Three Years

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Words can’t do justice to the memory of my brother-in-law. To this day, he is the greatest person I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. His love was a gift.

Since losing him, year three has been the least searing and jagged thus far. I’m sure it has everything to do with adjusting to the new normal: no longer in denial, expectations of seeing him trail off. The free fall of unmatched and unfamiliar grief has ceased, as clumsy wings take me to places accessible only by way of the chasm.

I’m still so proud of him, and I hope he’d be proud of me, too. I still miss him. I believe he deserved better in life, and in death. I believe most of us walk around with the abstract idea that death is something that happens to other people, and other people’s people.

I’m still learning many things (heavy and wonderful things), and I swear that as long as I have these desperate clotted feathers that struggle to carry the weight of the day: I will learn something tomorrow, too.

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My Death Doula Training Journey: Why

I’m a few weeks into the 5-in-1 death doula online training course at mourningdoula.com. I’m really enjoying it so far (even if I’ve been busy and distracted and I’m a week behind in my studies), and it’s something I’ve wanted to pursue for a few years now.

A recent assignment required me to describe how I hoped to improve the world through my newfound skills. I thought I’d share what I wrote here.

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I laid my hand on Tommy’s arm, shrouded in formal wool, solid, immobile. I wasn’t scared to touch, I was scared of how I would feel if I didn’t.

After Petey died I saw him twice, but I didn’t touch. I was in shock. I knew I needed to see him, but I was unaware of how important making physical contact would be to me long-term. I let fear and uncertainty dictate my actions, and within the weeks following his funeral I regretted my lack of mindfulness; the squandering of my last chance to connect with someone who meant so much to me.

As a massage therapist and esthetician I touch people for a living. I’m a big-time hugger. Why should the importance of touch vacate my genetic makeup when a loved one died?

I truly believe if I had a death doula in my corner I would’ve felt comfortable and confident enough to touch Petey at the funeral home, through the blue cotton sheet the first time, or over his clothing in his casket the second time. I wouldn’t have subconsciously talked myself out of it. I would’ve felt that if someone with more knowledge than myself had given me permission to do a very meaningful and reasonable thing, I wouldn’t have messed anything up by doing it. I would’ve been aware of options, possibilities and regrets.

At Tommy’s funeral I guess I served as my own death doula. I instructed myself to rise from the pew, traverse the entire length of the center aisle, converse with his parents who I hadn’t met until that day, approach the casket and share a moment with my friend, my hand on his arm. I spoke to him with my mind and heart, and despite the surreal experience of losing someone so young so suddenly, I walked away feeling calm and grounded.

With my death doula training I hope to support others in their expressions of love and their journeys for peace, and to serve as an advocate during these hard times.

Closing Time: The Beat Coffeehouse

Cleverly-named specials. Quirky events. Friends behind the counter who knew my name.

The Beat was the independent Vegas coffeehouse that reminded me of my favorite hangouts in Rochester, NY. I think my first visit was in 2011, back when my friend Tiffany and I would grab lunch after we hit the neighborhood farmers market. That was also when you could park on the street for free.

It wasn’t long before I began fantasizing about opening a tiny spa office inside Emergency Arts (the building that housed The Beat). The former exam rooms (the building had been a JC Penney, then a medical clinic) were the perfect size to allow me to serve the community, one relaxing spa treatment at a time. My dream became a reality when I signed my lease in November 2012, and I’ve been running Feetish Spa Parlor ever since.

In July 2016 we tenants were told that The Beat would be closing at the end of September, and the 1st floor tenants (galleries, studios, pretty eyelashes) would need to leave to make room for a new restaurant that would be taking over the majority of the space. Luckily Feetish is located on the 2nd floor and for now she’s able to remain where she is, but I’m still saddened (to a surprising degree, actually) by the loss of The Beat and friends.

I wanted to explore the vacant 1st floor before the wrecking crew came in to gut and rebuild the entire thing. The other afternoon Paul, Jim and I went creepin’, and here’s what we saw…

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Dolled Up In St. Thomas

This year I wanted to have a creepy adventure on my birthday. The formerly-submerged-beneath-Lake-Mead ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada was at the top of my list, and its close proximity to Las Vegas made it an ideal day trip destination for a costumed birthday girl and her nudist photographer friend.

St. Thomas was founded in 1865 and became home to about 500 residents, complete with farms and businesses. In 1938 the town was abandoned as Lake Mead rose following the construction of the Hoover Dam. In recent years the ruins of St. Thomas became visible as Lake Mead’s water level dropped, leaving sand, shells and broken buildings behind for us to explore.

The photos that follow were taken by myself (with my Galaxy S6) and my frequent adventure partner, Jon Miller. I hope you feel like you were there with us. Enjoy!

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We drove through the Valley of Fire and made a quick left down a gravel road. Eventually we ended up here, overlooking a 2.5 mile hiking loop that wove its way through the ruins of St. Thomas.

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The path was made up of sand and thousands (millions?) of white shells.

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A pop of color in a barren landscape.

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Critter fur caught in a huge, dead piece of wood.

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The tallest of the ruins.

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Jon on the prowl.

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Collection

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Time for school!

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Inside view of the school.

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Of course we brought props!

The following photos (minus the final three) were snapped by Jon. Enter the Creepy Doll!

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Play time!

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Then, as if my birthday hadn’t been action-packed enough, my thoughtful friend surprised me with this…

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Awwww!

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Jon had miraculously packed all of this AND cold Coke AND snacks in his backpack…and I had no idea!

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Jon in his natural state. (Not surprising in the least.)

Two Weeks Of Death Can Change A Life

The last week of February and the first week of March were intense.

We spent a week in Utah, visiting family and Petey’s grave. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said; only that acceptance is setting in, but if you confuse that with numbness or complacency, you’d be wrong.

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Grave Flowers, Moab, UT

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Mound and Cliffs, Moab, UT

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Roses, Moab, UT

As we made our way through Southern Utah we stopped at a few points of interest. Monument Valley did not disappoint.

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Sunrise at Mexican Hat, UT

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Spine, Monument Valley, UT

Then, back in Vegas, I was honored to spend the week with Lauren and Kerry from Lighthold Massage Therapy. They are massage therapists who teach courses about massage therapy for oncology patients (presently undergoing treatment as well as those who have been cancer-free for years). I took Oncology Massage 101 with them last summer and it heightened my awareness regarding client comfort and health issues in a big way.

When the weekend came around, Kerry flew home and Lauren stuck around to teach what I call “the deathy class” — Opening to the Mystery: Presence in Caregiving at the End of Life. To most, it probably sounds like a class about hospice massage…and that’s part of it. But it’s so much more.

Five other participants and myself followed Lauren’s lead through exercises in loss: loss of freedom, loss of faculties, loss of companionship, loss of touch. The course was three days long, and each day we could see more of each other as the space we created was tested and proven to be safe. We shared our doubts, fears, and plans; we shared our stories.

Friends asked me what the course was “about”. I told them I couldn’t sum it up in words but that I would try my best in a blog post. Opening to the Mystery was profound in that it provided a safe place, lead by a safe human, where the wisdom in truthfully admitting that we don’t know everything was embraced and celebrated. Centered around the impermanence of life, Lauren encouraged us to shift our perspectives from longing to loving, and from future to present.

If you think you’re up to it, I think you should enroll. Humility and vulnerability are prerequisites if you want to get the most out of the experience. Even if you’re mostly there, by day three you’ll be a changed person.

I’m not sure where my career as a massage therapist, esthetician and nail tech will take me in the years to come, but I can tell you my practice is deeper and more fulfilling because of journeys like these. Thank you.

 

Let’s Talk About Sad Things

I haven’t written about my husband’s brother’s suicide in a while. Sometimes I’m afraid that people may assume my silence means I no longer care — that I’m over it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think of Petey constantly. For two years, not a day has passed when I haven’t heard his voice or seen his face in my mind. His absence is still felt intensely and immensely, and sometimes the pain is so exquisite I have no idea what to do with the sorrow I feel.

On the home front, living with someone who’s lost someone this close to them is a situation I never appreciated before I found myself here. It is a serious responsibility, at times delicate, never without the desire to bear the entire weight of this grief.

I still despise the way he was treated by the person who was supposed to love him.

I have days when I think “Damn. Petey was the first of us to experience death. What is that even like?” I’ve become an activist for suicide awareness who’s constantly wondering what’s the point of living. The best answer I can come up with right now is that I’m determined to kick life’s ass until it kicks mine.

24 Photos From New York: An Analog Annal

This November I spent a week hanging out with family and friends in Rochester and Buffalo, New York. Photography-wise, I purposely left my DSLR at home so I would be forced to use the Polaroid Spectra and 600 I had packed.

This post includes shots from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (Rochester), Mount Hope Cemetery (Rochester), Thomas E. Burger Funeral Home (Hilton), University of Rochester, Eastman Kodak (Rochester), Forest Lawn Cemetery (Buffalo), and the abandoned aqueduct and subway tunnels of Rochester. I’m really happy with how they turned out. Enjoy!

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Double Exposure Inside the Christ Our Light Mausoleum at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

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Double Exposure of My Grandparents’ Marker at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

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Mom at Grandma and Grandpa’s Grave in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

Images from Mount Hope Cemetery:

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Doug Showing Dad the Horse Drawn Hearse at Thomas E. Burger Funeral Home

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Outside an Old U of R Tunnel, Expired Film, Photo by Deena Viviani

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Tunnel Window Figure, U of R Campus, Expired Film

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Inside the U of R Tunnel, Expired Film

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Tunnel Cat, U of R, Expired Film

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Double Exposure, George Eastman’s Monument, Kodak Park

Images from Forest Lawn Cemetery:

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Abandoned Subway Tour

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Abandoned Subway

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Double Exposure Abandoned Subway and Arch

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Precarious Walkway at the Aqueduct

Chasing Clowns and Burial Grounds

Are you ready for photos from the Tonopah Clown Motel?

Welcome to Part II of my photographic journey from Vegas to Vallejo, CA!

First, let's warm up with some photos of some ruins and abandoned buildings from the ghost town of Rhyolite, NV that I visited on my way to Tonopah.

First, let’s warm up with some photos of some ruins and abandoned buildings from the ghost town of Rhyolite, NV that I visited on my way to Tonopah.

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Clown Motel!

Clown Motel!

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The rooms are pretty normal (aside from a couple of framed sad clowns hanging over the headboards). Let's take a little tour of the magic that awaits in the motel's lobby, shall we?

The rooms are pretty normal (aside from a couple of framed sad clowns hanging over the headboards). Let’s take a little tour of the magic that awaits in the motel’s lobby, shall we?

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The lobby features a selection of old treasures available for purchase, as well as Clown Motel mugs, tees and postcards.

The lobby features a selection of old treasures available for purchase, as well as Clown Motel mugs, tees and postcards.

Then there's the old Tonopah Cemetery conveniently located right next door to the Clown Motel!

Then there’s the old Tonopah Cemetery conveniently located right next door to the Clown Motel!

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Did you know there's ANOTHER cemetery just down the street from the Clown Motel? It's the new Tonopah Cemetery!

Did you know there’s ANOTHER cemetery just down the street from the Clown Motel? It’s the *new* Tonopah Cemetery!

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Crazy Tonopah-related urbex near Benton, CA.

Destruction and Tonopah-related graffiti over the border near Benton, CA.

Are you cravin’ more creepin’? The journey to Vallejo continues…stay tuned!

On The Road To Tonopah

I’m writing this from the guest bedroom belonging to my ladyfriends in Vallejo, CA. It has been more than three years since I last made my way up to the Bay Area for a visit and I was way overdue. (My ladies just opened a cafe here, so if you’re ever in the ‘hood do yourself a favor and enjoy some quiche and coffee at LEAF on Marin St. in Vallejo.)

I drove up here, opting to take a meandering route north of Vegas and west/northwest of Tonopah, stopping at several ghost towns along the way. I even spent one night at the infamous Tonopah Clown Motel (those photos deserve their own post…stay tuned!).

Here are some unedited photos of some old cemeteries and abandoned places located between Las Vegas and Yosemite National Park. I hope you enjoy Part I of this who-knows-how-many-parts trip to Vallejo!

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Armagosa Desert Memorial Cemetery, NV

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Lizard in Armagosa

Lizard!

Abandoned Armagosa

Abandoned Armagosa

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Desert Hills Cemetery, Beatty, NV

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Bullfrog-Rhyolite Cemetery, Rhyolite, NV

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Just outside of the cemetery fence in Rhyolite...

Just outside of the cemetery fence in Rhyolite…

A single(?) grave pet cemetery!

A single(?) grave pet cemetery!

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Goldfield Cemetery, Nevada

Goldfield Cemetery, NV

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Silver Peak Cemetery, NV

Silver Peak Cemetery, NV

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