LoveDance. Available on Amazon

Death and the White Light

Eddie. He came to me in the fall of 2002, diagnosed with lung cancer. His lawyer, a patient of mine, suggested he consult with me, as a clinical endocrine advisor in a research project using natural progesterone to treat cancer at the Sansum Medical Clinic. Cancer is not my specialty. I specialize in neuro-immune-endocrinology which I believe is at the core of most dis-ease. So I spent two hours going over his history, looking for signs of age-related decline that could be at the root of his illness, trying to understand why this brilliant man’s body was failing him at 52, and explaining the biochemistry of cancer as related to the complicated system of hormonal miscommunication with DNA.

Exuding enthusiasm, Eddie asked, “So you have something to balance my ligands?” He was brilliant, one of the only patients who understood the scientific lingo of my theories. He was even open to the psycho-spiritual roots of dis-ease, including the irony of being afflicted with cancer after inventing thermal implants to treat brain tumors.

In fact, I did have something for him—my Genesis Gold® formula to balance the hypothalamic orchestration of the neuro-immune-endocrine system—but, in theory only. After completing pilot studies the year before, my personal funds ran out and I struggled to find a manufacturer to mix even a small batch. Eddie took my hand and offered to help.

“No,” I protested, “you came here for me to help you.”

“Perhaps I came to help you. My cancer was a fortuitous portal for our meeting.”

Thus began our journey to manufacture my formula so he might partake of it. He truly believed he would be cured by my invention. In the meantime, I recommended a natural treatment regime, since he was opposed to traditional therapies, and spent much time counseling him and sharing many spiritual portals. He treated me as a beloved daughter, introducing me to colleagues who would forge the path to the birth my nutraceutical product. Becoming attached, I searched for cures for his cancer.

The day I brought the first bottle of Genesis Gold® to him, he smiled, beckoned me closer and whispered, “I knew you could do it.”

It was his last lucid moment. At the request of his family I had been coming to his lovely villa in the hills of Santa Barbara to help him die. As a nurse practitioner, I treated the walking well. Some patients had passed over the years, usually of old age, occasionally untimely, but not since being a neophyte nurse had I witnessed death.

After graduating nursing school in 1983, I worked on a surgical floor at UCLA Medical Center. We saw the sickest of patients—heart transplants, complete surgical resections of the bowels, lung resections. My first encounter with death was a young woman, my age, dying of pancreatic cancer. When I arrived on the night shift and saw her Do Not Resuscitate order, I knew her family and physicians had given up. Not me! I was not going to let her drown in her own secretions and stayed by her bedside suctioning her tracheostomy. Her intern refused to give me a permanent suction order so that I would take care of my other three patients, so I handed him the suction catheter and called the chief resident. My colleagues were appalled. No one called the chief in the middle of the night, especially not a nurse.

Amazingly, he wasn’t upset, but asked if I saw the DNR order. “Doctor, I’m not resuscitating her. I just don’t want her to be alone. I…” Seeing the intern escape down the hall, I tried to hang up on the chief.

“Oh, no, you don’t. We’re going to discuss why you can’t let her die.” I resisted, but he kept me on the phone until it was too late.

The charge nurse helped me prepare the young woman’s body for the morgue. And with tears, I was forced to let my patient go.

Twenty years later, I was not so resistant. Eddie’s family left me alone with him. I sat at his bedside and meditated on how I could help him pass. I had already counseled with each of his family members. When I thought of his recalcitrant son who had finally agreed to see his father after our phone conversation that morning, I felt a wave of gratitude. And it wasn’t mine, it was from Eddie. I opened my eyes.

His diminished energy, faded to non-existent in his limbs, now concentrated in his heart chakra, shimmered, and I gasped to see a funnel of light connect to him. He appeared to lift from his form—pure white light not the fiery red of his life force—and enter the conical shaped energy. Other light forms greeted him, ancestors and guides, passing him along to the end. And at the infinite end of this brilliant white light was pure Love. He was enveloped, embraced like long lost lovers, the encounter so intimate; I was torn between turning away in deference to such a private moment and watching in awe.

Suddenly, Eddie’s essence turned away from the Light and I was swept up to see from his perspective. It appeared as if the room where his body lay, even me at his bedside, existed in a fishbowl. The reality was the Light, the physical existence, an illusion. So peaceful, so blissful, the light was very familiar to me.

I remember calling in the White Light to protect my little sisters while I was away at kindergarten and invoking the same White Light to surround my own children whenever I dropped them off for school. If I would forget, my daughter would remind me, “Mommy, do the White Light,” and I would swaddle her and her brother in the protection of the Light that had always comforted me. In that eternal moment, I recalled how the same White Light seemed to bathe my patients and me during a healing and was the one I used to calm injured animals before treating them.

I’ve never been afraid of dying, although letting others go was difficult. My fear lay in being alone, separated from those I love by death. As a healer, I had taken a very long time to release my savior complex, to understand that I was not responsible for my patients’ illnesses, nor could I take credit for their cures. I was a midwife to their healing, holding the space in which they recovered or not—it’s always their choice.

That night after his son came to his bedside to say goodbye, Eddie died.

Two months later, I received one of my greatest openings and began writing my life’s work. Never a moment of writer’s block, it all just flowed in. The synchronicity of events, from the creative process, to publishing LOVEDANCE®, to going out in the world to market has been amazing. Still, I am learning to ask for help and whenever I feel resistant, I hear Eddie, “Perhaps I am here to help you,” and open to receive another’s assistance.

Witnessing the rehearsal of his death was Eddie’s final gift to me. Death is a passing through the veil of illusion and into the truth. There is nothing to fear.

Dear Grieving Parent,

So many people seem to be transitioning right now…I’ve been to three funerals in as many weeks. I’ve counseled many patients, loved ones, and friends who’ve experienced the loss of a dear one. I truly believe that these souls are transitioning now to help us connect to the spirit world. Our love for them becomes the portal. But only through joy can we connect. I wrote the letter below to help those who have lost a child…especially a young adult child…


Dear Grieving Parent,


Know that you are loved very much. We wish there was more we could do to relieve you of your pain. We cannot fathom what you’re going through but are so impressed with your courage and strength. While the pain in your heart will lessen with time, it won’t go away completely. Know that the pain, the grief, the loss of your beloved child will be the event that transforms you.

Life will become more precious. You will begin to live more in the moment, less in the past. You will stop worrying about the future and start enjoying the time you have now to spend here on earth. Because that Presence, that ability to receive joy in the moment, that is your child’s gift to you.

Your child was and is a sensitive soul. A tender heart without an adequate shell for life on earth who felt everything perhaps too keenly. Imagine being a sponge soaking in everyone’s emotion- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Eventually it would take a toll on you. The stress would be tremendous and eventually a way to escape would be welcome.

You might have heard of the indigo children. Indigo represents their life force – the sixth chakra, the one that lies between the eyebrows – that is their dominant trait. Brilliant, sensitive, insightful. Most of these indigo energy souls were born in the eighties, some as late as the nineties. Yet these children who perceive their world so much more acutely than their parents often seek escape. Many are diagnosed with learning disabilities or mood disorders. Some seek escape through chemicals. Many commit suicide. Your child was not alone.

These souls came to earth to transform our consciousness, to help make us more aware of our hearts. They live to stir up our emotions, to make us feel again through the drama of raising them and letting them go. Especially through their passing, they gift their soul family with the emotional change needed for spiritual transformation.

So what change is needed?

It’s time to Choose Love.

Your child’s death is a message. Time for a change. It’s time to release despair and embrace hope. It’s time to live not from our root chakra of survival but in our heart chakra where love and compassion exist.

I believe that means to be open to receive love. As a parent you may be great at giving love. It’s just much harder to be vulnerable and open to receive love. And even harder to learn to love yourself. To be compassionate not just to others but to yourself. You see, love begins with you.

The old energies were about martyrdom, sacrificing ourselves for others. We look at these young people as selfish when they seem to have no goals except that of self pleasure, but perhaps they are part of the pendulum swinging. The generations before them lived to work waiting until retirement to enjoy life. The younger generation works to live…enjoying life now. They are reminding us that this life is about joy. That’s not to say that you should not take care of your responsibilities. But do it out of love, not out of fear.

You see in order to live a life of love, to really begin to love yourself, then truly love others, you must Choose Love.

Every choice you make is either motivated by either Love or Fear. All negative emotions- jealousy, anger, frustration, disappointment, despair-are aspects of Fear. All positive emotions- joy, hope, compassion, appreciation, especially gratitude – are aspects of Love.

You now have a unique opportunity to choose Love. Every moment of every day. It’s ok to feel fear, but when you act let it be from Love. Your love for your beloved child will be the fuel for your new way of being. And your loved ones will be your practice field. Now time to start choosing love for you. Taking great care of yourself, loving yourself, releasing fear and embracing joy.

Choose love and you’ll always be home. Your beloved child lives now in your heart. Your child is your connection to the spirit world.

When you lose someone precious to you, their death becomes a portal for your soul transformation. Once your grief lightens, in those brief moments of joy, when your heart is open then you will realize that your child is right there with you just waiting for you to expand your consciousness and receive them. Your personal angel, your spiritual guide now, and for all those loved ones left on earth that are open to receive them. That’s the amazing thing about being outside of our bodies, we can be anywhere, anytime, with anyone all at the same time!

We love you and will always be here for you.

Love and Light,


Lessons from 2010

The long nights of winter are a time of contraction—as we go within to find our own light. With the rebirth of the sun on the solstice, we appreciate our many blessings—as the outer light reflects our transformation. 

As I reflect on this season full of blessings, I cannot help but be touched by the transformative events of our lives this past year. 2010 was a year of great change. The first half spent living life in the moment—our new year’s mantra—as we cherished every precious drop of time spent with my husband’s beloved grandmother. Gran passed in July yet her light shines through every flower picked for a bouquet, every hummingbird sipping sweet nectar, every sip of coffee that we so enjoyed sharing with her.  

Gran’s passing heralded three more—a dear patient, our Great Dane and our old horse. Yet death begets birth…opportunity flows into our lives…we are filled with wonder… 

My daughter Kyra was the first to be blessed by Gran… only one month later…accepted into nursing school! A natural born healer, she is thriving spiritually and academically making the Dean’s list. The world is blessed to have her healing hands and intuitive heart.  

The first to feel Gran’s passing, my son Jarys has become filled with her light…truly seeing the light in each of us.  A newly credentialed teacher, he works with underprivileged children in San Francisco and every family gathering, he blesses us with his wisdom. 

My husband Steve is the most sweetly affected. Gran has inspired him to enjoy the present while sipping the past like sweet wine and allowing the future to manifest in ripe time. He prepares for retirement by collecting lessons learned while serving the public as a police officer. I am so very grateful he arrives home safely and ever wiser after every shift. 

My own growth has been profound.  Taking care of Gran at the end of her life and helping midwife her through the veil of death has helped me become a more complete healer—embracing spirit as I heal body, mind and heart.  More challenging patients come yet it is not clear who is more transformed—them or me. 

This holiday season as we celebrate with family and friends, I pray to honor Gran by embracing the light in each and every one of them.  

After so much time spent in the cocoon of our making, we shall finally emerge in 2011—like gracious butterflies—enjoying each flower of opportunity. 


Many Blessings of Love and Light,







Literally. Hope died. A golden Great Dane with the heart of a lion. Placing her muzzle on your chest, she would stare into your eyes. I see you. Like in the movie Avatar, she really “saw” who you are. Strange, I know…but Hope was an old soul. And she knew other old souls. Our most sensitive guests could feel her knowing. “This dog’s amazing!” Yes, she was. 

Steve had Great Danes growing up. Our first, Grace, was a big black beauty. The perfect Nana for our kids. Very protective, she watched over them until 2002 when she died at the age of 11. Old for a Great Dane, but we needed her. She was in great shape, a little arthritis in her hips, not able to go on super long walks at the end, but no real illness. She died of a heart attack while I was away with Kyra at a gymnastics meet. Steve tried to resuscitate her, to no avail. 

Six weeks later, I got a call. A woman I worked with years before in the kids’ elementary school asked if I still had our Great Dane. I shared the sad news. And she asked, “Would you like a pup?” It was too soon. We were still grieving. Besides we had our two Border Collies to keep us busy. The younger was in mourning …Ida would only sleep on Grace’s bed, eat out of Grace’s bowl. We weren’t ready. But something told me to go. 

In a litter of four female pups, the largest fawn toddled over and sat between us. Steve picked her up and she submitted, but when her sisters came over to investigate, she got in their way. These are my people! 

So we brought Hope home and she became the alpha of our pack of dogs. Never of us. Always respectful of her human family, but her role was not one of nanny like Grace. The kids were teenagers. Hope became our confidante. She knew who to trust and who to be wary of. You felt safe with her. The first time Kyra went camping with her boyfriend, she took Hope. Never had she camped before without her father and she was not so sure her boyfriend could keep her safe. So Hope went with them. Carried her own pack, kept a stranger from intruding upon their campsite in the middle of the night, then slept between them…it was cold! 

Protective of all under her care, no other dog dared chase her cat! Pippin adored her…in spite of her great size…weighed more than me and taller than Steve on her hind legs…she was so very gentle with him. Pippin loved to roll on Hope’s bed and soak up her doggy odor. Hope walked carefully, laid down in the smallest of spaces, insisting she could fit in our lives, not matter how small the car, the room, the bed. 

She played like a Border Collie…full of energy….chasing the other two…not too much ball sense, but she loved to carry things. Especially your arm. Hope would take your arm and lead you out to the back. Come see my horses! Come see the great hole I dug, nearly caught that ground squirrel! Come, come, be with me! 

We moved deeper into Ojai when she was still a pup. A big pup, no doubt, but she became an integral part of our new lives. You see, when we moved, we got a property to fulfill three things…room for amazing gardens, a barn for the horses, and a place for my practice. When we moved to Ojai, everyone came home. Hope quickly became a therapy dog. My pediatric patients loved to be with her and of course she was gentle and patient even as a pup. Depressed adults found great comfort in the huge dog. She hated the rain, and we didn’t have a doghouse, so she spent the last couple years in the office…when it rained, if it was too cold, too hot…She loved her yard, soaking up the sun on the Saltillo patio, rolling under the oak tree, chasing squirrels in the back, but she’d rather be with me. So when I was through seeing patients, no matter if it was 5 o’clock or if I finished early at 3pm, Hope would start to “talk”. You know how Scooby-Doo talks, well that’s Great Dane. Hope would vocalize….loudly…no barking, not even whining, more like, Oh, please, please, come out and play. Let’s take a walk. The horses are hungry! Come on, you’ve been with them all day! It’s my time now! 

The “nurse” of our little ranchette, Hope kept you company when you were ill and if any of the animals fell ill, she was right there…trying to rouse a downed horse, licking his face, curling up next to him when there was nothing more to do. 

I have had lots of dogs from Irish Setters to German Shepherds, Danes, Border Collies, and a few mutts. All have been special, most were just dogs, Hope was more human. She felt greatly. An emotional dog, she mirrored your feelings and had very strong ones of her own. She was so beautiful, nearly perfect confirmation, we considered breeding her. Mostly because she suffered false pregnancies.  Every six months, about two months after her heat, she would start nesting, adopt a stuffed toy and start lactating. Within a few weeks, she acted as if her “pup” had died and she would bury it, then dig it up, curl up with it and cry. Until we got her spayed at the age of five, poor Hope would suffer post partum depression four months out of the year.

Our last Great Dane suffered false pregnancies too and upon the advice of our vet, we bred her, then spayed her. Grace never was depressed again. Not Hope. She was acutely attuned to our every emotion. She mourned the deaths of our Border Collies. When Ida died in 2007, Hope visited her grave every morning for a month. Pippin accompanied her. She would lie by the rock that covered Ida’s grave with the cat sitting on top of the rock and the two of them would…meditate. I joined them many mornings, Ida was my dog…in fact I mourned her death so intensely, that I never did write about her. Writing helps, but… 

Ida’s mother, Sara played around us…living very much in the moment as dogs are apt to do. When it was time to put Sara down after a long bout of illness, Sara greeted the vet, but Hope knew what was up and tried to block him from getting close to Sara. We talked to Hope and she lay down with us on Sara’s blanket and helped us hold the energy. Then Hope mourned Sara…sat by her rock covering her grave every morning. She was so depressed and so alone, we decided to adopt another dog. Got Charlie last year, in fact exactly a year from the day Hope died. It took a couple of days for her to get used to him, but after that I never saw a dog play so joyously with another. She never cuddled with the girl dogs, but let him sit on her bed, practically on her head! 

Romped with him in the field on the everlasting squirrel hunt nearly every morning. We were just there on Sunday, the day before she died. She was dragging a bit. I thought she was sore from climbing over rocks at the beach the day before. Didn’t realize her heart was tired. She was off her food, wouldn’t drink much, so yesterday I was syringing weak broth into her mouth. Her heart was racing, but she waited for Steve to get home, before collapsing. Of course, it was Labor Day and our vet was not available…so Steve carried her to the Suburban to drive into Ventura to the emergency animal hospital. I sat in back with her. Not a mile down the road, she lay back in my arms and died. I tried to resuscitate her. Steve pulled over and breathed for her while I did chest compressions. But she was gone. 

Steve’s right. When someone dies suddenly, their life force bursts out of them. There is no fading of energy like I described with Gran and Anita…no…Hope just burst out of herself and into the universe. No fear. Just gone. 

We buried her next to the girls. Who knew our little graveyard would get so full so soon. 

My grief is profound, but my gratitude is greater. 

Last night after wiping my tears for the umpteenth time, I prayed that I would be open to receive the gift of this encounter. And I felt Hope. “Why did you leave us so soon. Grace lived so much longer.” You needed her and she died when she was no longer needed. You needed me to go now. And I could see a portal opening. Just like the one that opened when our old horse Kitty died. I held onto her fiercely. So much so that the vet had to tell me to stop feeding her the magic formula and let her go. Just after Kitty died, the first bottle of Genesis Gold was placed in my hands. Then two months later, I began writing LoveDance. Her death preceded a great birth for me. And I have always believed that death begets birth. Now just five weeks after losing Gran and Anita, I lost Hope. I thought the third one would be our old gelding. I even made arrangements for his passing with dignified animal disposal…can’t bury a horse in the front yard…yet I know, that only one I loved greatly would be…the one to complete the triad. 

Hope and Grace…Their energies infused me…“What’s next Charity?” I could feel Hope smile. No, Joy. 

So this morning, I took a break from writing my sorrow and took Charlie for a run. We stopped by Hope’s grave and invited her along. Have you ever seen a Great Dane run? It’s a sight to behold. Her spirit soared across the fields with little Charlie. I could almost see her stop and put her great big head into a squirrel hole. Then stand over it, her soft full jowls helping her great nose capture the scent. Head cocked, so that her big velvety ears stood out like the Flying Nun. Hope was so beautiful…and she taught me so much. 

For me, the gift of Hope was: 

  • To be gentle, especially with myself.
  • To be patient with others,
  • But to ask for what I need when I need it, with passion if necessary.
  • That sometimes the best way to nurse a patient is to kiss their face and just sit with them.
  • To run with abandon, but stop and enjoy the scent of life.
  • To savor every bite, especially treats.
  • To tolerate what’s unpleasant if it’s good for me. (Don’t worry, Hope, there’s no baths in heaven)
  • To accept the gift of life…grandly with fervor, and then let go and embrace death. 

I guess we haven’t really lost Hope…we have her golden energy in our hearts. Thank you, Hope.


We didn’t go to Philly often…Once when I was about five, my mother took all of us little girls on the plane to visit Nana and Poppop. The twins were three and the youngest a year old. We were dressed as if to go to church. You had to dress up to fly in the 60’s. My stiff red frock barely covered the frilly slip. My thick hair flipped up from my stylish page cut to peek around the little white hat. I tried to be still and keep my sisters quiet by reading them a book, but excitement got the best of me. So when the plane landed and the stewardess helped Mommy take all four of us down the stairs, finally I could see my grandparents waving at us. Not responsible for either twin, I was free to run into their arms. 

I don’t remember my father on that trip. But I do remember Poppop’s joy at seeing us. The press of his big lips against my cheek.  Enveloping my senses with his Old Spice cologne. Caressing my face with the softest oiled leather hands on any man I’ve ever known. Pop held me as if to never let me go. 

Their row house on Sheridan Street was home. The house I remember from my infancy. The plastic covered furniture. (Nana was obsessively neat!) The smell of sautéed garlic permeating every room. The skinny stairway and the pink bathroom! Sharing a comfy wide bed with the twins, playing in the converted basement filled with toys! More toys than we had at home…most were mine left over from when we lived with Nana and Poppop…including Tony the Pony!—a mechanical horse given to me for Christmas 1962—I was only twenty months old…Mommy was very, very pregnant with the twins and Daddy was taking my picture with a movie camera. I was chasing Nana on my pony and kept going in circles. Poppop would try to help and I would laugh and laugh because now he was chasing me! 

So many wonderful memories of my grandparents. We flew from California to visit them again when I was nine and then about fourteen. After that visit, my father made me promise that when I graduated high school in four years that I would go back East with them. Of course I would! He had more foresight than me. By the time I was 18, I was desperately in love with Steve (we met in high school track in my junior year) and did NOT want to go with THEM and leave HIM! 

A promise is a promise. So in the summer of 1979, we once again flew back to Philadelphia. And there I was in Poppop’s embrace, the smell of his Old Spice cologne filling my senses, the feel of his oiled leather hand against my cheek, and his sad, long face when we had to go. After six weeks away, I couldn’t WAIT to return to Steve’s embrace. But I felt Poppop’s heart break and even now I cannot erase from my mind’s eye his sad face at our parting. 

Nana and Poppop came to visit us every summer. They stayed three months from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next. They took us on wonderful trips—to Disneyland and SeaWorld, San Francisco and Vegas (we stayed in Circus Circus!)—lots of fun and adventure. Poppop paid for everything. And before school began, we went shopping for new school clothes, shoes and accessories. He would wait outside the shops while Nana and Mom helped us in the dressing rooms. He just handed Nana money from a thick roll and waited until we got everything we needed. “Are you happy, Poppy?” He would ask. “Did you get everything you wanted?” Sometimes my little sister would put on her pouty face and get one more blouse or belt and then of course, he insisted the rest of us get more. One year when we were all teenagers, he bought us leather jackets…very stylish. He spoiled us! 

The summer Poppop got to meet Steve, I was so excited. I knew Poppop would love Steve, how could he not…Pop loved me…so of course he would love my boyfriend! Spending nearly every summer with us, my grandparents had met a few boyfriends of ours and Poppop greeted each of them the same way—with a kiss. In the manner of Italian men. All the boys were very uncomfortable with him. Not Steve. Being a good Greek boy, he accepted Pop’s kiss graciously. And Poppop turned to me and said, “You keep this one.” I did. 

Steve adored him. How could he not? Poppop was the most generous loving man you could ever meet. Always happy to help you, delighted to spend time with you, so sad to leave you. He was kind to everyone and everyone loved him. 

But Poppop died eight months before Steve and I got married. I was devastated. They had come to California just before Christmas, finally, to retire. Poppop looked really bad when he got off the plane. Only a student nurse but I knew…he was dying. I tried to do everything I could to save him. Being the only medical one in the family…they all looked to me to explain what was happening.  Although sober for twenty years, he had cirrhosis. His liver no longer able to detoxify his blood and began to poison him. His mind became foggy and he could not do much for himself. But he wanted to look presentable so, he would ask Steve to shave him. And Steve did, tenderly and with tears in his eyes, even the day we had to put him in the hospital just before New Years, Poppop didn’t want to go unshaven. Just 21 days after coming to be with us, Pop died. 

I don’t remember the funeral. I know I went. They say I was there, but I don’t remember. I’ve blocked it and my pain blocked Poppop from coming to me afterwards for over seven years. Not until the fall of 1990 did I dream of my dear Pop. Steve had finished building the kids a jungle gym in the corner of our backyard. In my dream, Pop was playing pinnacle with one of the twins on a wooden front porch where Steve had built the jungle gym. I sat down with them and Poppop motioned for me to pick up the dummy hand and play. I whispered, “Where’s Nana?” She had died just 20 months after Pop in 1984. My sister said, “She’ll come when Steve finishes the kitchen.” Of course, Nana was always in the kitchen. 

Later that year, I was driving the kids to visit my family. Trepidation gripped my heart. I didn’t want to go without Steve. Even on Thanksgiving he had to work. Crime takes no holidays…so neither do policemen. Yet it was more than leaving my beloved…I had visions of crashing the car…and most of my visions came true. I didn’t want to go. 

Yet we were expected, so I packed up the Volvo with all the pies I had made, strapped the kids into their car seats and paused to wrap us in white light. Only two and six, Kyra and Jarys smiled at the white light. Still as I drove down the highway with my precious cargo, I was afraid. And suddenly, I smelled Old Spice and felt an oiled leather hand caress my cheek and heard…”It’s ok, Poppy.” Tears poured down my cheeks. How grateful I was to have this divine connection. Jarys piped up from the back, “It smells like Poppop!” Yes, my precious son, it did. 

Since then, I have experienced hugs and kisses through the ethers whenever I needed them. Love thins the veil between the worlds of this I am sure. 

I love you, Poppop. XOXOXO