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Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my father’s 73rd birthday. It’s always strange trying to imagine what life would have been like if he had decided to stay. Would he still be alive? What would our relationship be like? These are questions that I’ll never know the answer to.

Only weeks before what would have been his 51st birthday, he took his own life.

While this came as a shock to many, I knew it had been coming for quite some time.

I was 14 and I had moved my younger sister and myself from his home in Houston to my mother and step-father’s home in Los Angeles a year and a half earlier.

My father was undiagnosed but struggled with an absolutely textbook case of Bipolar Disorder. His swings from manic highs to deeply depressed lows narrated much of my childhood and I have spent much of my adult life trying to heal the scars left from growing up in a household that was often steeped in chaos and unpredictability.

My father was a complicated man. Brilliant, charismatic, and playful, but also at times violent and terrifyingly reckless. He was an exceptional doctor--he worked in the Emergency Room, but many of his patients requested that he be their personal physician. He had an incredible ability to connect with absolutely anyone regardless of their age or background and he was deeply moved by nature and art.

When he died, people from all over showed up to honor him. There were three memorials and the words people left in the guest books all echoed the same sentiments. That he was one of the most alive people that they had ever known. That he was a loyal friend. That he would be so deeply missed.

I often think that one of the most insidious parts of his illness was his inability to feel loved.

I know he was deeply lonely.

I know he struggled immensely with his own darkness.

Even as a child, I could see the pain flash across his eyes, in between fits of rage, and maybe some fear, too. I think he knew he was out of control. But the tricky thing with Bipolar, in particular, is the promise of the high. The delicious sense of power and euphoria that would also be wiped away if he were to receive treatment.

So he suffered. And we suffered. And honestly, the waves of that suffering still continue to extend outward, albeit more gently these days, I think, for most of us who were impacted by his wild and wondrous life that was laced with so much tragedy.

I am doing my best to heal the parts that I carry. For myself. For the world around me. But also for him.

The last time that I spoke to him, he had already made his decision that he was done struggling. Some part of me knew when he told me that my sister and I were “his legacy” that he was saying goodbye.

I think about that often. That I am his legacy. That my time here on this planet and what I choose to do with it is inextricably linked to him. That I carry pieces of both his light and his shadow, and that I also get to choose how I use both.

I talk to my father frequently, often out loud. His body may have died, but I know his soul is ever-present and our relationship lives on. Sometimes I can almost feel the way he has softened. The way death has brought him a peace I don’t think he ever had during his life. I miss him in moments. In others I am still angry with him. I’m okay with it being both.

We are dynamic beings. It only makes sense that our relationships would be as well. I can love him and not always like he who was. I can honor the beauty he brought into my life and still be honest about the pain that came along with it. And I do. Every single day. Happy birthday, Dad, wherever you are. I hope that if you’re watching, and I believe that you are in some unexplainable way, that somehow my healing is supporting yours. Because you deserve it. We all do.



For the Love of Tea and Healing through Ritual

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, my mother, stepfather, younger sister, and I spent some time in Barbados. My father had just committed suicide and we were all processing that in our own ways. Like my relationship with my father had been, my emotions around his death were complicated. I needed space from my family to move through the layers that were coming up for me on my own terms, so I spent a good amount of the trip by myself, hopping on buses into town to explore and roaming the vast and lush grounds of the property we were staying on.

One of the remnants of the colonial history of Barbados is that many of the hotels and resorts offer high tea every afternoon, and during my stay, I found myself spending many of my afternoons sitting by myself on an outdoor patio, drinking tea and taking in the natural beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my entry point into the world of ritual and the healing that can come from practices that encourage stillness, presence, and simplicity.

When I returned to LA with my family, I continued to make tea for myself almost daily. I would boil the water, drop a tea bag or two into a teapot, and watch the steam pour out of it as I filled it with water. I would wait a handful of minutes and then pour my fresh brew into a mug with a little raw sugar and cream, just as I had enjoyed it during my time in Barbados.

My family thought it was kind of silly, but for me, it was a way to create sacred time for myself. The whole process was meditative; it dropped me into my body and my sensory experience and allowed space and quiet so the more subtle aspects of my inner world could come forward. I savored those moments. They were healing in ways that I didn’t even understand at the time. But I could feel it. Even if I wasn’t consciously engaging in a practice of self-care, I was doing something that was nourishing for me on so many levels. And so, I continued.

Over the years my tastes have shifted. Black teas to greens to florals and herbal infusions, but the practice is the same. Heat the water. Steep the tea. Drop in to the experience.

These days, it’s become a very intentional practice. I choose the ingredients that I’ll be using with care and often choose a plant or a blend of plants based on what I’m needing support around. Rose for opening the heart. Thyme for immune support. Ginger root to cleanse. I’ll set aside time to really be present with the ingredients, both as I prepare them and as I sip the infusion, and I’ve come to notice that each ingredient seems to have an energy of its own, a medicine, not just for the physical body, but for the mind and spirit as well.

The element of water is present, too. The source of all life and the universal renewer. Few things are quite as soothing as perfectly warm water, the simplest of all healing balms for weary bodies and souls.

Each of these pieces comes together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Plants, water, time, all infused with intention. None of it has to be fussy or complicated. Honestly, it could be as simple as a little bit of fresh lemon juice in warm water, but used as a way to hold space for yourself, to connect more deeply with the parts of you that so rarely get heard above the din of everyday life, it becomes a ritual. A practice in healing. A way to make even the tiniest moment sacred.

And while tea is my healing ritual, the truth is that it could be anything. Watering your plants. Dancing in your living room. Taking a bath. Massaging oil into your skin. Preparing a meal for yourself with so much love.

So many people seem to be seeking heightened spiritual experiences these days. A connection to something greater, something ancient, perhaps. And while there’s nothing wrong with exploring different practices to find what supports you most, I think what so many people don’t realize is that profound connection to Spirit doesn’t require elaborate ceremonies or a bunch of fanfare. It can be found in the seemingly mundane, everyday rituals that we create for ourselves. In moments of quiet, enjoying the simplest pleasures, like watching the steam rise and swirl above a freshly poured cup of tea.