What to do when the unthinkable happens

*This blog post is part of our new Legacy Leader Series: a blog series for leaders who want to navigate the current chaos in the world, embody the crucial qualities that leaders need to stay on the forefront and amplify their legacies in the world.

………

The dreams started in May. I was 9 months pregnant and didn’t know how I got that way. I was upset — I hadn’t planned for this. I didn’t want to give birth. How did I even get pregnant?

Or there was a baby that had been placed in my care, and I kept freaking out that I’d forget to feed it and it would die.

I told my friend Jen about these strange, suddenly recurring dreams as we were hiking to the top of an old burned down house with spectacular views, and identifying the local flora of Santa Barbara.

I don’t mean to freak you out, but dreams about babies or giving birth usually mean someone is going to die, Jen says.

I put that to the back of my mind. Too distressing to think about.

………

Friday, July 20th. 9:32pm.

I’m laying in my bed, tired, cranky, after a crazy week of work. I just got off the phone with my Aunt, who is like a second mother to me. We were laughing about bad movies we’d seen recently. I’d just put my groceries away. Now I’m about to go to sleep.

The phone rings.

It’s my brother-in-law.
This can’t be good.
They live on the East coast, so it’s midnight for them.

My sister, nor her husband are awake at that time, ever. It’s got to be bad if my own sister can’t call me. My thoughts go to her three children. The day each one of them was born, I felt my heart grow a million sizes bigger. A love I had never felt before. And a voice inside of me said you’re fucked for life. Anything you love that much is bound to cause you the greatest pain you’ve ever known, eventually. Unless you die first.

Please God let it not be my godchildren. Please.

I hear my brother-in-law’s tense voice on the other line. What happened? Is everything okay? I ask, trying not to let panic creep into my voice.  

Well, no. Your cousin has been shot in the chest, was dead on arrival to the hospital and was revived. Everyone is on their way to the hospital right now, so that’s why I’m calling you. I have no other information, but I’ll text it to you as I get it, he says.

I hang the phone up and there is a vice grip in my chest. I can barely breathe. I am praying hard. I start a prayer chain on Facebook. How can this be real? I am thinking of my aunt, who I am close to, and what she must be going through right now with her son in the ER fighting for his life.

I wait. My sister calls me, crying. He’s dead. He’s dead Lisa!

He’s not! They revived him! Unstable but alive, I say. We need to pray hard. Her crying stops. She is a doctor and she has just arrived at the hospital, so she goes to find out what is going on. Clearly someone gave her the wrong information before she called me.

The hours creep by. My sister tells me he was laying in the hospital for hours under the pseudonym John Doe. Somehow no one contacted us for hours, even though they were told all of our information and were given his name.

I don’t know why, but this is the thing that causes me the most pain when I hear it. He has a name, goddamnit, he has a fucking name, my mind repeats. Have the decency to give him a name.

More texts roll in. He might be brain dead. His pupils aren’t responding. He was dead for 10 minutes. They had to open up his rib cage and hand massage his heart. He is fighting like hell to live. Doctors have never seen anything like it.

The details come sporadically to my phone. I am waiting. I do not know what to do with myself. I just wait, in my bed, in silence, staring at the wall.  

A moth flies right up to my window. I wonder if it’s my cousin’s soul coming to say hello. Stay in your body! Fight! I say out loud to the moth, sternly. I am by myself in my house. The moth doesn’t listen. It just sits there, looking at me.

I text my Aunt. He is a young guy. He is strong. Let’s pray. He could overcome this.

A few minutes later the final messages come in to my phone from 3 different family members.  He’s gone. Coded. Called in a priest and we stood around him, and told him we love him.  Collected locks of his hair. Touched his face. Poor thing. He just looked like he was sleeping and was going to wake up any minute.  

I can’t believe this is real.

………

My brain feels like it’s wading through Jello. I am having trouble thinking clearly.  

He was murdered. Murdered.

That kind of thing only happens to people in movies. Those random news articles that pop up on your phone are always someone else’s family member. A faceless person you never knew. A whole other world that never crossed with your own. A blip in the violence constantly reported on the news. You never imagine that person is someone you know. And now here you are, the person who is the family of the person who was murdered. And you’re the news story that everyone just ignores, another casualty in a world, where murders happen every day.

My brain doesn’t comprehend that this has happened in my family. My family, which has never had a tragedy of this caliber.  

I cry a little. But I finally understand what it means to truly “be in shock”. Mostly, I feel numb, with a tightness in my chest. I have no feelings right now. Just a strong pressure over my heart.

Now it’s 1am and it’s time to plan. Book a flight for tomorrow. Get the house ready to be gone for a week. Pack your bags. Message a friend to take your car down to her place because there’s a fire advisory in your town for the coming week that you’ll be gone, and you don’t want to risk your new car being burned in a fire on top of this.

I keep staring at the flight options and it takes me an hour to book. The numbers keep jumbling and I can’t make sense of anything. I call the airline to see if an agent can help me, I cry a little when I tell her why I’m booking so last minute, and her voice is like steel on other end of the phone. She’s annoyed I can’t just do it online instead of calling her. I hang up. I go online for another 20 minutes and finally manage to book the ticket.  

I think back to the annoyed agent on the phone. It’s amazing how so many people just don’t know how to handle another person’s grief. They freeze. They block it out. To the point where it actually annoys them that you’re bringing your grief into their phone line when they were just planning for a regular day of customer service calls.

I take a Benadryl to force myself to sleep at least for a few hours. There’s a lot to deal with tomorrow and you will need some strength, says the mama bear inside me. I pass into a dreamless sleep.

………

The next day I wake up and the moth is gone from my window.  

I go to a dispensary near my home. I get a prescription for CBD oil. The kind with no/barely any THC. I don’t want to run from my feelings. I don’t want to get high. I just want to be able to breathe. I can see so clearly how the stress is manifesting physically instead of emotionally. Shock will do that to you.

I’ve never had CBD oil, but that mama bear voice inside of me is instructing me. Do this. I am listening to her.

I tell the man at the dispensary in a flat, emotionless tone that my cousin has been murdered. So, that’s why I’m here. He tells me, hang in there, I’ve been there, and then he high fives me.  

What an odd gesture. But somehow it comforts me. His somber high five is an acknowledgment that I’m part of a whole other kind of club now. And I’ve been inducted. I’m not sure how I feel about this. My reality has been shaped without my consent. And now I’m dealing with it. Now I have something in common with this man I barely know. Something both intimate and terrible.

Back at home, I put three drops under my tongue, just like the doctor told me to. Within an hour the vice grip in my chest is gone. I am still sad. I am still me. I still feel all of my feelings. But I can finally breathe.   

………

I call my therapist up before I get on my flight. I can already feel what I’m about to walk into once I arrive in Florida. Time to call in the reinforcements.

We like to think that tragic situations will shake up the toxic dynamics of the family members we avoid & set boundaries with. We think maybe this tragedy will cause them to reflect more deeply and change.  

Sure, that happens sometimes. But mostly that’s something reserved for the movies. I know, instead, that these toxic dynamics are most likely going to be amplified by this tragedy, not healed.

And I know that I am coming, not to make this about me and my feelings, but to be of service to, and support my aunt, who has just lost a son. A pain I cannot even begin to comprehend. I am not there to engage in old dynamics with family members I have had to set up extreme boundaries with. I am there to be there. Because being there matters. Presence matters.

When I took my Priestess vows, I committed to showing up as a vessel of service for the environment around me. I committed to using my energy and my presence as an agent of love and healing to those around me. I didn’t take those vows because it was a trend. I believe in them. I want to live my life by that code.

When I chose to start my business and work with leaders and changemakers, I didn’t do it because the branding was good and the message was “hot” and profitable. I did it because how you show up deeply matters. It matters that you possess the tools to witness, hold space for, and roll up your sleeves to help in the darkest of times. That’s what our world needs now more than ever.  

So I prepare myself to practice what I preach on the deepest of levels. I am always talking with my clients about the keys of leadership we need in the new world that is being birthed. Emotional fortitude. Discernment. Equanimity. Sovereignty. Boundaries.

I am going to need all of these tools to get through the next week. To not be a triggered mess of self-centered emotions that adds stress to those in pain, but rather, show up, and truly support my aunt and her daughters, who have been most affected.

Equanimity is the state of staying calm and connected to your core, even during the most intense, chaotic and stressful times. That, I always teach, is one of the things that makes a great, truly impactful leader.

To maintain my equanimity I am going to have to go into extreme self care mode.  

It’s easy in traumatic situations like this to not eat/eat badly/get no sleep/forget about the body and self care. It is a grief that can completely throw you off from your core in so many ways. It’s easy to throw your previous boundaries to the wind and get sucked up into old dynamics you previously disentangled yourself from when you’re in pain and bewildered.

But I refuse to do that. The mama bear voice in me is strong. She says, no.

So I re-iterate and voice my boundaries to the family members that need to be reminded of it before I go. I make sure my flights are comfortable and upgrade where I can. I choose a place to stay away from the people in my family I need to set firm boundaries with. It’s worth it to spend the extra money on these things — I need to make sure I am rested. I am dealing with enough as it is. I need to love myself extra hard right now.

I bring all my supplements and foods I know will be hard to find once I arrive. I know there won’t be much time to drive all around town for them.

Self care is not about hanging out in a bathtub with crystals and posting photos of it on social media. It’s about mothering yourself.  It’s about using the tools that help you maintain your center, your connection to yourself so that the way your show up brings more love, strength, and healing into the environment and people around you — and especially during times of tragedy.

………

When I arrived, it was, understandably, a highly emotional environment. And not everyone could wield their emotions responsibly. Not everyone could understand that this wasn’t a time for wallowing in their feelings alone, but instead a time to offer support to those most affected by this (my aunt and her daughters/his sisters).

I watched several family members get drunk out of their minds several nights in a row as form of coping. But then spending the whole next day in bed, hungover, unable to show up for and help my aunt.  

I watched the same manipulations and self centered behaviors in the same family members who always did them. Yes, even during a time of tragedy, the agendas remained, threatening to add more stress to the plate of those most affected.

I watched my aunt and her daughters show considerable fortitude, and was awed.

Sure, I made time and space for feeling my feelings — privately. Sure, I cried with my Aunt when it was appropriate to do so and when it would help her. There was no stuffing down of emotions here, don’t get me wrong.

But after doing that, I wanted to make sure that I showed up to support in the little ways. That’s what all the self care my inner mother kept demanding was for. It was a container of strength to lean into at the end of a day when I could have been depleted. It was the thing that kept me connected to my inner voice. That helped me remember who I was among all of this grief. The thing that kept me eating well, making sure I was getting a full 7 hours of sleep at night, even if it meant putting some more CBD oil under my tongue before bed time. You do what you gotta do to maintain the ecosystem as well as you can.

………

A few days after the funeral, I rode in the car with my Aunt on the way to her son’s apartment, to wade through clothes and belongings that needed to be separated, kept or donated. I knew how hard this must be for her. Still, so impressed by her willingness to face what needed to be faced, even if it was painful.

If you don’t want to get out of the car and go in to his house, I understand, Lisa, she says to me.

Playfully I say to her: Bish, don’t you know by now that I’m the person you call for this kind of shit? I’ve got two planets in Scorpio. This is what I’m made for. I’ll do anything for you during times like this… except I won’t hide a body. So if you ever kill someone, just don’t tell me, because I’m out on that one!

We both start laughing as we pull into my cousin’s driveway to lay our hands on the things he will never touch again. His two dogs are in the backyard, howling.  

………

My sister says to me a few days later in a conversation about people and the world: it’s the little things, the little ways we help, that count so much more than big heroics. I couldn’t agree more.

It’s not the sweeping declaration of love for all to see, or the large amount of money spent on flowers. It’s not what you say or appear to be. It’s not what you declare on social media or to your “followers”.  

It’s what you do and what you do is who you actually “be”.  

I firmly believe it’s the smaller things that count the most in these situations. Presence. Self care. Knowing exactly when to tell a joke to make someone forget about their pain for a few seconds. Using discernment to tune in to your environment and know what is most needed, whether it be a hug, a good cry, or a quick trip to a nail shop for a pedicure to keep them distracted by little, mundane things of a daily life.  

You can’t focus on the little things that serve in the biggest ways if you’re completely disconnected from your core, out to sea. You can’t lead powerfully in that way. And leading isn’t just something we do on our sales pages or when we’re on big stages.

It’s also something we do in the tiny moments of our lives. The ones most eyes will ever see.

Maintaining your core as a leader and human whether in business or life is what I believe our world is missing the most.

It’s why I’ve been writing blog posts for the last 2 weeks about the keys to inner leadership. This includes the tools I mentioned above and teach in my work, which allow you to maintain your internal connection to your soul even during tragedies. (Scroll back to the last few blog posts to read those if you haven’t already).

Nothing has shown me that more clearly than this last week.

When we can do that we show up in a way that truly can serve the environment around us, shift it, provide true loving care.

Actually change the world.

I share this private story with you for the first time today for one reason: for you to see that these tools aren’t just aspirational things we use only in glamourous situations, to amplify our revenue, to win awards or to become more famous. Sure the tools of this work I teach, they work well for those things.

But life isn’t made up only of big, sweeping, heroic and glamorously triumphant moments in front of thousands of people. It is mostly made up of the small things. The ways we react to what befalls us. How we show up, especially during chaos and tragedy.

These tools of inner leadership are gifts we get to use over and over in our private lives, not just in our careers. In both the big AND the tiny moments. The moments that matter the most, beyond the glitz and the glam.  

I teach these tools and we do the work to learn and embody these tools so that we can face the difficulties of life and not be dissolved by them. We do this work so that we can emerge from the pain and the chaos, more resilient and radiant beacons than before. Bringing strength, love, and true healing to an everyday world that so desperately needs it.

With love,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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